Who We Are
Alabama native Mark Johnston was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1980, and the next year was named Alabama’s Outstanding Young Religious Leader. “I was a carpenter, and I helped build a rural church whose membership and community involvement grew very fast.” An Alabama Volunteer of the Year award followed for his work with retarded citizens, and in 1985 he started the West Alabama Food Bank, which gives away more than 1 million pounds of food a year.
Johnston says he always cared about the environment, but it was getting angry that turned him into an activist. “Strip mining was harming the watershed where I lived, but when I tried to do something about it I was lied to by miners and members of state agencies, my life was threatened, and powerful people tried to get my bishop to rein me in.” But he persevered, and for eight years he led the fight to restore wetlands and water quality and protect 226 acres of national forest lands. “Through my work I’ve met others who were up against the same forces. Now I have a way to effectively channel my anger.”
Since 1990 Johnston has been executive director of Camp McDowell, an Episcopal camp and conference center. In 1991 he started the Camp McDowell Environmental Center, and more than 55,000 children have since gone through the residential program. “I think it will change Alabama,” he says.
Johnston recently spearheaded a citizen drive to reform the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. He also found the time to build a new home at the end of a mile-long driveway. “I love this state, the people, the incredible biodiversity here.”
Joni Bosh’s family moved to Phoenix from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when she was a senior in high school. “I still think of myself as a Midwesterner,” she says. “You could live here your whole life except your first 17 years and people still won’t consider you a real Arizonan.”
Bosh first joined the Sierra Club in the early 1970s as a college student in Flagstaff. “The chapter was brand new in those days. I was a river rafter, and the Grand Canyon fights over damming the Colorado River were really what got me involved.”
Bosh recalls a Club meeting in Phoenix in the 1970s where Dave Foreman, then a field rep for the Wilderness Society and later a founder of Earth First!, gave a talk. “There were about eight guys there, and me. Dave was really enthusiastic and everyone just listened quietly, and when he was done they said, ‘OK, Dave, good to see you,’ and left. So Dave says to me, ‘Let’s go get a beer,’ and he basically got me excited about doing wilderness work.” Bosh went on to play a key role in forming the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, which proposed and successfully lobbied for national forest and BLM wilderness bills in the 1980s.
A 3-time cancer survivor, Bosh has worked extensively with Breast Cancer Action. “You learn a lot going through something like this,” she says. “You get a warning and you realize, ‘I’ve got all this time, I want to make the most of it.’”
Her enthusiasm is palpable when she recounts a recent hiking trip in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. “We did 20-mile days with my kids less than six week after my surgery!”
Bosh was the leading vote-getter in this spring’s Sierra Club Board of Directors election.
Raised on an Iowa farm, 40-year Sierra Club member Gordon Nipp has spent most of his life working to protecting California.
Nipp got involved with the Club while earning a PhD in mathematics at USC. An avid hiker, he joined the 100-Peak Section, sometimes climbing several peaks in a day. In the 1970s the group went to court to stop a development in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the settlement helped created the Quercus Fund to preserve land there.
On retiring from Cal State Bakersfield in 2002, Nipp and his wife Eva, a high school teacher, immersed themselves in land and air quality issues. “Bakersfield is growing so fast,” he says. “We have to be concerned with the effects of this growth. People are getting sick and work days are being lost because of our dirty air.”
On discovering that developers were filing flawed environmental documents, Nipp hired a lawyer to address the situation. “It’s amazing what one person with a good lawyer can accomplish,” he says. Recent settlements have compelled developers to contribute $1,200 per house to a fund to reduce air pollution; install solar panels in model homes and offer them to prospective buyers; revegetate land with native plants; pay $2,000 per acre to purchase agricultural land for preservation; and contribute to a fund protecting wildlife habitat.
A French horn player and classical music lover, Nipp stopped performing after college because he couldn’t afford his own horn. But decades later he saw one for sale in the want ads and has immersed himself in the instrument ever since. He and Eva recently built a cabin in the mountains above Bakersfield, doing much of the carpentry themselves.
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