A veteran of both the U.S. Marine Corps and nature conservation, Ron Coleman is a proven leader when it comes to protecting and improving our waters and green spaces. His passion for the outdoors is fueled by childhood in which he spent weekends on a farm with nothing but daylight in front of him.
As life progressed, so did his interest and responsibility in conservation, taking him from working on the Parks Board in Springfield, Mo., to his current role as President of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. In between, Coleman was instrumental in acquiring the land to develop the park systems of Ellisville and Chesterfield, and he has held positions with Ozark Greenways, the Open Space Council, Operation Clean Stream, the Missouri Parks Association, the Missouri Parks and Recreation Association, and the American Hiking Society.
Recognition has followed. Coleman has been honored with top awards from the St. Louis Audubon Society, Conservation Federation of Missouri, and Missouri Parks and Recreation, and most recently was named Citizen of the Year for 2016 by the Magi Foundation.
We sat down over coffee, and I got a feel for what drives this man to continue to his life’s work.
Is it true you’re known as “The President of Everything”?
Coleman smiled, remembering receiving the nickname by his frequent service on boards, commissions and other positions. “I got into some of those on the ground floor and was able to shape the position to best utilize my resources,” he explained.
Coleman has been past president of the Missouri Parks and Recreation Association, Missouri Parks Association and the American Hiking Society. He was the first-ever Parks and Recreation Director for the city of Ellisville, and later Chesterfield, building their parks departments from scratch with the goal of protecting and conserving grounds.
Your early career was centered more around community-based programs. When did you transition more towards conservation?
“It was as the Parks and Recreation Director in Ellisville. I went from organizing community sports leagues and recreational activities to actually planning, funding, building, establishing and then implementing programs that looked at long-term land acquisition for conservation purposes. It was very rewarding.”
You’re now involved with The Pacific River Walk as a member of the Magi Foundation. How did that relationship blossom?
“I was the Executive Director with the Open Space Council, focusing on the Meramec River, as did some of my past work, including Operation Clean Stream. The Magi Foundation is a community-based group intent on conserving and developing the land along the Meramec into the Pacific River Walk Trail. I pitched the development to the city, outlining the long-term goals and benefits of the development, including making Pacific a destination city with trailheads, shops, etcetera.”
What stands out to you with respect to your achievements, many as they are?
“Well, Bluebird Park in Ellisville is a good one, named after the Bluebird Scouts rather than the bird, as many believe.”
Another “good one” is the success of Operation Clean Stream, which has grown from a handful of volunteers to several thousand. The organization has helped clean more than 500 miles of streams, due in part to Coleman’s tenacious attitude and willingness to embrace the long hours of work.
But, says Coleman, his real crowning achievement is “my land and water legacy,” done solely for the benefit of current and future generations. He emphasizes his respect for conservation and the great partnerships he has made.
What does the future look like for Ron Coleman?
Although he mentions retirement, Coleman smiles. “I like the idea of controlling my own destiny. I’m always looking for ways to give back to conservation and keep legislature moving. I’ll be involved with the Conservation Federation for a while yet, and I’m sure I’ll follow my passions for fundraising, attending events, outdoor activities and, of course, travel.”
Coleman said he still enjoys getting outdoors, just as he always has. If by chance you run into him, you might want to shake his hand because chances are — either directly or indirectly — he helped to conserve and develop that ground you’re standing on. And he’s not finished yet!