Someone to Know: Chris Gingrich

Chris Gingrich

Education Outreach Specialist Chris Gingrich's work at the District includes creating enriching educational programs and coming up with new ways to showcase the history of the preserves. He shares some of his experiences, including a surprise request during his first year at Kline Creek Farm.

Describe your job experience at the District: I started in 2005 at Kline Creek Farm, planning and conducting educational programs and events and administering the volunteer program. Since 2010 I’ve worked in Education, helping the Forest Preserve District’s education centers develop and evaluate programs, plan special events, promote educational programs to schools, Scout groups, and other audiences, and keep tabs on the changing needs of our visitors. I’ve recently been involved in researching the District’s history in preparation for its centennial celebration in 2015.Chris Gingrich Uncle Sam 

District accomplishment you're most proud to have been part of: In 2007 I noticed that school field trip attendance was dropping at Kline Creek Farm. I looked into reasons for the decline, speaking with other museums, talking with teachers, even finding out what teachers had to go through to obtain bus transportation. With that information we developed a new field trip called “Day at the Farm” that allows us to reach more students, accommodate teachers coming from further away, provide a better experience for students and increase revenues from field trips.

I still go out to help with the program. It’s great to see hundreds of kids spread out all over the farm enjoying themselves while they get a hands-on look at history, the science of plants and animals, and the natural resources that made this area attractive for settlement and development. It’s also great to see them learn that life was possible without smartphones and video games.

Name something that’s surprised you on the job: It was in my first year with the District, and I was on the staff at Kline Creek Farm. I had already worked for more than 10 years in museums, but most of that was in a traditional museum setting. Mark, the agricultural specialist, asked me to come to the barn to assist with “pulling a calf.” It was calving season and we had a heifer that was having trouble delivering her first calf, so I threw on my coat and followed him out to the barn. There stood the heifer, tied to a post with two calf-sized hooves sticking out. The next thing I know, Mark pulls out a small chain and wraps it around the hooves. He hands me one end of the chain while he takes the other and says, “Now pull!” That was the moment I realized I would learn things on this job that I would never have experienced in a “regular” museum.  As Mark always liked to tell visitors when they were reluctant to participate in a farm activity, “The sign up front says this is a ‘living-history farm,’ not a ‘watching-history farm’.”

What was your first job? Describe it. I started my career at a small museum in West Chicago. We only had four staff members, so we all wore many hats. I was mostly responsible for educational programs but also did exhibit work, event planning, and research and writing. The most important lesson I learned was that it wasn’t enough to know the subject matter to make a museum successful. I had to learn to think like a marketer and understand what my audience wanted and to build programs and exhibits that fit their needs. That lesson applies to all of our Forest Preserve District programs and events. We can know a topic really well — whether it’s wildlife, plant species, ecosystems or the history of our preserves — but our visitors can only gain from that knowledge when we present it in a way that gives them a great experience. That may mean changing the time a program is offered to make it more convenient, using technology to enhance it, incorporating some humor, or just stepping back and letting visitors be immersed in the moment. 

What's your favorite natural area? This is a tough one. I’m obviously partial to Kline Creek Farm, and there are all of the other education centers I work with, but as for a natural area, for now I’d have to say McDowell Grove. I’ve done a lot of research on the site, and the historian side of me is fascinated by its connections to big historical events, such as the Great Depression and World War II.

I’m also interested in the story of our relationship to the land. In the nine decades McDowell Grove has been a forest preserve, there have been huge changes to the landscape, each revealing how society’s knowledge and value of land use and stewardship have changed.

At McDowell Grove, early European settlers used the river to power mills. Farmers tilled the soil and created pastureland and hayfields. As the county grew and people wanted to protect the land, McDowell Grove became a preserve, but in the 1920s and 30s, people saw preserves more as parks than natural areas. Keeping with the philosophy of public parks at that time, which was to alter the landscape for human enjoyment, the District worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps at McDowell Grove to dam the river and dredge tons of earth to create islands, lagoons and new channels so people could boat and fish and picnic. But now, McDowell Grove is in a different phase. We’re applying the science of ecology and natural resource management to create and restore the habitat of the river and adjacent land.

Chris Gingrich discusses corn harvesting with a group of school children.

Someone to Know: Volunteer Bob Young

Bob Young combines his love for nature and the water with volunteering for the District.

Someone to Know: Kline Creek Farm Volunteer Linda Frey

Linda Frey is a domestic arts interpreter for Kline Creek Farm, where she gets to bring history to life for visitors.

Someone to Know: Keith McClow

Keith McClow brings history to life as heritage education manager for the District.

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District ranger loves sharing his passion for nature with visitors.

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As site manager for Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton and St. James Farm in Warrenville, Zaininger's work is centered on horses and the people who care for them.

Someone to Know: District Ecologist Dan Thompson

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Retired teacher taps her love of nature at Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center.

Someone to Know: Wayne Hill

Wayne Hill gets to step back in time in his role as heritage interpreter at Kline Creek Farm, an 1890s living history farm in West Chicago.

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Mayslake Community Outreach Specialist Mark Dyer wears many hats while helping ensure the numerous nature and cultural programs run smoothly at the Oak Brook estate.

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Golf Services Supervisor Austin Kopp makes sure every trip to the District's three golf course is on par with customer's expectations.

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Willowbrook naturalist Leigh Korreck loves being able to connect people to nature and help them learn how to live in harmony with native wildlife in DuPage County.

Someone to Know: Dennis Buck

How would you like stepping back into a different century every day at work? That's what Kline Creek Farm heritage interpreter Dennis Buck does each day.

Someone to Know: Kim Riehm

From taking calls to reserving a picnic shelter to answering questions about forest preserves, no two days are alike for Visitors Services staff assistant Kim Riehm. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

Someone to Know: Cindy Hedges

Cindy Hedges is all about connecting people to nature in her role as stewardship program coordinator. She also oversees the District's volunteer monitoring programs and the Native Plant Nursery at Blackwell Forest Preserve.

Someone to Know: Kendra Strubhart

As Mayslake's heritage interpreter, Kendra Strubhart is responsible for programming at the historic Oak Brook mansion.

Someone to Know: Mayslake Photo Instructor Chris Aquino

When he's not teaching cinema studies at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, he's helping folks hone their photography skills at Mayslake Peabody Estate.

Someone to Know: Mayslake Photo Instructor Fred Drury

Award-winning photographer Fred Drury brings his 50-plus years of photography expertise to you through his photography classes at Mayslake Peabody Estate.

Someone to Know: Mayslake Photo Instructor Hank Erdmann

Hank Erdmann specializes in nature photography, especially in the midwest. His primary areas of interest include midwestern prairies and hardwood forests.

Someone to Know: Mayslake Photo Instructor Will Clay

Will Clay's photography has been published in nine books and numerous natioanl publications, and now he brings his photographic expertise to you through his photography classes at Mayslake Peabody Estate.

Someone to Know: Eric Poggenburg

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Someone to Know: Dr. Jennifer Nevis

Willowbrook staff veterinarian fuels her passion for animals and mentoring.

Someone to Know: Nikki Dahlin

District naturalist Nikki Dahlin's love of bugs may have started by accident, but it's been fueled by passion.

Someone to Know: David Sima

Senior ranger David Sima leads programs that teach skills for enjoying the great outdoors.

Someone to Know: Stephanie Touzalin

Wildlife enthusiast and artist Stephanie Touzalin is a naturalist at Willowbrook.

Someone to Know: Ron Skleney

Naturalist Ron Skleney loves birds and heads up our raptor program at Willowbrook Wildlife Center.

Someone to Know: Natural Resources and Grounds Management Crews

Our crews manage invasive and nonnative vegetation over the coldest months of the year.

Someone to Know: Chris Gingrich

Get to know Education Outreach Specialist Chris Gingrich.

Someone to Know: Marty Jandura

Ranger Marty Jandura is an avid fisherman and offers up some fishing tips.

Someone to Know

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