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The Planet

Who We Are

Penny Bernard Schaber - Appleton, Wisconsin, John Muir Chapter Excom

In 1982, Penny Schaber went on a Sierra Club outing to Rock Island State Park in northern Wisconsin's Door County. There she found the vistas, hiking trails, and serene campsites for which the pedestrian-only island is renowned. What she wasn't expecting to find was her future husband.

"Dale and I met on that camping trip," she says. "We realized right away that we had a love of hiking and the outdoors in common, and we've been working together on environmental issues ever since."

One of their joint pursuits has been helping promote, protect, and build segments of the 1,000-mile-long Ice Age Trail, a national and state scenic trail located entirely in Wisconsin. "Dale and I have already hiked 600 miles of the trail together, and this summer we plan to do the remaining 400."

An activist for 25 years and a former chapter chair, Schaber says her recent work has been focused on making the chapter executive committee run more smoothly. "By doing all this organizing and coordinating stuff I've helped our chapter staff be more efficient. I've also been able to recruit and retain more volunteers, and helped the chapter develop and begin implementing a strategic plan."

Schaber encourages Club members who aren't yet active to recognize that "you can start as a novice, with no special training, and become a Club leader just on the basis of your passion and enthusiasm. I'm a physical therapist, not a scientist or a lobbyist, and when I started out I had no expertise in organizing or grassroots activism. All you need to make a difference is to care."

Phil Baldyga - Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville Group Webmaster

"I've got one foot in technology and one foot in the woods," says computer programmer Phil Baldyga. A longtime Club member, Baldyga cites last November's election as the catalyst for his newfound activism. "It was a wake-up call," he says. "I resolved the next day to do something about things I care about. Activism isn't an abstract thing; it's putting things I feel in my mind and my soul into action, into living."

Baldyga attended his first Louisville Group meeting in November, and in February he agreed to put his skills to use as group webmaster. "So much is happening on the Web," he says, "lots of energy and possibilities there. I feel absolutely charged up."

A Louisville native, Baldyga loves his hometown's "immediate connection" with the Ohio River. "Living here, you feel how entwined the river is with the history, culture, and vitality of this place. When I'm away I feel its absence, and whenever I travel to cities that aren't on a big river I find myself thinking, 'Hey, where's the river?'"

Two areas where Baldyga is currently focusing his energies are advocating for stronger local regulation of locally generated air pollution, and educating people about a proposed extension of Interstate 66 through Kentucky (and several other states) that he describes as an unnecessary boondoggle. "It could cut 400 acres out of the Daniel Boone National Forest, one of the most beautiful places in the state," he says.

Among Baldyga's favored destinations for hiking is the Red River Gorge, located inside the national forest. "There are waterfalls, arches, sandstone cliffs, breathtaking views-it's my favorite place on earth."

Karen Maki - Menlo Park, California Loma Prieta Chapter Chair

"Growing up in the Bay Area I spent a lot of time in the redwoods and in Yosemite," muses Karen Maki. "By the time I became an adult I was already passionate about forests."

Maki worked in Yosemite for three summers in her early 20s. "I was a waitress at the Ahwahnee Hotel, and we'd go out to the river on breaks. I remember one hot day I really wanted to go in the water, but I didn't want to skinny-dip, so I just dove in in my dress."

A licensed marriage and family therapist, Maki became active with the Club in 2001. "I was very upset when Al Gore lost," she says. She helped start a forest committee, working to educate the public and elected officials about the ills of clear-cutting and the value of keeping the forest intact. "Not only is it the right thing to do," she says, "companies will make more money in the long run by practicing sustainable forestry."

When two forest bills she cared deeply about were introduced in the California State Assembly in 2003, Maki spearheaded Club phone-banking efforts to the districts of key legislators. Both bills passed, "even though we were told they'd pass the Senate but never the Assembly." Her current focus with the Club is on keeping volunteers energized. "The only way to take our democracy back," she says, "is to get people engaged."

Maki has twice traveled to France recently, participating in an art-lovers tour of Paris and the south, and a weeklong workshop in Chartres on labyrinth walking.

- Tom Valtin

Know someone whose story is deserving? Contact us at The Planet, 85 Second St., Second Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105;

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