2017-02-02 / Holden News

Substantial tributes for Wilson’s legacy of natural history education and open space preservation

By Joanne Root

Gifts of gratitude are pouring in to the White Oak Land Conservation Society in memory of Nancy Wilson, who passed away recently. To date White Oak has received $12,500 in her honor.

Nancy’s daughter Madeline remarked, “Even she would approve” of being remembered in this way because it means more open space will be saved.

In recent weeks Lynne Bagdis Wilson, wife of Nancy’s eldest son Ira, has been clearing out her home in Holden. When some passersby noticed Lynne’s car in the driveway and stopped in, several didn’t realize that Nancy had passed on. “In the rush and sadness, I didn’t notify The Landmark,” said Lynne.

So for those who missed it, her obituary noted: Nancy Wilson died on Nov. 3 in Grafton where she had lived for 16 years with her loving and devoted husband Richard H. Harris. Prior to her marriage to Mr. Harris, she had resided, since 1959, on Sunnyside Avenue. In 2012, she discovered the initial signs of breast cancer, which was the cause of her death.

You may find her complete obituary on line at www.tributes.com/ nancywilson.

Nancy served on White Oak’s Board of Directors for many years. Along the way she and fellow members preserved hundreds of acres of open space in the Wachusett and Greater Worcester Region.

Programs for children

Anthony Costello, another long-time and dedicated White Oak officer, said Nancy became a member soon after the land trust was founded in 1978, and from the beginning was very active in the push to expand White Oak’s activities and holdings.

“But her interest, above all,” said Costello, “was in introducing children to the natural world, and she persuaded the board to support teachers in Holden’s schools who were interested in teaching about natural history, and running programs for children. Those programs continue.”

In the early days White Oak didn’t have the resources to purchase land for conservation, and the land trust’s holdings came through donations of land or conservation restrictions. “But, when we became bold enough to start buying land, Nancy’s talents and her network of friends and acquaintances were invaluable,” said Costello. “She reluctantly resigned from the board in 2013 when her hearing became poor, but continued as an active member of the Education and the Land committees until the summer of 2016.”

Save our natural heritage

In a 2011 Landmark story Nancy urged readers to contribute so it would be possible for White Oak to purchase and maintain 24 acres formerly used by the Nature Training School off Reservoir Street/Route 31 in Holden. To encourage donations Nancy wrote: "We've all seen the woods and fields we grew up with disappearing as the tide of development moves into Central Mass. The places we love will disappear, one by one, if we don't act now to preserve them. This is a chance for each of us to take a stand, to save a piece of our natural heritage — for ourselves, for our community, and for all of those who come after us. You can help us make sure this land is preserved for future generations. Please make a gift or a pledge today!"

Area residents did contribute, and White Oak purchased that land from the Ecotarium in Worcester.

Today those who value the quality of life in the Wachusett Region that’s greatly enhanced by abundant open space for hiking, snowshoeing, bird watching and for peace of mind have been generous because they want to honor the legacy of a great lady who made much of that happen.

To express their admiration for her steadfast work, the White Oak Board of Directors recently named a large oak tree on a new trail off Salisbury Street in Holden the Nancy Wilson tree.

Even with the significant kudos and memorials, it’s tough going for her family and friends. Daughter Maddy sums it up: “I still can’t believe she’s gone . . . ”

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