Openlands Honors Jerry Adelmann




By Judy Carmack Bross




Imagine having 1000 guests at your retirement party—and so many others celebrating with you from around the world.  Not even the beloved holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life could better highlight what the impact one person can bring to help his fellow citizens and their environment.


Jerry Adelmann, accepting his award


 Jerry Adelmann, now President Emeritus of Openlands, attracted most deserved recognition for his 35-year-leadership as President and CEO of the Midwest’s highly regarded conservation organization, with elected officials, community partners, environmental leaders, donors and close friends there to congratulate him on winning the 2023 Conservation Leadership Award.  The celebration coincided with Openlands 60th anniversary, raising over $600,000 that day, making it their most successful fundraising event to date.


“Since our founding in 1963, Openlands has been a champion of people and nature. Jerry, you took our impact to new heights. From small pocket parks to the first National Tallgrass Prairie, we are so grateful for all you done to create a web of green and blue for our region,” said Board Chair JoAnn Seagren, who opened the event and started the Adelmann celebration.


In his speech, Adelmann emphasized the critical significance of each executed program and highlighted Openlands’ track record of success. “Nature is vital for all people and the conservation movement must reflect the full diversity of our communities,” he said. “We measure our success as much by the number of lives enriched as by the number of acres saved.”


Adelmann further emphasized the organization’s commitment to tackling climate change, the rapid loss of biodiversity, and environmental injustices. Quoting Openlands’ cofounder George Overton, he concluded, “our goal is to raise the threshold of hope.”


Suzanne Malec-McKenna and Philip Enquist present the Conservation Leadership Award to Jerry Adelmann


He was presented with a painting titled, “Quiet Night,” by renowned landscape artist, Philip Juras. This work depicts the Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, which Openlands helped save in 1969.


Adelmann’s environmental measures in the Chicago metropolitan region have resonated across the country and the world.

“The annual luncheon celebrates our impact, protecting critical natural areas and creating quality community green spaces while enriching the lives of millions of people who live in our metropolitan region,” Adelmann told us recently.  “As a national pioneer, Openlands‘ record of accomplishment is unparalleled.  I was overwhelmed with the beautiful tribute to my 35 years as the head of the organization and was truly honored to receive the 2023 Conservation Leadership Award.”


Former Executive Director of Openlands Judith Stockdale, Co-Chair Suzanne Malec-McKenna, President and CEO of Openlands Michael Davidson, Co-Chair and Board Chair JoAnn Seagren.          Photo: Openlands.


Openlands staff with Jerry Adelmann and Michael Davidson at awards luncheon


During the luncheon, Michael Davidson was introduced as the organization’s next President and CEO. With over 25 years of experience in civic leadership including most recently as the Senior Director of Community Impact at The Chicago Community Trust. Davidson is well-equipped to guide Openlands as it continues its mission to safeguard and protect natural landscapes and green spaces in the Chicago region.


Michael Davidson, Openlands new President and CEO


“I know how unique and special this organization is. I’ve known Openlands for many years, beginning with our work together in the mid-2000s on a coalition to find solutions to urban sprawl,” he said. “And now, coming out of philanthropy, I’ve had this bird’s eye view of the region’s nonprofit landscape. Openlands is solid in its operations, in its talented staff, in its connection with you, and in its resolve to make the environment everyone’s priority. I am greatly appreciative to be here today.”


 Openlands unveiled the Nature for All campaign, the organization’s most ambitious campaign to date to raise $22 million towards protecting land, water and wildlife. This initiative underlines the critical importance of the Chicago metropolitan area’s abundant water and land resources for its economic, cultural, and ecological future. Recognizing the growing opportunities and needs in the region, the Nature for All campaign aims to ensure the ongoing vibrancy and vitality of our region in the face of global challenges.


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The Nature for All campaign has raised $20 million towards its $22 million goal. The campaign will continue until Earth Day, 2024, solidifying Openlands’ commitment to increase access to nature for people, for now, and for generations to come.