Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award Winners

2023 Winner: Dave Troup

Dave Troup has served as Treasurer of the Elkhart River Restoration Association from January 21, 2002 - to the November 17, 2003, meeting when he resigned from the Treasurer’s position to become the President of the organization. He worked extensively with Indiana State Senator Marvin Riegsecker while they worked to have the Goshen Dam Pond dredged, a project which became necessarily focused on dam repair in subsequent years. He remained President through the ERRA’s first Watershed Management Plan funded by a 319 Grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (Dec. 2006), until the grant was written for the entire Elkhart River Watershed, and beyond that until stepping away from the Presidency in 2018 to again resume the Treasurer’s position, in which he still serves the ERRA along with the entire Elkhart River Watershed. Additionally, for many years Dave has informally served as the ERRA’s communications manager by managing the organization’s website and updating content. To view his work, visit the ERRA’s website at

As Treasurer of ERRA, Dave has helped to manage the funds from two different grants to update the Elkhart River Watershed Management Plan as the Watershed was divided into the Upper and the Lower portions. The Upper Watershed Management Plan was updated through 319 grant funding; the final Plan was released on January 2, 2024.

Dave has done a range of other things to benefit the organization and the work that is being done. Whether it is preparing a flyer, finding relevant and useful information to add to the ERRA website, or just talking with community members about the value of a healthy River, Dave helps those around him to see their connections to this shared treasure. Because of Dave's work with the ERRA, the Elkhart River Watershed is protected, and the St. Joseph River Basin is a better place. When the St. Joseph River Basin is a better place, all of the Great Lakes Basin is a better place, and truly the world is a better place. We nominate Dave because of the work he has done, and the work he inspires others to do, for the Elkhart River, for the St. Joseph River Basin, for the Great Lakes Basin, and for the world.

2022 Winner: Dr. Douglas McLaughlin

Doug is AMAZING!! He truly has a love for water, especially the rivers, lakes and streams of the St. Joseph River Watershed. He has re-inspired so many within the FotSJR to become more engaged in so many water-related topics.

Doug has developed a passion for the St Joseph Watershed after moving to Michigan. He has traversed the entire mainstem of the St. Joe and recorded valuable information about the river. This data includes dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity, depth, trash, invasive species, bank erosion, water withdrawals and lots of other observations. In order to share all of the information, images, and video he collected, he worked with a company called EarthViews to make the data available to the public in an easily accessible interactive webmap. Now it is possible for someone to take a virtual tour of the St. Joseph River in the comfort of their own home right from their very own computer!

Doug also works for the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council and has begun a similar effort in that watershed. He has provided assistance to at least three Conservation Districts in their quests for grants to improve the St. Joseph River Watershed. He has also partnered with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi to support their meander restoration project on the Dowagiac River.

Doug is clearly passionate about the St. Joe and he has shared that passion with others in a unique and different way by making it possible to see the whole river from a computer! 

2021 Winner: Andrea "Andy" Jackson

Andrea “Andy” Jackson has always had a passion for water, children, elders and conservation. From a young age, she pursued knowledge of her Neshnab√© culture. As one can imagine, much of this knowledge has been lost through the assimilation of tribal communities to western cultures. Throughout her adult life she continued asking questions, always learning from the elders in the communities she travels to. Her persistence has made her a leader on cultural knowledge within the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi.

Citizens of all ages have heard Andy repeat "We need to pray for the water." Her attention to water was inspired by Josephine Mandamin, an elder who shared her stories about walking the shores of all the Great Lakes. Josephine asked Andy to carry on the mission of the water walkers to bring awareness and protection to all waters for future generations. For 12 years now Andy has held an annual water walk in the Dowagiac, Michigan, area connecting two lakes with special significance to the tribe. The 12 mile path passes over several stream and river sites that receive a traditional prayer along the way. Hundreds, if not thousands, have been touched by this event over the years.

Andy has been a cultural associate and was voted to Tribal Council within the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. While in these positions, she passed along her message of caring for our water resources and respect for Mother Earth. She has presented at watershed and community events near and far. She has even gotten in the ear of elected officials in Michigan, Indiana, and Washington D.C., over the years. Her tribal community has recognized her efforts by presenting her with a traditional staff for her to carry with her. It seems only fitting that the Friends of the St. Joe River build on that recognition of her past, present, and future efforts in protecting and improving our many water resources.

For all of these reasons, and so many more, the FotSJR association says "Migw∆°tth"  (Thank You) to Andy Jackson.

2020 Winner: Nancy Brown

Nancy Brown is a huge ally for the Elkhart River. Nancy's love and motivation for protecting the Elkhart River stems from her childhood where she grew up along the river in Indiana between Millersburg and Ligonier. Nancy spent 32 years at the Elkhart County Soil & Water Conservation District, serving for many of those years as its program manager. Nancy is a passionate educator and spent many years developing educational programs and fostering an educational environment for her staff and peers. 

Even though Nancy is retired, she leads the Hoosier Riverwatch Programs in Elkhart County, Indiana. In 2007, Nancy founded the Master Naturalist Program in Elkhart County which, to this day, is one of the strongest in the State of Indiana. Nancy is a long-serving board member of the Elkhart River Restoration Association (ERRA) and, after retirement, she stepped up to the role as ERRA's President. 

Nancy was the main player behind creating the Elkhart River Watershed Management Plan in 2007, and implementing recommendations associated with that plan. During the watershed management planning process, she helped to steer the ship and fostered conversations with various stakeholders from aquatic biologists to farmers to all urban types. 

All of the other recipients of this award have two things in common with Al Smith: a very strong passion for the watershed and an absolute dedication to the watershed. Nancy also very much shares these traits.

2019 Winner: Kevin Haight

Kevin Haight is passionate about protecting the Paw Paw River and raising awareness around issues involving the river. Kevin has served as President of the Two Rivers Coalition (TRC) for several years and has been instrumental in developing and promoting the Paw Paw River Water Trail (PPRWT). His belief is that getting people out on the river will make them better stewards of the resource and more willing to fight for protection of it. Kevin has also been critical in developing and maintaining a presence on social media for sharing information about TRC and the PPRWT. 

Kevin's passion for the river hgas been evident in the many public presentation he has provided over the years. One of his earliest efforts to bring attention to the river was his "Paw Paw River Odyssey" where he paddled all 66 miles of the Paw Paw River and blogged about his experiences. Kevin's leadership of the TRC and his efforts to bring attention to the Paw Paw River are exceptional. 

Kevin also volunteers his time to do water quality sampling throughout the watershed. He partners with the Van Buren Conservation District on their biological sampling (macroinvertebrates) and is also leading a study of bacterial pollution (e. coli) that includes taking water samples from tributaries and sending them to a lab for analysis. Kevin affectionately refers to the St. Joseph River as the "Big Branch of the Paw Paw." His passion for the Paw Paw River, which he shares with many people every year, is unending.


2018 Winner: Daragh Deegan

Daragh Deegan shares hgis passion for the Elkhart and St. Joseph Rivers with hundreds of people every year. Through the "Clean Rivers, Healthy Neighborhoods" program he allows kids and adults to see the amazing fish living in the rivers. Anyone who has seen him giving one of his fish sampling demonstrations has seen the joy on his face and the amazement of the faces of everybody there. Providing people with the opportunity to hold a giant fish or allow a lamprey to suck on their finger is truly special. Daragh's work jelps people understand how much life there is in the river and appreciate its value.

Daragh has served as Vice President on the Board of the Friends of the St. Joe River Association for over six years. During that time he participated in several working committees. He has also served on the Board of the Elkhart River Restoration Association and the St. Joseph River Basin Commission. His work with the "Clean Rivers, Healthy Neighborhoods" program provides the most important measure of the overall health of the river  

2017 Winner: Mahlon Dunkel

Mahlon Dunkel was born in 1924.  Losing his parents early in life, his childhood was spent with grandparents and other relatives in LaGrange County.  He has spent his life building a legacy of appreciation for natural resources and agriculture.  He was instrumental in starting university extension services, the 4-H program, and the county soil & water conservation district in LaGrange County from their very beginnings.  A lifelong farmer and longtime employee of Indiana Farm Bureau, Mahlon has served as an ambassador for conservation wherever he has gone, and to whomever he has come in contact.  More recently, as a member of Pheasants Forever Chapter 592, Mahlon has served as one of the primary movers of the Chapter’s wildlife habitat establishment crew, donating literally hundreds of hours operating equipment at controlled burns, warm season grass and tree plantings and other habitat establishment efforts.

Mahlon still lives on his 200-acre eastern LaGrange County farm.  Although others do the farm work these days, Mahlon oversees operations on a regular basis, taking at least one spin around the farm on his John Deere Gator daily.  He insists that tenant farmers practice conservation tillage, crop rotation, and erosion control practices on his property.  He has installed extensive areas of wildlife habitat, supported the installation of a lake sewage treatment plant for nearby Fish and Royer Lakes on property that he formerly owned and farmed.  He has constructed ponds, installed numerous bird houses for many species, and practiced integrated pest management on his farm long before that was a common practice.  Surface water on the Dunkel farm is protected with filter strips and grassed waterways.  Mahlon practices what he preaches.

2016 Winner: Gene Lightner 

Gene has spent many years working hard to protect and enhance the Elkhart River. He has served as a Director on the Board of the Elkhart River Restoration Association (ERRA) for several years, representing the upper reaches of the Elkhart River in Noble County. Although he is a true river rat that spends hours paddling along the Elkhart River, he also spends time on the land that feeds it educating others, knocking on doors, and meeting with people in an effort to protect and enhance the Elkhart River. Gene was head of the flood focus committee of the ERRA. This committee was established following the Noble (Indiana) County's proposal to declare the Elkhart River a regulated drain. While there was much controversy surrounding the regulated drain issue with highly varying opinions on the issue among committee members, Gene's leadership refocused this group of stakeholders to work cooperatively and make things happen. Gene is a charismatic person with a charm and passion that captures the attention and respect of all people.

Gene's life has been dedicated to service, doing two tours in Vietnam and being a retired high school teacher. He continues to serve the public through river educational activities with local schools and by assisting college students with Elkhart River projects. Gene was instrumentally involved in the 2012 award of a $400,000 Great Lakes Commission Grant to the ERRA for sediment reduction. Genes's efforts have fostered the implementation of several stormwater enhancement projects in Noble County. Gene also leads large groups (including school groups) on river cleanups and canoe trips in the Ligonier area. Although in his young mid-70's, Gene has a youthful wit and energy that are a source of motivation for others.

2015 Winner: Marcy Hamilton 

Known to many as the "Queen of Green", Marcy Hamilton has been working tirelessly on clean water efforts in the St. Joe River Watershed (SJRW) for over 15 years. Her passion for natural resources protection and improvement has been the driving force behind a number of watershed projects. She has been involved in developing watershed management plans throughout the SJRW and her energy has been instrumental in bringing groups together to implement those plans.

Marcy has played a lead role in all of the major projects accomplished by the Friends of the St. Joe River Association since 2007. She was largely responsible for the success of the Wetland Partnership Project, the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the SJRW Fish Migration Barrier Inventory and more recently the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.  These projects have not only been important for achieving conservation in the watershed, they have been critical in allowing the Friends of the St. Joe River Association to play a supportive role to its partners.

2014 Winner: Scott King

There is one name associated with conservation efforts surrounding McCoy Creek, a coldwater tributary to the St. Joseph River. That name is Scott King. King, a long-time resident of Buchanan, MI, was presented with the 2014 “Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award” at the 7th Annual Watershed Council meeting hosted by the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR). This prestigious award honors volunteers and conservation professionals who work in all or part of the 15 counties in Indiana or Michigan that drain to the St. Joseph River. The award, named in honor of FotSJR founder Al Smith, represents individuals that go above and beyond the call of duty in maintaining a healthy St. Joseph River Watershed. The unique handmade award which is in the shape of the St. Joseph River Watershed will be on display after May 14 at the Buchanan Public Library, 128 E Front St, Buchanan, MI.

This year, the call for nominations for the award resulted in a surprise and an easy decision for the FotSJR Board of Directors. All nominations received named Scott King for his tireless efforts to protect and improve McCoy Creek.

King, an avid fisherman, has been the principal and sometimes sole organizer of annual clean-up events for not only McCoy Creek, but also the St. Joseph River from the Niles dam to the Berrien Springs dam. He has recruited Boy Scouts, fishermen, high school students and local residents to participate. King explained, “"What we're trying to do is restore the stream so it's great for the trout and salmon to live and the ducks and the wildlife around it to not have to eat and survive in a lot of garbage."

King has recently gone beyond river clean-ups by leading the development of a collaborative, watershed approach to a problem in the City of Buchanan. The problem began when the water supply to the historic Pears Mill in downtown Buchanan began to decrease to the point where it could no longer operate the waterwheel. King worked with the City and the Historical Preservation Society to devise a solution that would not only supply water to the historic mill, but also protect the cold water of McCoy Creek. His determination, positive attitude, ability to work with partners and his strong but non-confrontational manor led to substantial improvements to the creek. Improvements included the removal of a small dam that blocked fish passage from the St. Joseph River, the removal of a shallow pond that threatened the coldwater status of the creek, the restoration of streambanks to improve habitat and water quality, and the addition of in-stream structure to improve fish habitat. The creek is now more aesthetically pleasing, supporting fish and wildlife, while also providing a supply of water to operate the waterwheel of the 1857 Pears Mill in downtown Buchanan so it can once again grind corn for the benefit of the public, local history and student educational programs.

King’s continued dedication to the stewardship of McCoy Creek is admirable and his energy will not stop with the recent stream restoration. King is already working with the City of Buchanan to add woody structure at the confluence of McCoy Creek and the St. Joseph River to provide habitat for fish and aquatic life, proving his efforts in conservation are never at rest.

2013 Winner: Dona Hunter

Long-time Lagrange resident and retired conservationist Dona Hunter was named the 2013 recipient of the Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award at the 6th Annual Watershed Council meeting hosted by the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) on March 18th in Sturgis, Michigan. In an emotional exchange, Hunter accepted the award from FotSJR Board President Matt Meersman, as 85 in attendance applauded in appreciation.

Hunter retired from the LaGrange County Soil and Water Conservation District in April 2012 after working for the District nearly 27 years. She served as District Coordinator (department head) for most of that time. In her time of service, Dona helped the District to develop and carry out a nationally recognized and award winning program of environmental education, elevating concern for natural resources conservation to a county wide priority.

Current LaGrange Conservation District administrator Martin Franke nominated his former boss for the award, which was established by the FotSJR Board of Directors in 2012 to honor individuals who display a passion for the health of the watershed. The award is named in honor of FotSJR founder Al Smith who worked tirelessly to improve the St. Joseph River. According to Franke, “Hunter helped to spearhead and maintain a multimillion dollar grant program for watershed planning and management, including significant installation of best management practices within the rural, agricultural LaGrange County community. This resulted in statistically substantiated improvement in surface and subsurface water quality, and a marked reduction in erosion and sedimentation in the LaGrange County area.”

In an email to Meersman the day following the ceremony, Hunter expressed the honor she felt as the award’s recipient, stating “It is hard for me to accept the award for just myself, because of the many people in LaGrange County who have worked along with me to begin seeing an improvement in the water quality here. I have such great respect for so many people who are working diligently to improve and protect the water quality in the St. Joseph River and to be honored with this award means more to me than I can ever express.”

In addition to her work with the Conservation District, Dona has served in various positions with the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, the northern Indiana Envirothon Committee, the Wood-Land-Lakes RC&D Education Committee, the Board of the Northern Indiana Conservation Camp, and as board secretary for the Friends of the St. Joe Association. Over the years she also served on various interagency committees and task forces focusing on environmental and conservation concerns and challenges. “Dona spent a quarter century pouring all her energy into efforts to conserve natural resources, raise public awareness, and improve the environment in the St. Joseph River Basin,” Franke summarized.

2012 Winner (Our Very First!): Bob Owens

Bob Owens is a true champion of the St. Joe River and has actively supported the Friends of the St. Joe River Association (FotSJR) since the organization was founded. Bob has been a lead organizer of one of the largest river clean-up events on the St. Joseph River for 17 years. He promotes the FotSJR at the event by displaying a large banner and encouraging clean-up participants to join as members.

Bob has paddled the entire length of the St. Joe River (210 miles) several times. He shares stories about the people he met along the way and it is obvious they learned as much from him as he did from them. Although his navigation of the entire main branch of the river is impressive, his ultimate goal is even more impressive. He is determined to paddle every mile of every navigable tributary of the St. Joe River. For Bob, a navigable stream simply means there is enough water to float a canoe, never mind the brush and tree fall that blocks passage around every bend.

At almost 80 years old, Bob is still working on his goal. His knowledge of the entire St. Joseph River Watershed is amazing and he enjoys sharing it with others. He was there beside Al and Margaret in the beginning and he is still there today cleaning up the river and helping others appreciate the truly wonderful water resources in the St. Joseph River Watershed.

Dave Troup

Dr. Douglas McLaughlin (left) and Matt Meersman

Andy Jackson

                                        Nancy Brown

Kevin Haight

Daragh and Sarah Deegan

Mahlon Dunkel

Gene Lightner - doing what he'd rather be doing than to get a picture of him getting an award

 Marcy Hamilton

 Scott King

 Dona Hunter (Left) with Matt Meersman (Right)

Bob Owens (Left) with Matt Meersman (Right)

Friends of the St. Joe River Association, Inc.                                                                                                          
P.O. Box 1794
South Bend, Indiana 46634

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