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Roger Coleman & Pat Mueller: Taking Care of What We Have

Written by Brittany Peters
    Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Roger Coleman & Pat Mueller: Taking Care of What We Have

Pat Mueller and Roger Coleman are two of the most familiar faces at the Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center, each one sharing a history with the Center that goes back nearly two decades and an appreciation that persists to this day. You’ll find Pat volunteering behind the reception desk every Thursday morning and Roger back in the office 5 days a week completing his Volunteer Program internship. They met with us at Riverside Park one afternoon to tell us their thoughts on nurturing, growth, and taking care of what you have.

"Roger made this his second home. He really did." Pat begins, turning to Roger, "Remember your grandma? ‘Send that kid home!'"

Roger laughs, "My mom would call Jamie (Ferschinger, the Riverside Park branch manager). I remember one time she called and said 'You tell Roger to come home NOW!'" Roger almost spent more time at the Center than he did at home.

Both Pat and Roger remember different aspects of the Urban Ecology Center back then. Roger remembers learning how to tie his shoes, the messy art of paper-making (something we still do!) and celebrating his 11th birthday at the Center. Pat recalls helping to write the first newsletters, collating them by hand and sending them out to about 300 people at the time, the deplorable state of the Milwaukee River, and our search for an executive director. "A number of different applicants came in and we sat and listened to them. I don’t think Ken will ever forgive me because I didn’t vote for him." We all got a laugh out of this, and she continued, "I just felt he was too much of a teacher and that was all I could see. Of course, I had no idea about his other skills. Thank goodness I was outvoted!"

However, one of the most distinct memories for Pat revolves around a feeling. It was the first thing she shared with me when I asked her if she’d like to sit down for an interview about membership; it was of Roger as a little boy, around the time they were beginning work on the building that is today the Riverside Park branch:

"When we were finally at the point where we could turn the first shovel, there was Roger, up in the driver’s seat (of the excavator) with his hard hat, digging the first scoop of dirt. And that’s what I like most about this place; this idea of nurturing. I felt that what we were doing with Roger was nurturing, and that’s just the overall feeling I have about this place. We’re taking care of what we have; expanding and helping other people understand what they have."

And it’s true, especially for Roger. Staying involved even as he grew older, Roger volunteered, attended summer camp ("a lot of summer camps"), participated in our High School Outdoor Leader program for two years, went on to become a Summer Intern while in college, and presently he is completing an internship with the Center in order to finish his business degree. He credits much of his continued involvement to the time spent with staff outside of work, creating memories and forming relationships that aided him through the often arduous task of growing up:

"I didn’t really have a sense of self within my community before I came here. I mean, I’ve done so many things with the staff outside of the Urban Ecology Center. We’ve gone to Six Flags, we’ve gone to symphonies, out to eat, movies, bowling. Beth used to be really into Harry Potter, so every time a new one would come out we’d go see it together. And I remember feeding the homeless with Ken’s family one year. We did a lot of fun, insightful stuff."

Pat adds, "They were your extended family."

"Very much so," Replies Roger. "I started as a little kid that didn’t want to go home, and here I am today as an intern again. A big part of the Center is this community that’s around you. It brings so many different people into one place, and makes you realize just how big of a community you really have. It’s so much bigger than you thought."

Pat continues, "You know, Roger and I have seen so many changes. It’s sort of like planting an acorn and being able to see the tree grow. There’s my new analogy. But it really is like that. We started from almost nothing and in a good 20 years, this is what we’ve become."

Roger agrees, applying the metaphor to his own life and family, "I have my little acorn; I just need to make sure it’s ready to plant first."

 

Special thanks to Davita Flowers-Shanklin who assisted with the interview and editing of this article.

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Brittany Peters

Brittany Peters

Brittany is the Membership & Development Systems Coordinator at the Urban Ecology Center. She is thrilled to part of an organization that teaches kids about science and inspires everyone to get outside and experience nature in our city. When she’s not entering data, poring over spreadsheets, or connecting with our incredible members and volunteers, she enjoys hiking, spying on birds with her binoculars, jumping for joy when she can accurately identify one, and figuring out how to fit one more houseplant in her living space

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