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The Planet

California Author's Legacy to Club

Pioneering California naturalist, author and longtime Sierra Club supporter Elna Bakker passed away this summer, leaving an estate valued in excess of $1 million to the Sierra Club. Born in 1921 in Los Angeles, Bakker lived in Southern California all her life. An expert on the ecology, geology and anthropology of California, she was "a wonderful source of information" for Club activists, said Mary Ferguson, the former Angeles Chapter director of development. Best known for her book An Island Called California, an introduction to the natural history of the Golden State, Bakker also wrote The Great Southwest; Desert Journal; and The Geology of the San Gabriel Range, which she was working on at the time of her death.

With her husband, Gerhard, a professor of life science at Los Angeles City College, Bakker traveled extensively around the globe. The couple was affiliated with many conservation organizations, but did not get involved with the Sierra Club until a pivotal meeting with Ferguson. In 1975, Bakker called Ferguson at the Angeles Chapter office and asked for a briefing on the Sierra Club's activities. Ferguson met with the couple at their home to explain the history and purpose of the Club. "They were particularly impressed with our mission to protect public lands and habitat and with our grassroots structure," she recalled.

Shortly thereafter, the Bakkers willed their entire estate to the Sierra Club. In 1983, Gerhard Bakker was killed by a surfacing whale during a boating trip in Mexico's Scammon Lagoon. After his death, his wife continued to deepen her interest in the activities of the Sierra Club, especially in those of the Angeles Chapter. "Elna followed all the issues," said Ferguson. "She was committed to saving public lands and habitat, and when we were working on elections and political campaigns, she was always there to support us. She understood the connection between our progress and politics." Bakker often cited Ferguson as the reason for her support of the Sierra Club. The two women maintained a strong bond until Bakker's death, Ferguson said. "Elna had great integrity and lived an extraordinarily honest life," she said. "It was a privilege to know her and to work with her."

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