Honor also commemorates Stephen N. Parker
By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Feb. 21, 2019) Jolly Roger founder Buddy Jenkins on Friday received the inaugural Stephen N. Parker Conservation Legacy Award, named in honor of the former Nature Conservancy director and given in recognition of Jenkins’ help in preserving more than 3,500 acres of Eastern Shore land.
Parker, a New York native and husband of Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger, passed away last year in his Whaleyville home. He was also formerly the director of the Virginia Coast Reserve and a longtime board member of the Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore, Lower Shore Land Trust, and several other organizations.
Kate Patton, the current Lower Shore Land Trust director, called Parker “an important voice for conservation” during a ceremony on Friday at the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin.
“Months later, we still feel his absence and this legacy award is really about him,” she said. “This recognition will help us to not only remember Steve [and] his commitment to the land and social justice, but will serve to honor those in private land conservation who are making a significant and positive contribution to the Eastern Shore.”
Dave Wilson, director of Conservation Community Consultants, used his remarks to remember his friend and to honor Jenkins. Wilson said he knew both men well and both demonstrated strong character.
“In the two decades that I’ve known both of these gentlemen, they never gave me any doubt about their sincerity, their wisdom, [or] their desire to look beyond … their own needs for the greater good,” Wilson said.
He said Parker was a good friend.
“Pretty much every day, I still can’t believe that Steve is not still with us,” he said. “When we first met, it was his kindness and his intellect that sort of immediately struck me. As I got to know him, I … became fascinated with his career.”
According to Wilson, Parker left a lucrative career in real estate in New York City “to come down to the Eastern Shore to save thousands of acres of land for the Nature Conservancy on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.”
“I sort of asked myself, what kind of person would say, ‘The hell with making millions, I want to make tens of thousands instead to be a conservationist?’” Wilson said, drawing laughs from the roughly 50 ceremony attendees.
“Each time we give this award, I really hope we can reflect on what we learn from people like Steve,” Wilson continued. “What are the things that have value? How much excess is too much? Can we love each other the way Steve loved Lisa and his kids? And which scotch is the best scotch?”
Wilson said Parker got along with both scientists and farmers, and wanted to make the world a better place in general for all living things, be they fishermen or box turtles.
Wilson said his friend helped him cope with his own battle with cancer.
“The last year of his life, Steve helped me personally through some very difficult times,” Wilson said. “Twenty years earlier, Steve had been diagnosed with something very similar to what I had … just last year I was going through the same chemotherapy and radiation treatment that Steve had gone through 20 years earlier.
“During that time we would often talk. He would constantly call or text me and ask me how I was doing, and I always felt better after we spoke,” he continued. “He had a soft, but very purposeful way of conveying passion to others.”
In both cases, Wilson said, the diagnoses were said to be severe. He said both men were given no more than two years to live.
“But guess what? Steve lived a lot more than two years. And in that realm and in many others, I kind of follow his lead,” Wilson said. “We know that the world would be a better place with Steve Parker in it, but even in death he’s an important inspiration to me and a model for other human beings to follow.”
Wilson also helped introduce Jenkins as the perfect recipient of the award, because of his connections with Parker and his work with the Nature Conservancy.
“As a conservation buyer, Buddy helped protect thousands of acres of farms on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, which freed up money for the Nature Conservancy to do a lot more work,” he said.
Both the Nature Conservancy and the Virginia/Eastern Shore Land Trust today protect more than 50,000 acres of land in Accomack and Northampton counties in Virginia, Wilson said.
He said Jenkins’ 2,200-acre Newport Farms in Worcester County was “like no other place on earth” and includes salt marshes, matured hardwood forests, hundreds of acres of farmland, and a 7,500-acre pond.
“I really think Buddy loves that land more than just about anything else,” Wilson said. “He’s gone to really great lengths and to great expense to make sure the place has as many advocates as possible after his passing, which I assume will be no less than 30 years from now.”
Wilson said Jenkins is a man who likes to work behind the scenes, including his efforts to preserve conservation-oriented agricultural zoning in Worcester County.
“I often think of Buddy as ‘The Fixer,’” Wilson said. “Here’s how it sort of goes: Somebody will do something bad. I will call Buddy up. He’ll make some phone calls or maybe they’ll get a visit from Tony Soprano or something like that, and then he’ll call me back and I’ll hear, ‘Please hold for Mr. Jenkins.’ And then a voice will come on saying, ‘David, it’s taken care of.’
“I can tell a million Buddy Jenkins stories, but I’m told this is a PG event,” Wilson added.
He called Jenkins “a role model for what successful people should be like.”
“Buddy isn’t self-righteous – he’s just righteous,” Wilson said. “He cares about other people. He cares about wildlife and land conservation. He knows he’s not going to be praised by the average Eastern Shore resident for doing all this land conservation and being environmentally minded.
“He’s always – always treated me like a son,” he continued. “He doesn’t do any of it for fame or money – he just does it because he wants to make the world a better place and he does it for the right reasons … I think all of us have benefited from his generosity.”
Jenkins spoke for about 15 minutes, apparently going off the cuff and without a prepared speech. He started by thanking several other organizations and local people, including the Assateague Coastal Trust, Conservation Community Consulting, Maryland Coastal Bays, Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences, the Lower Shore Land Trust, Nature Conservancy, and Steve Parker and Lisa Challenger.
“That’s really where the tribute, the honor should go,” he said.
Jenkins said conservancy should instead be called reality, or “realism.”
“We are not apart from conservation – we are part of it,” he said. “Many times we forget that. We just happen to be at the top of the totem pole – that’s all.”
Jenkins recalled hunting with his father along the Chesapeake Bay in December and January as a teenager and “seeing thousands and thousands of canvasbacks” and other wildfowl.
“And then all the sudden I saw them waning, and pretty soon I didn’t see any. I asked myself the question, why?” he said.
Jenkins said the Susquehanna flats, the primary feeding source of those animals, “was dying.” Again, he asked himself why and said he learned the about the poor health of the Susquehanna River.
“That was the beginning of asking questions. And I never stopped, from that point on, with asking the questions,” Jenkins said.
He said he once got a phone call from the Secretary of the Interior under President Gerald Ford. They met for lunch and Jenkins was encouraged to apply for the conversation easement program for Somerset, Dorchester, Worcester and Wicomico counties.
Jenkins said he was told, “All the population of the Northeast is going to move out of there as soon as they can, and they only have two places to go: one is the mountains and the other is the Delmarva Peninsula, so you’d better get ready for it. Do what you can to educate people [and] what you can do to educate politicians.”
“That’s a never-ending process, that last part,” Jenkins added. “We must educate, constantly and continuously, our representatives. Because they come, they go, and you have to reeducate.”
He said both development and conservation are necessary, and both require constant and continuous thought.
Jenkins said the best thing anyone can do is to take their children and grandchildren for a walk in the woods.
“That is the greatest thing in the world, because when you walk in the woods you see nature at its best,” he said. “You see an understory where certain critters live. You see an upper-story where certain birds live. You see all the woods that have fallen down, and if you think and ask the next question, you will see organic growth – you’ll see mold, you’ll see mildew, you’ll see ants all coming from that dead log as a part of the cycle of nature. And we’re a part of that cycle.”
Jenkins said government – and a lack of education – was the biggest enemy of conservation. He invoked a meeting about Newport Creek, when 126 people attended with him in protest.
“And we listened to all the bull crap that went on,” he said. “We saw the intellectual elite from Pennsylvania come in. He had a bowtie on … he was very, very impressive.
“He talked about … the current sewer facility and how good it was, and he happened to have two glasses up there of water from the current sewer plant and how wonderful it was, and all the people that I brought in the room were downcast, because it was all about how wonderful this new thing would be,” he continued.
“And I did one thing: I looked at each county commissioner and I said, ‘Drink that water.’ And that was the end of that,” Jenkins said.
He said Google once tried to bring a subsidiary to install offshore wind farms and then gather the energy “right across Assateague Island.”
“We were able to change that,” he said. “If and when offshore comes, it will not come across Assateague Island.”
Jenkins said conservationists next needed to protect against offshore oil drilling.
“The biggest thing that we can do as a group of people is look at our critical areas legislation,” he said. “Critical areas, once they’re destroyed, they’ll never come back.
“We have to educate our politicians that there are ripple effects,” Jenkins continued. “The woods take carbon out of the air. If it’s destroyed, there’s more carbon. So, it’s just that simple.”
Also during the ceremony, Pat Schrawder and Emily Nock presented citations on behalf of Gov. Larry Hogan, Sen. Mary Beth Carozza and Del. Wayne Hartman.
Last to speak was Jim Rapp, cofounder of Conservation Community Consultants.
Rapp said he was in Cedar Island during the mid-1990s and came across a big, beautiful beach house that appeared to be empty.
“I thought, well that thing’s going to be in the Ocean next year. There’s a sign there, I’m going to take it,” Rapp said.
Two summers ago, he said, he was at Jenkins’ farm in Wachapreague, Virginia and saw a familiar house. In a moment of déjà vu, Rapp asked his friend where it came from.
“He goes, ‘My granddad moved it from Cedar Island 25 years ago,’” Rapp said.
He the presented a sign, which read:
LIVE FREE OR DIE
CEDAR ISLAND, VIRGINIA
“Mr. Buddy, I’ve been holding onto this thing since the mid-90s and I am returning it to you today,” Rapp said to loud applause. “And on the back, in ink pen … it just says, ‘Salvaged, not stolen, by Jim Rapp, early-90s, returned to its rightful home, 2019.’”
A special award during the ceremony was also presented to Lisa Challenger. Berlin artist Jordan Pippin of Steel N Glory created both awards.