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Alumnus and family donate recreational land for environmental education

RELEASED: July 13, 2011

Jim and Joan Leary
Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich with Joan and Jim Leary at the site of the Leary Family Environmental Education Center.

EAU CLAIRE — A gift of land given by a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumnus and his family recently was accepted by the UW-Eau Claire Foundation to be used for environmental education and recreation for students.

Jim and Joan Leary, of Holcombe, donated 168 acres located in a popular four-season recreational area at the confluence of the Flambeau and Chippewa rivers. The land, which comprises two parcels valued at $263,000, is surrounded by Chippewa County forest land. The new James and Joan Leary Family Environmental Education Center will become an integral part of UW-Eau Claire's Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies, an interdisciplinary initiative to help students develop an increased environmental awareness, ecological literacy and a commitment to conservation and sustainability.

"The timely confluence of this generous donation with the Blugold Commitment support of recent faculty hires for the Watershed Institute will enable us to explore new dynamic outdoor learning experiences for a broad range of UW-Eau Claire students," said Dr. James Boulter, who recently was appointed Campus Sustainability Fellow at UW-Eau Claire. "And with the Environmental Education Center, we can offer the university community additional outdoor recreation opportunities that will encourage a lasting relationship with this prime example of a Wisconsin landscape."

According to Jim Leary, the family's history with UW-Eau Claire factored into their decision. He is a 1956 math and education graduate and had a long and distinguished career in administration, most recently having served as interim superintendent of the Eau Claire Area School District. Jim and his wife, Joan (Gourdoux) Leary, met on campus and Joan's mother and two sisters attended UW-Eau Claire. They also have two granddaughters who currently attend the university.

"Our exploration of options and what we have learned about land preservation over the past few years all came together when we thought about UW-Eau Claire," said Jim Leary, who noted that the couple's five children were involved and "strongly supportive" of the decision.

"We find that donating the land with unlimited possibilities for students and faculty is far more rewarding than any personal gain," Leary said. "Hopefully, with this site being located within an hour's drive from campus, every year will bring more opportunities for UW-Eau Claire to explore and enjoy."

The Learys have been involved in global sustainability issues for 30 years and expressed concern about the increasing number of people who are disconnected from their environment.

"They have forgotten that all monetary wealth and possessions come from the planet," said Leary, who hopes the land will lead to environmental solutions as students will be able to conduct water quality research, observe wildlife, study natural environmental growth and witness the impact that global issues have in their own community.

"Jim and Joan Leary's extraordinary gift extends the boundaries of UW-Eau Claire to the fields, forests and waterways of the Chippewa River basin," said Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich. "We are grateful for their vision, which will transform learning and research for countless future Blugold students, faculty and staff."

"We have complete trust in the UW-Eau Claire faculty and their students' desire to take an active part in restoring the water quality of this valuable asset," Leary said. "Their efforts can serve as a state and national model for providing solutions for a sustainable future."

Faculty and staff with an interest in the educational and recreational potential for students will gather this fall to learn more about the property. They will have the opportunity to submit proposals for various ways to maximize the benefit of the new resource.

For more information about the new environmental education center or ways to make a gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, contact Kimera Way, Foundation executive director, at 715-836-5630 or



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