Dream Job of a Lifetime
After a 41-year career with the Macon County Conservation District, Jeff Tish plans to retire from his position as Program Services Manager this September. We sat down with him to reflect on his career and gain his perspective on the natural world:
Where does your love of nature stem from?
It stems from early days of being out in nature with my father: hunting, fishing, camping . . . and Dad sharing that world with me and the value of it.
What’s cool about nature?
It’s always a surprise. If you pay attention to nature more, all kinds of things will reveal themselves to you. Each of us are linked to nature in ways we know not. It is indeed some of the best medicine available, and as you know, most of it is free. Science is proving that nature has a healing, soothing effect on us.
What do you hope people will gain from spending time in nature?
To be able to tune into your senses and experience things for yourself. Whether it’s hearing a new bird call that you’ve never heard before, seeing a new flower, or experiencing a walk in the forest – there is nothing that can replace that kind of experience. I also hope people will gain those physical and mental healing benefits of nature.
Tell us a little about your career path. How did you stumble across this job?
Beginning my career in 1976 I started the dream-job of a lifetime. Completing my Bachelor of Science Degree in December of ‘75 at Southern Illinois University, I began my search for a full time job. My goal was to work in a National Park out west. But, returning to my summer job at the Macon Memorial Park Cemetery, I soon learned how to drive a tractor, a riding mower, a back hoe, and operate a weed whip and deal with all the challenges of finding and digging graves in the winter. I knew this was not the job for me but, I did gain a lot of practical experience that helped me to land my job at Friends Creek Conservation Area.
I must admit that landing a job in my field of study locally was a matter of being in the right place at right time and the fact that my Dad happened to see the job ad listed in the paper. I was hired in April and was honored to work a 7 day week, meet with people at the campground, mow grass, clean toilets and identify numerous birds and flowers for the first time in my life.
At the Friends Creek Campground, I eventually began to present some campfire programs at the amphitheater with a real campfire, 16mm nature movies, slide programs, and nature talks on a variety of topics. I also started leading some nature hikes as I helped people of all ages discover the magic of our natural world that I had enjoyed my entire life, thanks to my Dad.
That was the start of a career which would take me all over Central Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, New Orleans, all MCCD sites and on a path of discovery that would teach me something new, each and every single day. I soon phased out of my shyness and began to get paid for my passion: sharing nature.
Leading nature awareness hikes was a key activity for the naturalist staff at Rock Springs Center for Environmental Discovery. I had the pleasure of working with a lot of good naturalists over the years. We presented programs at schools, churches, restaurants, libraries, private homes and public venues for various civic clubs. Each program was an adventure and I always walked away with some new friends and a greater knowledge of our environment.
From your perspective, what does the Macon County Conservation District mean to the community?
It’s a perfect complement to the other features we have, such as the Decatur Park District, Scovill Zoo, and Children’s Museum. It offers the opportunity to hike a trail and experience nature, and we need that refreshment routinely. Not just during a one or two week vacation to the Grand Canyon, or some other magnificent place. We need that refreshment routinely, daily even. The Conservation District helps fulfill that need in our community, in addition to things like providing habitat for wildlife.
What roles do you see this organization playing in the community in the years to come?
It will always have that same foundation (the same mission it does now), but I imagine it will continue to adapt it’s programming to meet the needs of children and adults as time goes by.
What advice do you have for teens or young adults interested in working in this field?
I would encourage them to actively engage the entities that are doing work they’re interested in, whether local ones like the Conservation District, or national organizations. Get out there and ask them how you can get involved. It may very well be in a volunteer opportunity, but there are internships as well. If you can get some first-hand experience, you’ll find out if this is what you really wanted.
What are you looking forward to in retirement?
I look forward to traveling, my hobbies like photography, gardening, birding, camping, fishing, kayaking, and especially spending time with family and friends. I have four grandsons and who knows what the future will bring. Don’t worry, learning how to love and respect nature and people will definitely be included in the “Grandpa Tish Camp for Kids.”
Anything more to add?
As I reflect on the past 41 years of my career with the Macon County Conservation District, I enter a world of surreal wonder filled with so many incredible memories. It seems like a brief flash and an eternity at the same time. I will never stop inspiring people to discover the natural world around them in a fun and exciting way. Be ready: I will stop by now and then to say hello and make sure my legacy [of showing others how to love and respect nature] lives on. Thank you all for the memories. They will feed my soul for a lifetime and beyond.
We thank Jeff for all he has invested into the Conservation District and community. All are invited to celebrate Jeff Tish’s career on Thursday, September 7 during a free open house from 6pm to 7:30pm at Rock Springs Conservation Area. No reservations are required.