Our Board

We are honored and privileged to have the following community leaders on our Mississippi Valley Conservancy Board of Directors.

Gretchen Benjamin, Board member

Gretchen Pfeiffer

President
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Gretchen grew up in Winona, Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River. She loved spending time on the river as a kid especially when she could go out on her neighbor’s houseboat to the “islands”. Her love and passion for the outdoors drove her to pursue a career that allowed her to protect what was important to her. She graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in natural resource management in 1982. Her first professional jobs were in Yellowstone and Voyageur National Parks as a seasonal park naturalist, but the desire to work year around and have a permanent job led her to a career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She spent almost 25 years working for the WDNR on the Mississippi River before leaving to work for The Nature Conservancy, also on the Mississippi River. Her love for the Mississippi River was amplified as she spent more and more time on the river through what is now 30 + year career.  

As a founding board member, she considers the support she provided to Mississippi Valley Conservancy to be one of her major life achievements for the beautiful landscape that surrounds this magnificent river. She is proud to be back on the board after a six-year absence. She lives in La Crosse and has a grown son. 

Gretchen's special interests are aquatic plants and their ecology, scuba diving (anywhere), triathlons and quilting. 

Rob Tyser

Vice President
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Rob retired from the Biology Department at UW-La Crosse in 2015, where he taught courses in general biology, zoology, ecology and evolution for 37 years. He has been active in various sustainability-related organizations in the La Crosse community and continues to monitor bird populations in MVC’s New Amsterdam Prairie grasslands. 

Some of Rob’s fondest memories are of his childhood in southeastern Nebraska, where he explored nature on his grandparent’s small farm and developed a life-long interest in the outdoors. His hobbies include biking, car camping with family and friends, birding, backpacking, and a never-ending quest for the perfect golf swing.

His ongoing technical interests include climate change, ornithology, evolution, and EV cars.

Roy Campbell

Treasurer
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Roy Campbell has lived primarily in La Crosse since 1956. He graduated from UW-Eau Claire with an accounting major and received an MBA from the University of Minnesota. He was a CPA and also owned a software business. He owns several hundred acres of mostly woodland in La Crosse County. 

Some activities Roy enjoys in his leisure time are biking, hunting, hiking and snowshoeing.

Allan Beatty, board member

Allan Beatty

Secretary
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Allan earned his BA and JD degrees from UW-Madison. He worked as the Assistant State Public Defender from 1987 until he retired in 2015. Allan continues to take criminal defense cases if needed.

Allan is married to Michael Ross, a physician's assistant at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse and they have three children.

Allan has lived in La Crosse since 2004. He previously resided in Sparta.

In his free time, Allan enjoys playing the harp, gardening, cooking and cycling. He sits the Chamber Chorale Board and 1st Congregation UCC committee.

 
 
 
Pat Caffrey, board member

Pat Caffrey

Board Member
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Pat Caffrey grew up in rural northwestern Wisconsin and spent much of his youth in the woods. He got his master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1973. He worked for one year for the University of Wisconsin Institute of Environmental Studies as a research specialist. The balance of his working career was with the City of La Crosse as a design engineer, superintendent of wastewater and director of public works. Pat retired in 2005. 

He is the site steward for the Conservancy's La Crosse River Conservancy and the New Amsterdam Grasslands and also serves on the boards of Friends of the Blufflands, Friends of McGilvray Road, Coulee Region Humane Society and Friends of Perrot State Park. Pat and his wife Peg Zappen (a Mississippi Valley Conservancy founding member) live near the village of Trempealeau.

Pat's special interests include land management, prairie restoration, invasive species and habitat protection.

Sheila Garrity

Board Member
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Sheila Garrity joined the MVC board in February, 2022.

Born and raised in Prairie du Chien to a large Irish Catholic family, she attended UW Madison, transferring to the University of South Dakota, graduating with a degree in Communication Arts, later completing a Masters in Servant Leadership from Viterbo.  Sheila and her husband Jim Gokey settled in La Crosse in 1979 when Jim joined the Johns Flaherty law firm.  They are parents of three adult children, Nolan, Caitlin and Sean Gokey and four fun grand daughters.

Sheila worked in development and fund raising for various non profit organizations until 1992 when she was hired as the CEO for the La Crosse Community Foundation.  She retired from the community foundation in 2017.  Sheila has assisted several non profit boards and advisory committees, most recently with the League of Women Voters.

Living on the main channel of the Mississippi River, Sheila enjoys sitting on her deck, adult beverage in hand, along with bird watching, boating, kayaking, biking and just walking.

Bud Hammes

Board Member
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Bernard “Bud” Hammes grew up in the city of La Crosse.  He spent much of his childhood falling in love with the driftless area on relatives’ farms on St. Joseph and Middle Ridge as well as the primitive family cottage in Mormon Coulee.  As an adolescent he explored the Upper Mississippi refuge – fishing the backwaters in the spring, hanging out on sandbars in the summer, ducking hunting in the fall, and ice fishing and skating in the winter.
  
Bud received his BA and PhD from the University of Notre Dame.  His area of specialty was the philosophy of science.  Bud is retired from Gundersen Health System where he worked as a clinical ethicist for 33 years. 
 
In retirement, Bud’s focus is on preserving and protecting natural places and the ecosystems that sustain us for the benefit of his 4 children, 7 grandchildren, and all future generations. This work includes doing whatever small part he can to slow and reverse climate change.  To support this work, Bud has created the Barb Hammes Stewardship Fund for the Driftless Lands in memory of his wife, Barb, who served on the Mississippi Valley Conservancy Board in the early 2000s and promoted hiking on Conservancy lands.  Bud recently helped found the Friends of Trempealeau Lakes, a nonprofit that is dedicated to restoring and protecting these unique, spring-fed lakes.  Bud is serving as the chair of this friend’s group.  

Bud lives on the main channel of the Mississippi and enjoys being in the natural world with friends and family.  Activities include hiking, water skiing, boating, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and bird watching.

John Kelly

Board Member
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John holds degrees in geography and landscape architecture, and teaches human and environmental geography, GIS (geographic information systems), and mapping at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York State. He has worked with communities in the US (Vermont), Mexico (Calakmul Biosphere Reserve region, Yucatan Peninsula, indigenous mountain forest villages in Oaxaca, and the Huasteca Potosina), and Honduras (Muskitia/Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve), to map and plan land use and conservation and productive activities. His first job, thirty years ago, was with the Central Park Conservancy of New York City.

He loves to travel with his wife Sangeetha and elementary-school-age son Luke, sometimes by canoe. He has always loved maps as tools for exploring and understanding our lands, and for expressing our visions of the future.

His childhood affection for woods, fields, hills, and rivers was nurtured by his family, his teachers, and by neighbors like the late environmental activist and musicologist Pete Seeger.

Maureen Kinney, board member

Maureen Kinney

Board Member
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Maureen Kinney spent the first half of her growing-up years in Amery, Wisconsin and then moved to Superior where she graduated from Superior Senior High School. She received her undergraduate degree from UW-Madison in sociology-correctional administration. She later earned a law degree from the UW Law School. Since then, Maureen has lived in La Crosse, working with the law firm of Johns, Flaherty & Collins where she is currently a long-term partner. She practices in the areas of domestic relations, estate planning, trusts, probate and social security disability. Maureen has served on other area boards, including those of the Mississippi Valley Archeology Center, the La Crosse Area Boys and Girls Club, New Horizons Shelter and Women’s Center, Coulee Region Sierra Club, and the La Crosse County League of Women Voters.
 
In her spare time, she has run marathons (13), skied the American Birkebeiner numerous times and participates in triathlons. She loves to camp, canoe, hike, bike and travel. She belongs to two book clubs. 
 
Maureen was involved with the initial start-up of the Conservancy, completing its incorporation and securing its tax-exempt status. She continues to provide pro bono legal services, assisting with land purchases and conservation easements.

 

Karen Kouba

Board Member
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Karen grew up in the countryside near Hillsboro, Wisconsin, exploring the outdoors with her brothers and spending a lot of time on their grandparents’ farm. She is a graduate of Viterbo University with a degree in business administration-HR development. She retired in 2020 after working in human resources for 37 years with G. Heileman Brewing Company, Fleming, and Trane Technologies. Karen is now a part-time employee of the La Crosse County Historical Society and serves on the board of the Coulee Region Humane Society, the Viterbo University Alumni Association Board of Directors-Emeritus, and is a member of the Town of Shelby Planning Commission. She is also a past president of the La Crosse Area Society for Human Resource Management.

In her spare time, Karen is an avid reader and pursues a variety of outdoor activities such as biking, skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and hiking. She and her husband, Jay Heldt, live in the Town of Shelby with their 2 cats. They both love to travel and especially enjoy exploring the western states, where they’ve summited 9 Colorado 14ers.
 

Dave Lange Board member

Dave Lange

Board Member
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Dave grew up in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where he explored the outdoors and fished the surrounding lakes while growing up. He went to UW-Madison and obtained a BA-HIstory and then a law degree from the UW Law School in 1980. He moved to La Crosse in 1980 and worked for the City Attorney's office for 5 years. He also worked in private practice for several years and then worked 29 years in the County Corporation Counsel office before retiring in January, 2017.

He has served on various boards and committees, including the City Park and Recreation Board, Corporation Counsel,  and the La Crosse County Historical Society Board. He currently volunteers for the Upper Mississippi Regional Wildlife Center and as a guide at the Hixon House.

His hobbies include traveling, kayaking, tennis, cross country skiing and fishing, especially trout fishing in the Coulee region. He and his wife Karen enjoy spending time at their cabin on Otter Lake in northern Wisconsin. 

He married Karen in 1982 and they have 2 children. They love the natural beauty of the driftless area and plan on staying in this area during retirement. 

Dorothy Lenard

Board Member
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Dorothy Lenard is an Administrator for the School of Natural Sciences, Engineering and Math at Viterbo University. She has a degree from Michigan Technological University in Forest Hydrology and a Master’s in Servant Leadership from Viterbo. She and her husband Rich grew up in a small bay town on Lake Michigan surrounded mostly by State land. Yes, she loves and misses the lake effect snowfalls and outdoor saunas in the winter. Having lived in all regions of the United States, they eventually chose the Driftless area to settle down in and raise their three children. She has been active in numerous community activities and boards. Her passion is studying the environment, especially water protection. While on the La Crosse City Council, she worked with others to pass in 2009 the City of La Crosse and County of La Crosse Strategic Plan for Sustainability.

In the summer, her family has a huge community garden in their yard where their specialties are garlic and perennials.  Preparing and sharing sustainable food with family and friends is her favorite hobby.

Mike Ripp Board member

Mike Ripp

Board Member
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Mike is a native of Dodgeville, WI.  He received an Associate Degree in Conservation Technology form Fox Valley Technical College, Bachelor of Science in Land Management from Univ. of Wisc. - River Falls, and a Master of Science in Wildland Recreation Management from the Univ. of Idaho.  Retired from the Wisconsin DNR in 2007 after thirty years as a state park manager and natural resources educator.  Currently on science faculty of Upper Iowa Univ. instructing courses on environmental science and natural resources.  Also work part-time as a Grant County Deputy Sheriff - mostly in court security.  Live on 22 acres near Bagley, WI with wife, Kathy, where they are busy restoring part of their land to oak savanna and prairie.  Served on MVC Board from 2005 to 2012.  Three years as Board Secretary.

Interests:  Travel, canoeing, camping, flying as a private pilot, bicycling, motorcycling, fishing, hunting.

Ross Seymour

Board Member
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Ross has been an attorney in La Crosse since 1987, with a general practice, but focused on employment law for a number of years.  Growing up in the Madison area, he attended the University of Wisconsin both as an undergraduate and for law school.  Needing to get the heck out of Dane County, he moved to La Crosse and began practicing law.

Shortly after moving to La Crosse, he met his wife of 30 years, Julie Nelson, and had two children.  

Ross is an avid outdoor person.  He has bicycled nearly every road in a 30-mile radius of La Crosse.  Recently he took up hiking and backpacking.  He backpacked in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado, as well as the Superior Hiking Trail.  Also, he loves to cross country ski, kayak and camp.
Ross has had a lifelong love of the Driftless Area and looks forward to assisting the Conservancy in its preservation.   
 

Pam Thiel

Board Member
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Pam Thiel grew up on a farm in north central Illinois and developed a strong sense of place.  One of her early childhood memories is walking down to Covel Creek and collecting water striders with her shoes because she was not fast enough to catch them with her hand.  The die was cast for a developing biologist.
She studied at Illinois Wesleyan University, Florida State University and received a MS from UW-L in aquatic biology.  Her entire professional career was spent on various aspects of management and research on the Upper Mississippi River System in the 5-state area of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri while working for the Illinois State Water Survey, the Wisconsin DNR, and the US FWS.  Pam held leadership positions in several professional organizations.

Pam has a long affiliation with the American Association of University Women where she served as the local and state president, regional director, and on the national board for two terms.   She was also on the local boards of Audubon and the League of Women Voters.  
Pam and her husband, also a retired biologist, have lived in the La Crosse area for nearly 50 years.   Pam loves to garden, fish, hike, read, and enjoy nature.

Steve Ventura

Board Member
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Steve Ventura is a Yooper by birth (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and has lived in Madison since 1980. He enjoyed a long career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is now professor emeritus with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Soil Science. His expertise in remote sensing and GIS led him into many application domains, including natural resource management, environmental protection, land tenure, community and regional food systems, and biofuel production systems. Recent research and outreach focuses on land contamination and urban agriculture. 

Steve and his wife Margaret own 140 acres of land between Highland and Boscobel in Grant County. This land provides unlimited opportunity to while away the hours maintaining trails, gardening, firewood cutting, and hunting and gathering. When they bought this land three decades ago, it was over-grazed and high-graded. Land management since has been oriented to preserving remnants of oak savanna and white pine rock-faces while recognizing that a changing climate means helping much of this land adapt to a new normal.

Tim Wucherer

Board Member
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Tim received his Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation with a minor in Field Biology from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls and graduated with a M.S. degree in Entomology from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 2021.

Tim began his career with the Wisconsin DNR as a Wildlife Technician preserving prairies, wetlands, and Oak Savannahs.  He also worked two years with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and six years with Buffalo County Land Conservation and Resource Management Department.

Tim currently works for Eau Claire County Land Conservation Division as an agronomist where he works with farmers in implementing conservation practices on their land. 

Outside of work, Tim enjoys helping the local community through volunteer work.  He also enjoys hunting, fishing, mountain biking.  He also is a passionate entomologist who enjoys finding new insects to identify.

Barbara Frank

Board Member Emerita
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Barbara has been involved for over 50 years with environmental protection at local, state, and national levels. Her special interests include environmental health, environmental politics, energy and climate change.

She was one of the co-founders of Mississippi Valley Conservancy and is a past board member. In addition, she has served numerous other organizations as a Board member, co-founder and financial supporter: the Hixon Forest Eco-Park, Coulee Partners for Sustainability, the Coulee Region Group of the Sierra Club and the La Crosse Community Theater. She has also been active with the League of Women Voters, the Pump House and Options in Reproductive Care. She was a member of the Minnesota- Wisconsin Boundary Area Commission.

Barbara was Board President of Lutheran Hospital at the time of their merger with Gundersen Clinic. She served two terms on the National Sierra Club Board and has been active on the Club's State Chapter ExCom. She also works with Midwest Environmental Advocates.

Barbara was honored by Gathering Waters as their 2003 Conservationist of the Year and in 1998 received a Special Service Award from the National Sierra Club. Her hobbies and interests include art, especially painting; reading, she's a member of 3 book groups; canoeing, loves the Boundary Waters; and cooking, which she finds very creative.  She and her husband Donald have been happily married since 1960. They have 2 married children and 4 grandchildren.

Don Frank, Board member emeritus

Don Frank

Board Member Emeritus
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Don Frank grew up in Chicago and earned his engineering degrees from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1951 and 1957. He spent two years in the Navy as an engineering officer on a destroyer escort.  

The Trane Company brought him to La Crosse where he met and married Barbara. In 1965 Trane moved them to Lexington, Kentucky, where they enjoyed hiking and canoeing in the Red River Gorge and got involved in saving this national treasure from being dammed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Thus began a long and continuing membership in the Sierra Club.Barb went on to later serve two terms on the Club's national Board.   

After moving back to La Crosse, the BWCA has been a special vacation place for them.They've taken over 25 camping trips there, starting out with a 75 pound canoe, tenting, portaging and cooking over a campfire. They've since graduated to a 30 pound Kevlar canoe and now stay in a cabin on the edge of the wilderness.

Don retired from Trane in 1988, but continued to do several special assignments for them. After that he served as President of Machine Products Co. in La Crosse, and then as President of Fusion Coatings Co. in Winona. He finally learned how to retire for good, but soon became very involved with volunteer activities. He was a community member on the Gundersen/Lutheran Board of Trustees and has served on several of its committees. Don also was treasurer for the Mobile Meals program where he was frequently drafted to make deliveries. Don has had a 20 year commitment as Coordinator for the La Crosse area AARP Tax-Aide program.

When Barb termed out as a Mississippi Valley Conservancy board member Don joined the Board and served as its treasurer for a few years before the Conservancy went to accrual accounting. He is now an Emeritus Board Member after having termed off the Board in 2017. Don and Barbara have two married children and four grandchildren.

Phil Gelatt, board member emeritus

Philip Gelatt

Board Member Emeritus
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Philip Gelatt, an avid bird watcher and CEO of Northern Engraving Corp., joined the Mississippi Valley Conservancy board of directors before the organization went public with an event on Grandad Bluff October 13, 1997. He brought both substantial financial backing and vision to the young organization. As the board huddled in the Grandad Bluff shelter after the public announcement on a windy, cold day, Gelatt asked the group to identify a project that could make a significant, immediate impact beyond the ability of the young organization to tackle. Craig Thompson told him of a 310-acre farm near Holmen in the Conservation Reserve Program that was a breeding area for rare grassland birds such as Bell’s vireo. It was likely to be developed for housing in the near future. Not long after that, Gelatt said that he would acquire and preserve the farm by swapping land that he owned next to the freeway in Onalaska. It took time, but several years later, he did just that. Gelatt had been restoring the New Amsterdam Grasslands to prairie for several years with the Conservancy's help. The Conservancy purchased it in 2007 using money from the State Stewardship Fund and a donation of a substantial part of the value by Northern Engraving.

Craig Thompson

Board Member Emeritus
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Craig Thompson is a recovering birder. For the past 30 years, he has held various positions with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, specializing in migratory bird conservation and landscape scale protection efforts. He holds adjunct faculty appointments in the Biology Departments of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Viterbo University and provides technical support for conservation initiatives in Costa Rica and Peru. He’s never met a motmot he didn’t like.