Prairie John

Wolf Road Prairie’s Steward for 22 years, John Banaszak, passed away May 21, 2020


From a young age, John showed an interest in wildlife. As a boy, he successfully nursed an injured crow back to health. Before long, it was perching on John’s shoulder, taking food from his hand and following him around the neighborhood. This lucky crow would not be the last animal he would nurse back to health. After receiving his first bike, much of his free time was spent exploring the still undeveloped wild places of Downers Grove. He often shared his fond memories of growing up in Downers. Perhaps, these boyhood experiences were what motivated John to initiate and spearhead the movement to save Lyman Woods, the center of his boyhood adventures.

He set his foot on his chosen path and never looked back. 

After finishing his formal education, John enrolled in a class at the Morton Arboretum. His teacher was none other than the great prairie advocate, Ray Schulenberg. Like many of Ray’s students, John caught the prairie bug. Through this patient and knowledgeable teacher, he not only learned about prairie plants, but also prairie ecology and management. He once confided that Ray Schulenberg and Rachel Carson were the two people he most admired.

Committed to saving the prairies that remained, John became Steward of Wolf Road Prairie. Through his studies and his own astute observations, he became the ideal gardener and protector of WRP. John soon led a faithful group of volunteers, who trusted both his knowledge of prairie plants and his judgment. Some of those workdays often felt like military missions, especially when noxious weeds were close to setting seed, time was of the essence. Whatever our target, John always took time to share his knowledge. Sometimes he did so by encouraging us to carefully examine a plant for its unique qualities. At other times, he challenged our memories, checking to see if we remembered previous lessons. The volunteer who first responded with the right answer inevitably evoked one of his broadly beautiful smiles. John’s knowledge of plants was deep, far beyond identification. By sharing what he had learned over the years, he was also motivating us to be passionate about preserving the prairie.

After a workday, we would enjoy refreshments on the deck or porch of the Prairie House. Inevitably, John turned our attention to the ever present birds. On countless evenings we were schooled in bird identification and bird behavior. From the porch, we would watch, with delight, the variety of birds showing up at the birdbath, noting how they responded to each other, which species was dominant and who had to wait for an opening to get a drink. We enjoyed Baltimore Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Robins, English Sparrows, Gold Finches, Hummingbirds and once in a great while, the elegant Cedar Waxwings. If we were on the deck, we listened for the call of the Willow Flycatcher or the more raucous calls of the Red-winged Blackbirds and occasionally, we enjoyed the flight of the Red-tailed hawk, or spotted a Blue Heron winging west to its evening roost. We never tired of the acrobatic flights of the Tree Swallows, and for one special year we even watched the daring flight of Barn swallows. Always, John was imparting his knowledge. Our understanding and appreciation of birds is, to a large extent, due to John’s contagious enthusiasm for all winged creatures.

John had a special way with children, tapping into their curiosity and their natural sense of wonder. During events on the Prairie House deck, he encouraged them to hold a Monarch Butterfly and then release it to the sky. Seeing their delight was gold for John. He would hold a preying mantis so they could see the wonder of it up close. All the time, he would be cracking jokes, evoking giggles and laughter. He always had time for their questions and would answer, by coating facts with humor. To John, the children were the most important guests at any event.

For many of us, John was our guide to the world of nature. The best way that we can honor his memory is by passing that knowledge on to a new generation.

R. Mc

Happy New Year from Save the Prairie Society!

Save the Prairie Society would like to wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!  2015 is slated to be one of the most exciting years for StPS and we hope you will join us on our mission of ecological and historical preservation.  Please keep watch here for updates on prairie restoration, Prairie House renovation, volunteer opportunities, events, and more! See you in 2015!

 

STPS Educational Tour with the Oak Park Summer Program

This summer, STPS Director Dr. EJ Neafsey lead a group of students from the Oak Park Summer Program through Wolf Road Prairie. EJ was able to talk about natural history and ecology in the beautiful setting of the summer prairie. The group’s leader, Stephanie Kirchner, had this to say about the tour:

The day was the highlight of our 7 weeks, and I am sure none of us will  forget it – your fascinating presentation, your magical tour of the prairie, and of course, the beautiful day . . .

 

 

We would like to thank Stephanie and her group of great young people for their interest and enthusiasm! STPS’ mission is not only to preserve and restore nature, but to educate the public about it as well!

 

If you would like to arrange a prairie tour for students or other education programs, please contact us at

info@savetheprairiesociety.org

or call Rita McCabe at

(708) 354-5512

Icy Accents

STPS President Lawrence Godson captured a great photo of the historic Franzosenbusch Prairie House after our early March winter storm. The mid-nineteenth century structure has endure many winters and still stands strong against the harsh and variable Chicago weather. It’s a pretty sight!

 

Click for Full Size

Click for Full Size

Happy Thanksgiving from STPS!

Happy Thanksgiving from Save the Prairie Society!

We’re thankful for all the people who make our work possible and anyone who cares about saving our environment. Without you, scenes like this wouldn’t be possible!

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STPS on OneToday

Are you an Android user looking to give to charities?  Google has you in mind with their app OneToday.one_today_logo

 

OneToday allows android users to donate $1 to a daily featured charity.  You can match friends donations and share with other users the project you are supporting.

 

Save the Prairie Society has joined up with OneToday with a campaign for our restoration management work. If you’d like to donate to STPS, download the app from the Google Play Store (the app is free) and look for our campaign to be featured as the daily OneToday Project in the future.

 

We will also make a post when we are the featured daily OneToday project.

 

For more information on OneToday, visit the official page here.

Thank you for supporting STPS!

Butterfly Monitoring at Wolf Road Prairie

js720_fmgallery (45)I have been a gardener for most of my life (since I was 13, so gardening for 30 yrs), and the past ten years have been spent specifically gardening for butterflies and then learning all about all of the different species and their fascinating life cycles.

 

This year I am taking this interest into more organized formats to spread awareness and contribute to their survival. With some other people in Oak Park, we are creating a Wild Ones chapter in the hope of encouraging people to incorporate more natural landscaping which is friendlier to butterflies, birds, and other creatures.

 

I also decided to participate in a different way in the study of butterflies and to volunteer for the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network (IBMN). The IBMN’s purpose is to collect data about butterflies through citizen scientists. Tracking the numbers of butterflies gives useful information about a particular habitat.

 

Monitors are supposed to visit their assigned site 6-8 times from Memorial Day through August 8; 4 of those visits need to happen before July 20 and data needs to be entered online. Monitors may net the butterflies to obtain specific identification, but I do not feel quite comfortable enough to do that yet. Many of the butterflies we are looking for are ones that I am familiar with and can identify while in flight. Now, some of those similar-looking skippers and small hairstreaks who might move off too fast are another story! Luckily, even unidentified skippers or hairstreaks are still useful data.

 

This is my first year, and I am so happy to do it at Wolf Road Prairie. It is a special place, and one I look forward to visiting each time. I love seeing the changing landscape and hearing and seeing beautiful birds too. I haven’t seen a Common Yellowt-throat in forever and have never seen a Woodcock but saw one up close when we startled each other. Thanks to all of you that have worked so hard to preserve such a magnificent place.

–Stephanie Walquist

Willowbrook Whole Foods Fundraiser for STPS

Shop Willowbrook Whole Foods Market and Support Save the Prairie Society. 

When you reuse your grocery bag you can choose to donate your dime refund to Save the Prairie Society.  As part of Earth Month, Whole Foods Market Willowbrook (201 63rd Street in Willowbrook west of 83) is proud to support our organization consisting of dedicated volunteers working to preserve and restore the 80-acre Wolf Road Prairie and buffer lands, a surviving part of the less than 1/100th of 1% high quality prairie that remains in Illinois.  In addition, we are also restoring the historical prairie house with plans to use it as a nature museum without compromising its historical features.  The fundraiser runs from now until June 30 at the Willowbrook location ONLY.