Always an educator, Ortt offered nature’s view

This is the final segment of a three part tribute to Marilyn Ortt, who recently past away, leaving behind a 40 year legacy of contributions to the environmental health of Marietta and the surrounding region.

Marilyn was certainly not going to let Earth Day go unnoticed, and working with the Earth Day Committee she helped organized the local Earth Day Celebration. The effort in planning of these events is little appreciated by those attending. It involved not only recruitment of individuals and organizations with displays and activities for people of all ages, but acquisition of city approval for using the Armory grounds, liability insurance coverage, and of course, port-a-johns. This was also a day when Marilyn could help people appreciate practical uses of our ‘beloved’ sweetgum fruit balls.

Possibly Marilyn’s greatest contribution was as an educator. For over 50 years, for young and for adults, she promoted understanding and sensitivity toward the natural world around us.

Marilyn was a co-founder of the Marietta City School volunteer Outdoor Education Program in the 1970s, for which she received an NSF grant to train guides. Marilyn and other guides provided half- day nature hikes for both the school system and the 4-H for over 30 years. How many school children and 4-H’ers on these hikes first saw Jack protruding from his pulpit, discovered nascent fireflies begin life as a glow worm, and shot each other with projectile jewelweed seeds?

Marilyn contributed many courses to Marietta College’s Institute for Learning in Retirement, and received the Marietta College Community Member Outstanding Education Volunteer Award in 2004 for her work on environmental education. Telesis recognized her as a Telesis Community Leader in 1991.

To better foster awareness of, sensitivity to, and education about our environment, Marilyn cofounded the Marietta Natural History Society (MNHS). Now in its third decade, this organization offers monthly presentations and field trips on a broad range of topics of local interest – from rattlesnake and mushroom biology to local archeology and the history of our region’s petroleum industry. Even Bigfoot made a (rather fuzzy) appearance. From March1993 through the present, Marilyn unfailingly scheduled over 250 monthly events, as well as numerous natural walks, bird watching tours, and night hikes.

Beginning in 1998, a quarterly newsletter was started which published additional articles and information. The Society’s web page ( mnhs.html), houses an archive of all these newsletters, which includes Marilyn’s series on invasive plants and other articles she authored.

In Summer 2002, Marilyn organized publishing by MNHS of “The Natural View of Washington County”. I’m sure most residents have seen this annual circular being distributed around the county. For 13 years it has provided articles on natural history as well as advertising opportunities for local businesses.

The MNHS has also championed a variety of causes. Members participate in annual winter bird counts and even helped rescue endangered freshwater mussels. Through Marilyn’s efforts, the MNHS collaborated with the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge to develop the “Ohio River’s Wild Side” plaque, dedicated in October 2000 and located along the Ohio River levee. This plaque describes some of the major types of wildlife living in and around the Ohio River.

Marilyn once told me that she tried to be a voice for nature – to communicate for a world that could not speak for itself. The volume of correspondence she provided – the letters, emails and articles – is hard to quantify. But we can get some sense from the approximately 180 Our Earth Columns written for the local newspaper.

There are many superlatives that could be used to describe Marilyn as a person. A recognition she received in 1985 conveyed some of the best, noting that she was:

“inspired, cheerful, witty, patient, courteous, sensible, instructive, gracious, helpful, wise, conscientious, wonderful, questing, communicative, virtuous, humane, loyal, nature-loving, generous, observant, capable, punctual, reputable, distinguished, responsible, knowledgeable, courageous, informative, intelligent, imaginative, beautiful [and] mostly-veracious”.

Marilyn was our benevolent force of nature. Her words and actions made Marietta a better and smarter place to live. We will miss her presence dearly, but I know that like the many trees she planted, what she gave us will continue to grow.

Steve Spilatro lives in Marietta