Remembering David Engleson

The following letter has been posted by Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation President, Janet Brandt, in remembrance of David Engleson, one of WAEE’s co-founders. On behalf of our members, I would like to join Janet in acknowledging all Dave has done for WAEE and for the field of environmental education.  All who knew him were lucky to have had Dave as a colleague, mentor, and friend.  Even for those who never had the opportunity to meet Dave, his life’s work in environmental education has touched us all.  Dave, we miss you!


Susan Schuller
Chair-elect, WAEE


Dear Friends,

One of Wisconsin’s great environmental education pioneers, David Engleson, passed away this month at the age of 84.  Dave was Wisconsin’s first environmental education consultant and a co-founder of the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education.  On behalf of the Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation, I want to extend our condolences to Dave’s family and take a moment to remember Dave and his environmental education legacy.

I was so sorry to hear of Dave’s passing.  It surprised me because he was so lively and engaged at the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education’s 20th Anniversary celebration last fall.  I’m honored to have met him, even though it was at the tail end of his lifelong career in education.  When we met at the anniversary party (photo above), I had just received the David Engleson WAEE award the previous evening and I was thrilled (and humbled) to get to enjoy his company over dinner that night.  I left feeling hopeful and energized about the future of environmental education thanks to Dave and all of the educators there that his life’s work helped to create.

The following are reflections shared by WEEF Board members, Dolly Ledin, Rick Wilke, and Randy Champeau. We invite you to share your memories of Dave below in the comments section.

Memorials may be made to the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education or the Ice Age Trail Alliance.  Here is a link to Dave’s obituary.  Finally, I hope to see you all at WAEE’s next Fall Conference this October 25-27, 2012 in Door County where we can share more memories of Dave and create new ones of our own.  I know Dave would like that.

In fond memory,

Janet Brandt
President, Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation


Many of us saw Dave as the “Father of EE” in Wisconsin.  He was a dedicated educator and a tenacious advocate.   All that we’ve been able to accomplish in EE in Wisconsin has roots in Dave’s work.   He was a personal mentor to many of us in the field.  

When I first moved to Madison with a vague idea of what “environmental education” was, I heard Dave’s name and made an appointment to talk with him.  He was encouraging and helped me to see the possibilities and connect with the EE community – a true mentor and friend.  

Dave worked hard but knew how to enjoy life and enjoy the outdoors, from canoeing to cross-country skiing, from making wine to telling a good joke.  The highlight of many Winter Workshops was Dave’s spine chilling recitation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, a favorite Robert Service poem.  

He was so proud of all our EE successes and honored by the awards given in his name. I feel so lucky to have known him.


Dave Engleson was one of Wisconsin’s outstanding EE leaders. He deserves credit for many of the policy and program initiatives that led to nationwide recognition for Wisconsin’s EE program.  Dave was the first statewide education consultant for environmental education in the nation. Dave’s success in this role led many other states to follow Wisconsin’s lead by creating a state environmental education specialist in their state.

 Dave was the glue that held the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education together in its early years. He was the WAEE Executive Director for many years and took on virtually all of the administrative tasks for WAEE while also working full time as the EE Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). He mentored many future EE leaders in our state including me. As a member of the WAEE Board in the mid to late 1970’s I became very good friends with Dave. I was continually impressed with his quiet leadership and with his dedication to EE and to developing new EE leaders. I was also impressed with his wine making skills and his willingness to share the fruit of his labor at WAEE Conferences and at the conclusion of WAEE Board meetings.

Dave worked as an internal advocate to help convince then DPI Superintendent Bert Grover to support the approval and implementation of Wisconsin’s statewide teacher training requirement in EE, and later the requirement that all school districts develop an EE curriculum plan. Dave was an instrumental part of the planning team that championed these nationally recognized initiatives. He later wrote the Wisconsin Guide to Curriculum Planning in EE to help Wisconsin school districts develop their EE curriculum plans. This guide received national attention and was used in many other states. These and other successful efforts to advance EE led to Wisconsin being recognized as having the outstanding statewide EE program in the nation.

I will miss Dave a great deal. I was fortunate to know him and call him a friend for nearly 40 years. Dave’s work lives on through the contributions of the many environmental educators that he mentored.


I personally haven’t quite dealt with his passing yet. I have this feeling like I will see Dave at the next WAEE conference and catch up on old times again. The loss of Dave saddens me deeply as he was my friend, mentor, and one of my heroes.  He was a good, honest, hardworking professional; the epitome of “quiet leadership.”  I will miss him deeply. 

Dave Engleson was one of the founding fathers of Conservation/Environmental Education in Wisconsin if not the nation. He had the foresight to understand that environmental protection was the same as protecting the life support systems of our planet.  He knew the best way to ensure environmental protection was through environmental education.  The integration of Environmental Education across the school curriculum was central to Dave’s thinking and efforts. To Dave, there were no compromises, EE was the right thing to do and so it had to be done.  He totally believed in, lived, and loved the profession of environmental education. He was a wonderful model and an inspiration to other environmental educators and educators in general.  He helped to establish the fundamental groundwork for the growth of EE in Wisconsin as the first EE consultant at the Department of Public Instruction.  He founded WAEE which allowed hundreds if not thousands of young professionals the opportunity to connect and develop environmental education as a professional pursuit.  EE happening in the schools of Wisconsin is there because of Dave Engleson. We were lucky to have Dave Engleson in Wisconsin and I was lucky to have him as a mentor and friend.

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5 Responses to Remembering David Engleson

  1. Susan Schuller says:

    I am an environmental educator in Wisconsin who had the pleasure of meeting Dave Engleson a few times. Unlike my mentors, I did not have the chance to work side-by-side with Dave, but his influence flowed through my mentors and into me. I have been touched with the legacy Dave has left us. As the chair elect of WAEE, I can only hope to bring his example of humbleness and kind, quiet leadership to the table. I know some of my friends are laughing at the “quiet” part to describe me. None-the-less, I will always be grateful for the hard work, dedication, and commitment Dave had for environmental education in Wisconsin. He has left us a very solid foundation that will carry us generations into the future.

  2. Timothy Byers says:

    I have to say that Dave was one of my early heroes when I came to Wisconsin in 1982. He was in so many ways a Renaissance Man and that impressed me. He was such a storyteller and full of pertinent references that got to the heart of so many things. He personified the new world I was moving into, one of the true giants of our community.

  3. L. Dean Sauers says:

    David Engleson was my mentor & friend for over 40 years. We first met up at Clam Lake to write EE curriculum to enable teachers to infuse EE into their daily lessons. This writing experience, in August of 1972 then expanded into my membership into the Wi Assoc of Conservation Educ. I was at the meeting in Poynette when the name was changed from “Conservation” to Environmental (with a gentle push from Dave) thus expanding the scope of the organization. Dave was tireless, dedicated, and a consensus builder. Now I feel another “big tree” is down but his legacy will live as long as WAEE lives. That’s one reason, after my retirement, I continue to attend & support WAEE. Those 2 weeks up at Clam Lake in 1972 were life & career changes for me & David is responsible for that. Dave is a man I truly love & will surely miss. Gone but not forgotten. “The Cremation of Sam McGee”will not be the same. Thanks, Dave, for all you did for me & the realm of environmental education.

  4. Mary Pardee says:

    So sad… Dave will be greatly missed but he lives on through the work of all of us that he touched with his enthusiasm, knowledge, kindness and passion for environmental education. He sparked a flame for so many, including me. So long, Dave…we’ll see you in the night sky, in the colors of a crisp autumn day, in the pull of the river current. If only everyone could leave such a legacy.

  5. Pingback: Celebrate the Life of David Engleson |

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