Naturalist’s Career Comes Full Circle
July 23, 2020 by Rose Nemunaitis

Tami Gingrich grew up spending as much time in Geauga County’s great outdoors as she could, amid the splendor of sprawling nature.

Tami Gingrich grew up spending as much time in Geauga County’s great outdoors as she could, amid the splendor of sprawling nature.

In it she discovered wonders and her calling.

“All I can say is, where did the time go?” said Gingrich, a Geauga Park District naturalist who is retiring July 31. “Thirty-one years has passed by in the blink of an eye.”

One thing she can say for sure is her affinity for nature was not something gleaned from textbooks or learned from sitting at a school desk.

“I was born with the word ‘naturalist’ written across my forehead, from an age earlier than I can remember, but one richly documented in old photos,” Gingrich said.

She admits to loving everything Mother Nature has to offer, from a childhood of filling jars with lightning bugs — and releasing them in her bedroom — to catching crayfish in a creek behind her Chester Township home, raising wild baby bunnies and rearing caterpillars, her greatest love.

Gingrich said the majority of credit for her career goes to her parents, especially her mother, Lois Locher, who fostered Gingrich’s love and made sure she had every opportunity to excel in her nature-inspired interests.

“Now, nearly 92, my mom is here to watch me cross the finish line and she should take the credit for making me the responsible, nature-loving person I have become,” Gingrich said. “I can’t thank her enough for nudging me wisely in this direction at such an early age. My life has been so rich because of it.”

The lifelong Geauga County resident attended Westwood Elementary School and graduated from West Geauga High School and Ohio Northern University.

Her high school biology teacher, Robert McCullough, helped mentor her nature-filled aspirations.

“As park board president, he happily spent much time familiarizing me with Geauga Park District during my high school years,” Gingrich said.

After graduating from ONU, she beelined to the GPD to fill out an application to be a naturalist.

Gingrich was hired as a summer “seasonal” naturalist and afterward, was hired full time by GPD’s Dan Best, who served many years as a naturalist and chief naturalist before retiring last year.

“Tami is blessed with the gift for serendipity, her unceasingly uncanny incidences of amazing encounters with wildlife of all kinds,” Best said. “Whether it’s perpetual luck being in the right place at the right time, or having keen senses that keep her ‘dialed in’ to nature that leads to so many amazing encounters and adventures with wildlife … regardless, Tami’s involvement with nature reaps rewards for the public.”

Gingrich’s career evolved like the seasons.

Her first 15 years were spent as a program naturalist instructing field trip-goers, as well as public programming.

“Yet, with a heart that was always leaning toward research, I slowly worked my way into the realm of citizen science, recruiting volunteers to assist with interesting projects,” Gingrich said, adding she eventually transferred to the Natural Resource Management Department at Big Creek Park.

Her data contributed to management plans drawn up when new properties were acquired.

For 12 years, Gingrich remained with NRM. Then came word she would be relocating back to the naturalist department and would retain the majority of her research.

She also conducted a few programs per month.

“I absolutely loved giving talks on my projects and perhaps the program I had the most fun presenting was my Trail Cam Treasures,” Gingrich added.

Other programs included Bird Banding at Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, the Spotted Turtle Telemetry Project, Breeding Bird Surveys, Rail Banding at Frohring Meadows and Caterpillar Extravaganza.

Fellow GPD Naturalist Linda Gilbert met Tami when she first began working for the park district.

They immediately struck up a friendship.

“Tami is an amazing naturalist with a keen sense of observation and an innate curiosity and ability to find interesting things in the natural world,” Gilbert said. “She will leave a huge, gaping hole in the naturalist department.”                                                                                                                      Gingrich also has an interest in horse racing, Gilbert said.

“Tami and I have taken two trips to ‘horse country’ in Lexington, Kentucky, where we were able to meet Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, and also pay homage at the gravesite of the immortal Secretariat at Claiborne Farm,” Gilbert added.

GPD Chief Naturalist John Kolar said Gingrich has been an integral part of the park district staff for many years and will be greatly missed.

“Over the years, she has been a wonderful ambassador for our natural world,” Kolar said. “She should be proud of her many years of service. Our natural world is much better off thanks to Tami’s fine work.”

Her retirement plans include a lot more outdoors.

“Well, at 54, I feel there is still a long road ahead of things to enjoy,” Gingrich said.

“I especially look forward to catching up with my husband, Phil, (GPD’s first natural resources manager) who has been retired from Geauga Park District now for 17 years,” Gingrich said. “Our hobby farm with large gardens, two mules, a flock of chickens and our shelter dog, Sadie Mae, will keep us busy in the warmer months.”

She added, “We are also itching to travel, as our love of primitive camping, fly fishing, photography and just plain enjoying solitude is calling, but that will have to be put on hold for now until the situation here in the United States gets under control.”

Gingrich’s career has came full-circle and while traveling that circle, she said she is grateful to have met so many different people and learn volumes from them.

“I suppose I am one of the few that can truly say, ‘I loved my job,’” Gingrich said.

“Everything I did came with the satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something beneficial, whether globally or locally. No two days were ever alike. Perhaps the most satisfaction I gained was the chance to be out in our parks … to places off the trails where no one else ever goes almost every day. Getting to intimately know each park, its special features and specific wildlife held a daily thrill. Those intimate places are tucked carefully away in my mind and I will continue to visit them often in my retirement. “Suffice it to say, I am so proud to have served the people of Geauga County during my career at Geauga Park District.”