Godsil. The Urban Ecology Center is one of Milwaukee’s most inspiring “social enterprises.” Each time I visit I am astonished at the combination of beauty, fun, and enlightenment that the facility and the people offer the community. I can remember back around 1995 when the UEC was in two linked house trailors, often with a leaking roof(the reason I was there). Then one day I walked into this spectacular facility which will take me years to fully explore. You, Mr. Ken Leinbach, are the person I’m told who took the torch from founder Else Ankel and partnered with many, many people to take UEC to a “higher plane.” Here’s my question. Going back to your grade school days, and moving forward, how did you get here!
Leinbach. I remember walking along the shores of Lake Michigan, alone in my own head, probably in 6th or 7th grade. And I remember not really thinking about anything, but humming a montra in my head: “When In Doubt, Do!” And then in my little head, once I caught the montra I’d been singing for an hour without thought, I thought about it. And my thought was how much I enjoyed reading stories. And that, in essence, my life was just one of those stories. A story with lot of work and play, action, drama, suspense, and purpose!
And then I thought, what makes a good story? So the “when in doubt, ‘Do!’ montra, translated to a philosophy of life at that young age, when faced with a decision or choice, do the one that makes the best story.
I know the moment. The mantra. The “do the thing that makes the best story.” These are clear in my mind from that moment. One of 5 to 10 moments of clarity that helped shape me. Almost all have been when I’ve been alone and in an isolated spot in my head.
This has a lot to do about why I like Will Allen so much. There are people who do and people who talk. Will and I like to do things. What makes someone like that?
This is a gift, the gift of doing. Mario Constantini is another doer. His peer group would go golfing and he would prefer to organize a soccer league in the inner city, something more “real.”
Godsil.And the Urban Ecology Center is one of Milwaukee’s finest stories! Where did you go to grade school?
Leinbach.In a tiny little consolidated rural school in Northern Michigan, but not the Upper Peninsula. Nearest town was Glen Arbor. Nearest theatre was an hours drive away at Traverse City, Michigan. There were 800 kids in the same building, kindergarten through 12th grade.
Godsil So how about the ecology calling. Can you remember youthful moments that anticipated your channeling this “action” orientation into the ecology movements of our time?
Leinbach.I’m going to answer no. It’s not a “moment.”
However, my best friend growing up was “the woods and the fields.” My closest neighbor playmate was 2 miles away through the woods. My family at that point ran an alternative camp, a conference center, and an organic farm. My Dad was a social worker and teacher in public schools. Mom was the family caregiver and managed the business end of our camps, i.e. Camp Crystalaire and Innisfree.
My mind was not at all conscious of the ecology movements. The camp and work chores, e.g. slopping the pigs, breaking ice from the goats’ buckets, making lunch, going to school(45 minute ride), reading all of the time, playing basketball varsity my sophomore year: this was simply my life. I was reading adventure stories and biographies, e.g. Duke Ellington, Adventures of Mark Tidd(fat stuttering brilliant kid preceded Hardy Boys, turn of century, found in Dad’s attic collection). I was a good and spirited kid, surely not an angel, good grades, pushed authority right to the edge. “Let’s All Go Surfing”(Patagonia founder).
Godsil.How about the moment you graduated from H.S. What thoughts did you have about your future direction that summer?
Leinbach.I did not think much because I was already doing. I had to pack all my belongings into 3 categories: backpack for my summer hitchhike across to N.Y., where I was hired to run a program for a summer camp; one was the pile of stuff that my Dad was going to bring down to college in the Fall(Antioch College in Ohio, Horace Mann, one of oldest in the country, really strong and progressive school); the third was for my parents new home(the camp was being turned over to oldest brother). I picked a school without the distraction of collegiate sports, fraternities, and sororities. Sports caught me up in ego, a kind of lord of the flies mentality among kids. I liked good competition, but was somehow beyond the winning and losing part of it. Adults who knew me well knew I was a different kid.
Godsil.Any knock down dead inspiring professors?
Leinbach.Bob Bierie, a biology professor. I was salutatorian with scholarship offers to either Antioch, Oberland, and Earlham. When check them out I traveled with an Antioch alumnus in his old Volvo, from Michigan, while going home to Indiana. Sub-zero day icy patch, landed 50 ft. off the road upside down. We were for some reason wearing seat belts. Fours later we were back on the road again.
Bob Bierie’s house first place we went. His research on sea worm in Japan. House set up like a Japanese home, with wonderful steam roof hot tub that took stress of crash away. Other really good prof was ………. I majored in biology and education, receiving h.s. certification. My passion in college was life. I loved college…learning, love…Antioch was so different, inc 6 work experiences with at least 3 months duration: play therapist Mount Zion hospital in S.F. “tough” pediatric kids needing modicum of joy; monolongual teacher in bi-lingual montesori school peid piper no Spanish kids had to speak and hear English; led 45 day canoe trip in central Quebec w. group of teen agers, no soul in 45 days; intern at Natural Field Museum of Chicago; train hopping across the country; N.Y. camp experience in Lutheran Camp for N.Y. city kids, Koinoia.
Leinbach.For me, it’s a conscious decision to live in an urban environment. I’ve been offered positions in rural places like the Teton Mountains of Wyoming, Bainbridge Island off Seattle in the Puget Sound, that people in my field “would die for.” But I believe urban living is the most efficient way for humanity to live on the earth. Urban sprawl is a real thing. Everytime you build a house you need to build an entire infrastructure to support that house. In a city the infrastructure already exists. You can just add a layer and build on top. Condo developments, for example, are not the environmental evil that many environmentalists think. In addition to embracing urban living, I’m also intrigued with living in communities that are not necessarily like-minded. If one’s goal is to be a change agent, I’m frankly changing more people in Whitefish Bay than were I living in Riverwest. The people of Riverwest already think like me. My school friends from Antioch moved to Boulder, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, and places like Madison. I prefer places like Milwaukee, Richmond, Virginia, Cleveland, St. Louis, because I believe that, while far from perfect, I’m leading a more intentional life regarding the environment than many, and role modeling that life style is very important. You get more bang for the buck when you are surrounded by people who don’t live like you.
Leinbach.I walk, bike, roller blade, and ski the 4 miles to work. Living in walkable community means my kids can be independent at age 12, walking or biking to their friends houses, the library, school, playgrounds, movie theatre, drug stores, even the mall.
Ironically, I can even find solitide in nature a short walk away. Largely because, at this point, urban dwellers don’t know or don’t choose to experience it. I go swimming every day from mid to late July to late September in Lake Michigan, and my kids join me a lot. It’s like a daily baptism. I live near Klode Park. I roller blade down the grass hill, jump in the Lake, come out refreshed. Or I do it after work or after dinner. I never have to buy firewood for my wood stove, from people throwing out a rough fence or cut down trees. I cure it in the back for a year. I split it with my axe. That’s my exercise. I don’t need to pop into a car and drive to an exercise gym.
Leinbach.My aunt lived in Milwaukee but I never thought about it in any way. I never watched much t.v. so things like Laverne and Shirley meant nothing to me. Milwaukee was a beer drinking, industrial town. I visited my aunt, went to the zoo, but its hardly a memory. But my wife, Shauna, had a scholarship to go to Georgetown University from the National Health Scholarship Fund, a way to get medical professionals into areas of economic need. They fund your schooling, but you have to give the same amount of time back, almost like an indentured servant. Central city Milwaukee became her placement as a midwife at the 16th St. Community Health Center. This was back in 1995. We were only going to be here 2 years. We flipped the roll regarding care for our two children, Ali and Micah(15 and 12). They were 9 months and 3 years old when we moved here. I spent 3 years as Mr. Dad, the hardest job I ever had. “And They Lived Happily Ever After,” from born to they could ride a bike. We loved Milwaukee right from the start! We moved from Washington D.C. where you plan your life around traffic. Here on Brewer’s opening day I could decide 20 minutes before the game, with a baby and a toddler, that I was going to go, get there in time, given tickets, go to the game. That’s a 3 week planning chore in D.C.
Spiny soft shelled turtle has just arrived. I just had to pick it us!
Your pee goes through a layer of odor proof…
Godsil Original Americans?
Fire, drumming inside, no idea you’re in the middle of the city. I grew up in Northern M., closest village to my parents house, when they moved, was Pshawbestown. They held their pow-wows on the family(Chippewa-Potowatami)land. I grew up with a native American family, the Pamps…Moose, huge, strapping man, heir to leadership of trive, bounced on his knee, as an infant…Mom and oldest brother honored by tribe, gave blanket, in honor of my Dad’s work, he died 19 years ago, when I was 24 Dad was social worker liason before bingos, picking up hitch hikers to and from Travers City, knock on doors, Mom and Dad sick, get them to school. They were fisherman but could not fish King Sammon, they’d smoke for selvesHall. Phoebe Hall Knippling Outdoor Laboratory. You’re truly your Father’s son! Outdoor Lab my proudest creationCarl
Naturalists. Neighbor Carl Freeman ornothologist, weird teen who got up early, we became friends, my childhood environmental mentor, came to my wedding, artist…
He introduces me to Peterson guide, a “bird nerd,” thousands of kids at lab for Arlington Public Schools of Va., Haymarket Va., 30 miles away. Twenty five, married in that period. I gave it life. Lived in Arlington, every kid came to outdoor lab, many for overnights. Everywhere I went “Mr. Moose.” Thomas Jeffereson medal. Roger Tory Peterson award in N.Y. Nature Educator of the Year for N.A. by institute of RTP. Flown to N.Y. with older awardees, sitting next to field guide for reptiles & amphibians, day w. Peterson in his 90s(last year of his life). We had great connection.
Gone 2 years and back. 1996. One of two or three as Mr. Dad. Written up as Mr. Dad in W.B. Our society not set up for little kids. Handicapped spaces for parents of little kids, til kids are 3. At grocer store be allowed to cut in line, instead of stares, embracing heroes of next generation…total crap,lowest paying…