NLI Board of Trustees

Perhaps nobody before us had seen the need or been able to set aside natural areas. And those that follow will no longer have the chance. They will only be able to care for what we leave them.

George B. Fell

NLI Board of Trustees and Affiliations


Mark Maffei

Ph.D., Ecologist; president of Androck Hardware Corporation of Rockford

Mark was raised in Chicago and always knew he wanted to work with animals. He thought that meant being a veterinarian until he went to the U. of Ill. where he discovered ecology and wildlife biology. After completing his Ph.D. at S.I.U. in Carbondale, Mark was hired as the Refuge Biologist for 140,000 acres of Everglades. While in Florida Mark was one of the principal members of a team of federal scientists and lawyers that sued the state of Florida over pollution entering the Everglades. Mark moved back to Rockford in 1995 to help run the family business, Androck Hardware, which is a member of NLI’s Corporate Council, and continued to consult on a variety of issues for the National Park Service and the Department of Justice. In 2000 he was introduced to NLI by his longtime friend, Russ Johansson. Mark became a board member in 2000 and served as President from 2002 to 2005. Mark has facilitated the last two strategic plans for NLI covering the last 10 years, and continues to provide input to NLI through his role as a member of the Board and as Chair of the Science Advisory Committee. Being involved with NLI gives Mark a way to channel his passion for maintaining a healthy earth, while giving NLI his invaluable expertise.


Ellwyn Englof

Engineer, Ingenium Technologies (retired)

Ellwyn was introduced to NLI about 5 years ago by Judy Barnard through serendipitous circumstances. He doesn’t have much nature background, but did grow up playing in nature. When he went to college he considered studying something related to nature, but instead got an engineering degree, based on his father’s recommendation to get a degree he knew would allow him to earn money. Nature became a hobby and is now taking more of a front and center position. He has enjoyed his time on the NLI board and thinks it's a great organization. It’s a good idea to be on many committees, especially land conservation, to gain an understanding of what NLI does. A presentation at his Rotary Club about the Kishwaukee River Ecosystem Partnership’s Green Infrastructure Plan about runoff impact really impressed upon him the critical nature of the need for protecting natural resources.


Ruth Little

Executive Director of Rock River Valley Council of Girl Scouts (retired)

Ruth Little’s father was born in a sod hut in the prairies of Saskatchawan (Canada) and grew up on a Menonite preserve. She spent her youth in the prairies on the east coast of the U.S. What she learned about prairies made her feel more connected to her dad. After moving to Rockford she met Jerry Paulson (former NLI Executive Director) on a Christmas Bird Count and eventually became involved with bird banding and Natural Land Institute. Ruth loves to continue learning. She learns something new every day.

Vice President

Rick Barton

Businessman in ski and outdoor industry; environmental education volunteer; photographer

Rick says, "I'm an addict", referring to his passion about the outdoors and nature. He grew up in Peoria and Macomb where he played in nature as a child. His dad planted a hedge out of Japanese honeysuckle where he remembers playing often. When he was older, Rick discovered flowers in a nearby ravine in a new neighborhood in Macomb that he moved to as a child. In 1967 his family moved to Rockford and while he was doing an Eagle Scout project at Hononegah Forest Preserve he became aware of invasive species. Since 1973 he has been selling people on outdoor recreation as a salesmen for various recreational businesses. He has had many explorations in nature and has always been interested in nature and education. Gary McIntyre, a former NLI Trustee, introduced him to NLI. Rick met George Fell one day when Gary brought George into the store where he was working. Gary showed him the first Boone & Winnebago Counties Greenways map and talked about NLI again. Rick was becoming more aware of NLI. He took a U of I Master Naturalist class in 2010 where he met Trip Thienemann and Judy Barnard, who were both on the board at that time. Judy asked him if he would be interested in being on the board.


Tom Ptacin

Financial advisor, Savant Capital Management

Tom Ptacin has been attracted to natural areas all his life. He grew up in Beloit near Turtle Creek and loved exploring outdoor areas around the creek. Tom likes to support the underdog and thinks animals and plants need someone to root for them so he thinks being involved with Natural Land Institute is a great way to do this.


Paul Baits

Retired electrical engineer manager from Sundstrand / UTAS

Paul Baits is a lifelong resident of Rockford. Although the home he has always lived in is inside Rockford's city limits, it is located on a four acre lot that includes a two acre prairie. Quietly sitting in that prairie, gazing at the birds and sky, and just thinking was a summer joy. As a youth, Paul's family was friends with Owen Gromme (renowned wildlife painter from Baraboo, WI). Mr. Gromme and his daughter helped the entire family learn to rehabilitate orphaned and injured birds. Family vacations were, typically, road trips to national parks. Paul's parents and siblings are long-time supporters of many environmental organizations, particularly the Nature Conservancy, which later motivated family members to become committed supporters of the Natural Land Institute. When retirement from the engineering career and the end of another significant volunteer commitment ended, the transition to NLI was a natural fit. He is on NLI's Land Conservation, Finance, and Science committees Paul knows that it is imperative that we protect unblemished natural areas and the creatures that depend on those areas for their survival.

Mary Caskey

Teacher, administrator at Rock Valley College (retired); community leader

In Mary’s early childhood she moved from the city to the country. At first, she was devastated. However, in time she started playing in the woods which made her feel more free and she found comfort and solace there. When she was an adult she and her husband bought a house in the woods where she had played as a child. She discovered the beauty of woodland flowers, wrote poems and published a book of poetry with a nature theme called, Where Roots Echo (available on She was on the Natural Land Institute board in the early 1990s and is glad to be serving again now as a Trustee and on the Resource Development Committee.

Steve Clark

Broker, CCIM, SIOR, Dickerson & Nieman Realtors

Steve Clark has been a Real Estate Broker for 40 years and is President of Dickerson & Nieman Commercial in Rockford. He is married to Diane and has two married daughters and two grandchildren. Steve graduated from Harlem High School in 1967 and has a Bachelor of Business/Finance degree from Western Illinois University (1971). He has been extensively involved in the community over the years and is a former member of the Mayor’s Hunger Taskforce, the Rockford Zoning Board of Appeals, and a former board member of Goodwill of Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. For many years Steve has worked with the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County, Rockford Park District and Winnebago County doing land acquisitions. He likes the idea of open land for future generations and has been a Trustee of NLI since 2014. Steve serves on the NLI Land Conservation Committee.

Jon Duerr

Kane County Forest Preserve District Executive Director (retired)

Jon Duerr is a native of and currently lives in St. Charles, Illinois. He describes himself as a botanist and has held a life-long interest in horticulture that was inherited from his family. During his high school years he was introduced to the Morton Arboretum and had a mentor who took him to visit natural areas in the area where he grew up. This was in the 1950s, prior to the wave of habitat restoration and ecology and before the first Earth Day. He attended Koch College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and received his Master’s degree from NIU in 1967. Jon was the original staff biologist at Waubonsee Community College and set up the biology program there where he taught for five years. After this he bought a greenhouse and garden center in Oswego and ran it for 16 years. Jon was hired as a landscape designer and planner for Kane County Forest Preserve District and eventually became the Director. He retired from there 2004. In later years Jon developed an interest in birding and has gone on several worldwide birding expeditions. Through his birding interests he met Dan Williams (NLI Trustee) several years ago.

Ed Eggers


Ed was born and raised in Rockford but now resides in Sycamore, IL (DeKalb County). He grew up in the city but always migrated to the country and, in particular, the family cabin along the Kishwaukee River. Ed is following in the footsteps of his father, Gordon G. Eggers, who was a previous NLI president during the Nygren Wetland acquisition. A love of international travel and the outdoors led Ed on a 30+ year career in the agricultural seed business. He directed international seed activities for DEKALB Genetics and ultimately owned, with his wife, Sunfield Seeds, Inc based in the Sacramento Valley of California which primarily produces hybrid sunflower seed and utilized up to 60,000 bee hives per season. They now own several Colorado food operations which focus on natural and gluten free and are run by family members. Being involved with NLI gives Ed a nice conduit to transition from a successful business career to a non-profit alternative for the benefit of future generations. Ed is an avid sportsman who enjoys hiking, skiing, canoeing, sailing and many other outdoor activities. He has a BS from Colorado State University in Ag Business with a minor in Agronomy and an MBA from Northwestern's Kellogg School.

Jay Evans

President & Chief Investment Officer, Investors Management Group (retired)

Jay Evans and his wife, Jane, are passionate about conservation and environmental issues and being involved with Natural Land Institute is a good outlet for him. Jane is very much an activist, which has rubbed off on Jay. They have both been NLI supporters for many years. One of Jay’s goals is to ensure this organization is around for a long time. This is why he has been an advocate of NLI’s Endowment Fund. NLI is one of the few strong long-term organizations in our area and Jay is proud to be a part of his land trust.

Ray Ferguson

Attorney, Ray A. Ferguson & Associates, Ltd.

Ray Ferguson was born and raised on a farm and played out in the open when he was a child. He realized the most beautiful land for animals especially, was that which was being destroyed by development or used for recreation. He has always felt a desire to keep land as a safe place for animals and this has motivated him to support and be actively involved in an organization like Natural Land Institute that protects natural land to provide wildlife habitat. He likes the mission of NLI to preserve and protect natural areas so animals will have places they need to live.

Paulette Gilbert

Professor of Composition, Literature, Humanities, Rock Valley College

Paulette Gilbert has taught at Rock Valley College for more than 20 years. She has served on academic committees at the local and state levels and has held several leadership positions, including chair of her department and of the college’s Curriculum Committee. Her recent work as advisor and facilitator/trainer, has focused on assessment and diversity. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Illinois Wesleyan University and completed her Master of Arts and additional post-graduate study at Stanford University in California. She was introduced to the ​Natural Land Institute through a colleague and past Trustee. Paulette grew up in Louisiana and traveled and lived in Africa. Her mother was a field biologist. With a family history of farming and conservation, Paulette felt an immediate connection with the mission, vision, and goals of NLI. She is passionate about education because she knows firsthand its transformative power. Since joining the board, she has investigated ways to educate and connect the work of NLI to the marginalized and diverse populations within its scope. She is a member of the Marketing and Membership and Education Committees. She hopes to use her extensive involvement with various community organizations within the diverse communities to expand NLI’s membership and to inspire interest in and commitment to the preservation and conservation of our wondrous world.

Linda Miller

President, LMA Techworks (retired)

Linda Miller grew up in a small city which had a park one block from her house and woods just a few more blocks away. Her favorite times as a child at home were spent in these spaces. In the summers, she spent time staying with two grandmothers. One lived on a large, traditional farm. The other had moved from her farm to a small, city house with a large garden. Linda inherited her love of gardening, plants, and the outdoors from these two women. She and her husband, Keith, have had a garden every year wherever they have lived, and its produce is a significant portion of their diet throughout the year. Linda holds a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois. She serves on the boards of several organizations, including a statewide social services organization. She is concerned with the changing climate and the impact that it is having on all living things. Locally, she is a member of the Environmental Issues Committee of the League of Women Voters. Linda believes in the work of NLI and the powerful, positive effect that it has on our community and our world. She and Keith gladly support the Natural Land Institute.

Alan Nowicki

Highland Community College instructor

Alan Nowicki is biology instructor at Highland Community College and has a B.S. in zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.S. in zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.S. Ed. in bacteriology, Southern Illinois University. He has an interest and understanding that natural areas are needed for human beings to be healthy. He grew up mostly outside where he felt the most aware, awake and fun. Alan is a biologist, but stumbled on to courses through friends at the UW Madison about wildlife ecology and field ornithology. Alan has learned how natural areas affect humans and society. He is a longtime volunteer for Northwest Illinois Audubon Society and the Jane Adamsland organization. He has a desire to work with organizations like Natural Land Institute that have a broader impact on the community. Alan serves on the NLI Resource Development Committee.

Rebecca Olson

President, Olson Ecological Solutions

Rebecca is the owner and president of Olson Ecological Solutions, LLC. Her work protects, enhances, and creates natural areas and encourages human interaction with nature in various ways. She has played a significant role in preserve planning and preservation of over 1,200 acres of natural areas in northern Illinois. She has secured and administered over $4.7 million for local land planning, conservation, and restoration projects. The projects that she develops and manages provide natural areas in rural and developed settings like river corridors, drainage systems, wetlands, parks, and neighborhoods. Rebecca attended Denison University for her Bachelor of Arts in biology and minor in chemistry. She then received her Master of Science in wildlife biology from Colorado State University. She moved to Rockford in 2000. Prior to Olson Ecological Solutions, she served as the Director of Land Preservation for the Natural Land Institute and assisted in natural area restoration with the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District. Rebecca has served on several board of directors focused on ecological conservation and neighborhood development and currently serves on the Natural Land Institute Land Conservation Committee and Executive Committee of the Keith Parent Association. She has been married to her husband, Scott, for 10 years and has two children.

Thomas Sandquist

Attorney, Williams McCarthy LLP

Tom grew up in Chicago, moved to Rockford to attend Rockford College and settled here to raise his family. He has always had an awareness and concern about urban sprawl and believes organizations like NLI that protect natural areas help counter the negative impact of man’s impact on nature.

Reed Sjostrom

Co-owner and Vice President of Prairie Street Brewing Company

Reed Sjostrom is co-owner and Vice President of Prairie Street Brewing Company, a local craft brewery located in downtown Rockford, on the Rock River. He is a boomeranger who came back to work in his family’s business, Sjostrom & Sons, from California where he was working as a geographer. He got involved with and became aware of Natural Land Institute through the installation of a bridge on Raccoon Creek at Nygren Wetland Preserve. Reed has always been a nature lover and as a kid he hiked, backpacked and did whatever he could to be outside. Nature is his escape from the daily routine and he appreciates being a part of NLI’s mission to protect and preserve nature. Reed serves on the Marketing & Membership Committee and helps with fundraising events for NLI.

Troy Skwor, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biology Sciences, Rockford University

Troy is relatively new to the Rockford area. He moved here from Pennsylvania 3 years
ago. His academic degrees are as follows: Bachelor of Science at University of Wisconsin – Madison, Ph.D. in Medical Sciences at Texas A&M University College of Medicine, and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in Oakland, CA. Currently he holds positions as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Sciences at Rockford University and Adjunct Instructor at University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford. Some of his research interests for the past six years have involved analyzing antibiotic resistance among bacterial populations residing within local rivers and lakes and their contaminating sources, as well as determining if they might be harmful to humans.

Rolf (Trip) A. Thienemann, III

Attorney at Law, Rolf A. Thienemann, III

Trip became aware of NLI when he had a furniture making business many years ago. He thought about marketing it to the Rockford Symphony Orchestra audience through an ad in the program book. The spot he wanted in the book was one that had belonged to NLI for many years. This prompted him to find out more about NLI.  He discovered his father and a good family friend, Ed Einechen, were members of NLI and asked them about it. He also found out his friends Tyler Smith and Judy Barnard were very involved with this organization. Through these connections it was a natural progression for him to become involved, too. There is a peaceful feeling he experiences only when he is out in nature and can’t see any sign of man.

Dan Williams

Attorney, McGreevy Williams (retired)

Dan Williams doesn’t have any formal biological/sciences background training, but when he was a little boy his German grandfather lived in a south side Chicago neighborhood. His grandfather liked to take the family to the country during the summer and so he bought a house in southern Wisconsin for them to get away to. Dan grew up in Hinsdale. Near his home there was a slough and a prairie there that he played in. Combined with the love of nature passed on from his father and grandfather and his experiences playing in these natural areas he developed a lifelong love of plants and birds. The slough and prairie where Dan grew up are now gone due to development, which spurred his interest in protecting natural areas. In 1972 Dan moved to Rockford and had a desire to get involved in an organization related to nature. He heard that Sinnissippi Audubon Society was being formed so got involved with it and this is where he met George Fell (NLI Founder) and Jack Armstrong.