Lifetime Achievement Award

Photo above from left: Naturalist Administrative Assistant Denise Wolfe (naturalist administrative assistant), Rita, Naturalist Nora “the Explorer” Sindelar, Naturalist Dottie Mathiott

Geauga Park District honors volunteer Rita Combs

Geauga Park District was pleased to present the 2013 Robert McCullough Lifetime Achievement Award to volunteer Rita Combs of Chardon during its volunteer appreciation breakfast April 20 in Chesterland.

Rita has accumulated 1,495 hours since she began volunteering in 1995. Her volunteer resume includes the Nature Arts Festival, the former Holly Day Happenings Craft Show, The Great Geauga County Fair, trailgating, office assistance, canoe programs ,and the earliest days of the Park District nature store. Visitors to The West Woods Nature Center also likely know her as a regular front desk volunteer, always bringing along a cheerful smile and can-do attitude.

“Her compassion and dedication to her career and family is without a doubt carried into her work ethic as a volunteer with her Geauga Park District family,” said Christin Morton, part-time secretary for the Park District. “Thursdays are always a little brighter here at The West Woods because we can always count on Rita’s smile to spread.”

Outdoors, Rita feels passionately about Citizen Science projects. She has been a Bluebird Box Doc, assisting with bluebird surveillance at several parks, each of these past 18 years, and is extremely dedicated to her birds.

“She assumes full responsibility of our charges and will stop at nothing to make sure that they have every chance at survival,” said Field Naturalist Tami Gingrich, who supervises the bluebird program. “When told last summer that she could not enter a park because of construction, she proceeded to her boxes anyway after a somewhat emotional confrontation with workers.”

Rita was also a member of the Citizen Science Monarch Tag Team for many years, tagging hundreds of Monarchs during their southern fall migration. Keeping a net in her car, she could often be seen running around the front field of the Geauga YMCA in an effort to tag Monarchs nectaring on the clover. Several of these butterflies were recovered at overwintering sites in Mexico, an amazing result!

Tagged Monarch Butterfly

Finally, one of Rita’s greatest contributions is the passion she has instilled in her children by having them volunteer alongside her. Doing so ensures that the next generation will also appreciate the natural world. A favorite example: Once, upon approaching one of her bluebird boxes, Rita and her children noticed the long body of a Black Rat Snake hanging out of the hole in the box. Instead of turning to run, they marched right up to the box, where they found the snake making a meal of the nestlings. Unbelievably her son was able to grab one from the snake’s mouth and wrestle it away, saving its life.

Rita’s continued support of Geauga Park District’s mission to preserve, conserve, and protect is a gift to all. Learn how you, too, can volunteer at your Geauga Park District by visiting  or calling Holly Sauder, volunteer coordinator, at 440-279-0802.

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Geauga News
Author: Geauga News