An essential component of Bob Matteson’s vision for the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute was an advisory board. Matteson made clear that the board’s responsibilities were advisory, rather than legal, and, as he explains in his history of the Institute, he was careful to schedule meetings of the board when fall “foliage was peaking” and spring “wildflowers were coming out.”
Matteson was also careful to divide membership of the board between those who lived in the north and had environmental jobs or responsibilities and those who had second homes in the region and a strong environmental focus. This division, he believed, would ensure an advisory board that was both knowledgeable environmentally and supportive financially.
The first two people to accept Matteson’s invitation to serve on the Advisory Board were David Donnelley, his son-in-law, and Mary Burke, Matteson’s neighbor on Lake Namekagon and his companion at the Northland College conference that inspired him to propose the creation of the Institute. Acceptances from twenty-three additional board members followed in quick succession, including those with second homes on Madeline Island, the Brule River, and the Minnesota north shore of Lake Superior, as well as people who worked for the Forest Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy, and environmental studies programs.
The first meeting of the Advisory Board occurred in October 1972, and they gathered in the Kohler Lounge of Northland College’s Memorial Hall. Sigurd Olson, an honorary member of the Board, offered introductory remarks. He opened by declaring, “This Institute is the pinnacle of my life—not because my name is attached to it—but because of its objectives and programs.” Olson concluded by sharing his belief that the Institute would “play a great part in explaining to people practices that will protect and preserve the unique environmental character of our beautiful homeland here in the north.”
The second day of the meeting, members of the Advisory Board heard presentations about regional environmental problems, development of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and a master plan for the Namakagon-St. Croix Wild River. After the presentations, they traveled to Mary Burke’s Forest Lodge estate on Lake Namekagon for lunch. Burke’s estate was later donated to the Forest Service and is now managed for environmental programs by the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute.
Over the years, successive generations of Matteson’s original advisory board provided essential guidance and support for the Institute, and although the Institute itself no longer has an advisory board, advisory councils continue to play a significant role in our signature programs, including LoonWatch, the Timber Wolf Alliance, and the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award.