On July 31, 2009 the renovated pole barn at the Jericho Research Forest was officially dedicated as the Forrest E. Orr Conservation Center.
Guests were welcomed by David Brynn, Director of the Green Forestry Education Initiative, and Mary Watzin, Dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. Susan Orr (UVM ’76) shared a history of her father’s lengthy career as an avid steward of Vermont’s forests.
While the Center remains a work in progress, it was a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the dramatic transformation the building has undergone since early 2008.
Below is the speech given by Susan Orr at the dedication:
Thank you so much for this tremendous honor in memory of my Dad. You have accomplished something truly amazing on this small piece of Vermont, something that will benefit many people.
As we stand here inside a building bearing his name, many of you are probably asking yourself, “So, just who is Forrest E. Orr?”
Well, he wasn’t a native Vermonter (which I hope you won’t hold against him) and he never attended this university, although his three children did. Instead, he was the only child of stage actor parents who were touring Canada in a show when he was born. Raised in New York City, his first job was as a runner at the New York Stock Exchange. Not exactly a Vermont-type background.
As a teenager, Dad spent his summers in Plainfield, Vermont, at the home of actor friends of his mother’s. He decided splitting wood, hunting, and riding the farm horse into town was way more fun than playing stickball on Manhattan streets. When it was time for college, he chose Goddard.
He interrupted his education for the Marines during the Second World War, surviving a handful of amphibious landings in the Pacific. In 1945 he returned to Vermont, married a Barre girl, and earned a forestry degree from Syracuse University. In 1950, he was appointed Orleans County Forester, a post he held for 16 years.
I recently asked my brother what he remembered about Dad’s years as a forester in the Northeast Kingdom. Oddly enough, his most vivid memory was the same as mine... sneaking into our garage to play hide and seek among the mounds of young evergreens that were delivered annually and then planted by Dad. We were pretty much oblivious to the fact that he also did a weekly radio program advocating woodland preservation and sustainability, as well as writing a monthly newspaper column called “Timber Topics”. A firm advocate of education, he was also a long term school board chairman in Derby, the small town near the Canadian border where we lived. It was that job that undoubtedly kept us children on the good side of our teachers.
After a move to Montpelier in 1966, Dad’s job titles became more complicated: Director of the Wood Utilization Division of Forests and Parks, first Director of the Interagency Committee on Natural Resources, Director of the Division of Planning in the Agency of Environmental Conservation. It was in that job that he helped then-Governor Deane Davis draft Act 250, Vermont’s main environmental law.
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, Dad became Special Assistant to the Governor for Energy Affairs, responsible for co-ordinating the federally mandated Fuel Allocation Program. His work led to his appointment as Director of the Intergovernmental Relations Division of the Federal Energy Research and Development Administration in Washington (now you know why they use so many acronyms in government) during the Carter administration. From there he went into private consulting until his retirement. Even in retirement he couldn’t stay out of the woods, becoming the official forester of Reston, Virginia, where he and mom settled, though they continued to spend their summers in Vermont.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the impact of a career like that on real people. But back in the 1980s, my brother, Patrick, visited a wooden toy factory in Highgate Center. The place looked strangely familiar, so he asked the crusty Vermont proprietor if the place had ever manufactured anything other than toys. The owner said his brother had originally manufactured golf tees there. Patrick then said he remembered his father, Forrest Orr, bringing him to the tee factory years ago. The owner immediately called his whole family, including his brother. As they stuffed Patrick full of coffee and donuts, they told him that years earlier, Dad had secured state funding for wood utilization and that funding, along with some of Dad’s personal money, had allowed the brothers to start their company.
Dad was truly one of the first to see the future of Vermont’s forest management. If he was here today, he would say that the Forrest E. Orr Conservation Center ranks right up there with the best of his legacies. We hope that it helps many, many young people as they work toward his goal of maintaining our woodlands as Vermont’s greatest resource.
It’s been a great pleasure to be involved in this project.