Steve Weinstein on Membership: Turning on the Light

Written by Brittany Peters
    Wednesday, 13 April 2016
Steve Weinstein on Membership: Turning on the Light

Steve & Barb Weinstein have lived in the Riverside Park neighborhood since 1978. Steve bikes the Oak Leaf Trail every day, at times stopping to rest and take in the sounds of children playing in the park. He strolled into Riverside Park one evening after work and told me about his history with the Center; thinking back to when this building was nothing but a dream and his daughter was too young to work, he spoke of the Center’s growth with a strong sense of pride and a hint of nostalgia.

“The Center really is an anchor for the community. It brings new people into the neighborhood to see what’s here and what we have to offer. It’s something to be proud of. When I walked in tonight I just thought ‘yep, feels like home’. And that’s exactly what it is.”

Steve’s family has been involved with the Center for about 12 years, and active members for about 10. Their connection to the Center goes back to when their daughter was 13 and, being too young to work, needed something to do.  

“We walked over to the trailer to see what it was all about. Samantha started playing with the reptiles and really liked it! Whoever was working at the time said they were looking for someone to come and take care of the animals on a regular basis. Samantha just lit up and said I can do that! She really got to understand and appreciate this place without knowing any plans about its future.” 

Today Samantha is an environmental lawyer in Anchorage Alaska, and as of last Thursday, the Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization. According to Steve, her experience with the Center helped Samantha get to where she is today. “She’s really using her law degree and her love of the environment that started here. I think we can honestly say that her life began when she was feeding the animals and volunteering at the trailer. You know, it’s fairly simple! She didn’t always know what she wanted to do so she decided to try Law School, recalled her time spent here, and just flew into environmental law and that area of practice. And she loves it!”

Not only has Samantha’s life been shaped by her relationship with the Center, but Steve’s wife and his parents have discovered new skills and interests, too. “Last year I took Barb canoeing at Washington Park for the first time in her life. She had never been canoeing before! It really took me back. It took me back almost 45 years to when I was a boy scout and used to love canoeing. And I said okay, we’re going to do this a lot now. We’re going to go down the river. We’re going to get a lot more involved. So, you’ll see us around here quite a bit this summer.”

Steve continues, “The Milwaukee River is beautiful. And so much work has been done out here. Why not go appreciate it? For my wife, it’s a new skill. She had never done it before so she’s developing this new skill and appreciation for canoeing. She’s seeing the city in a whole new way.”

Steve brought his parents here, too. “My parents live the suburban life, and when my father came in here he was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe that a place like this exists here, in the middle of the city. It was the weekend and there were some families here, and he saw the kids and he saw the adults playing. He was amazed. My father is almost 90 years old and he used to teach swimming lessons in Gordon Park years ago. So he’s going “this is what’s across the river?” It takes him back, too. My goal for the summer is to get my parents in a canoe. They’re not going to paddle; I just want to get them in the boat. I want to get them in there because they’re at an age when it’s really difficult to do something totally different, totally new.”

 “This was a dream, and today we’re sitting in the dream. It’s a phenomenal thing. It’s a place that I think everybody can relate to, in one way or another. I mean, this place doesn’t exist in Mequon, in New Berlin, in St. Francis, in Waukesha; it’s in the middle of the city of Milwaukee. It really is a diamond. The seminars, the hikes, the classes, the programs, they are all phenomenal in helping to turn on that light for people who may not know. Once you get them in the building, they’ll be back.” 

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


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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