Dot Wade – Shooting Star

By Fran Lowman

It all began in a small town in southern New Jersey when Dot was born in 1914. Her father took her for woodland walks; she thought nothing could be more gorgeous than a beech woods full of wildflowers. Her mother made her a partner in flower gardening and allowed Dot to have her own wildflower garden. Using her mother’s 1887 edition of Gray’s Lessons in Botany helped satisfy Dot’s urge to name all the wildflowers. Reed’sFlower Guide was given to Dot when she was 10; at 15 she received Handbook of Nature Study by Comstock. Dot still has these precious gifts. Childhood vacations in the 1920s on the Jersey coast, Florida, Vermont and New Hampshire exposed Dot to the multitude of wonders of the natural world. Her high school dream was to have a wildflower nursery – the dream became a reality when Dot was almost 60.

In 1932 Dot went west to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, because it had a large botany department with a multitude of classes. While a senior she met her future husband, in Dr. Norman Fassett’s class, “Spring Flora of Wisconsin.” Doug was a graduate student under Aldo Leopold. Since early childhood Dot had an appreciation for the environment; Doug began her awareness about concerns for the environment. Leopold attracted people of world fame in the environmental field; Doug and Dot were a part of this exciting time. It was then they met Bill Vogt and later read his Road to Survival on the perils of overpopulation. In 1962Silent Spring awakened the world to the destruction of the balance of nature by our use of lethal chemicals. Today Dot’s biggest fear about the environment is the consequences of the population explosion. She states, “There isn’t a single problem in this world that isn’t caused by too many people inhabiting our planet.”

In 1951 the Ecological Society of America had a committee which broke away from the Society and founded The Nature Conservancy; Doug was a charter member with Dot at his side. The Conservancy has been an important focus in Dot’s life, as a member, donor, and volunteer.

Dot Wade and Fran Lowman.
Dot Wade and Fran Lowman.

In 1964 Doug became Professor of Outdoor Education at Northern Illinois’ Taft Campus at Oregon, Illinois. Wherever they lived, the Wade’s hobby was exploring to study the natives. With Doug’s special love of birds and Dot’s of the flora, they made a great team. In 1966 the sound of Upland Sandpipers stopped them as they were driving down Lowden Road south of Oregon, Illinois. They looked over and saw a flower they had never seen before – Downy Yellow Painted Cup. Never had the Wades seen such an excellent prairie; it was rich in native grassland birds and plants. The Prairie Gentian and Hill’s Thistle were beautiful. On a 1977 hike the Wades found the federally threatened Lespedeza leptostachya, now protected by The Nature Conservancy and known to be the home of the largest population of this rare bush clover in Illinois. Dot always carried Bob Betz’s 1965 edition ofPrairie Plants of the Chicago Region, and used it to identify the native plants. While with Betz on his cemetery studies, Dot learned which plants would be good in a nursery situation.

The Wades attended the First North American Prairie Conference, held at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1968. At the Second Conference, in Madison in 1970, they heard Jim Zimmerman put out a plea to start local nurseries. Bob Smith was first with Prairie Nursery in Westfield, Wisconsin. The Wades were second when they began Windrift Nursery in 1972. Ray Schulenberg helped and inspired them while most thought they were crazy to be growing those “weeds.” The Wades could not have been prouder when their son, Alan, began his native Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona, Minnesota, in 1982.

At the Third Conference, in 1972, in Kansas, the Wades met Tim Keller from Sterling, Illinois. Back home they introduced him to the prairie they had discovered along Lowden Road. For years the three of them took everyone and anyone to the area, hoping to find a buyer who would save it from development. In 1986 The Nature Conservancy initiated protection of the area when it purchased the core of what was to become Nachusa Grasslands, fifteen minutes before the start of an auction that would have resulted in the land becoming a subdivision. The Colwell Track, acquired in 1987, now has Doug’s Knob and Dot’s Knob. That was also the year Dot lost Doug after fifty-one years of a remarkable marriage. Today The Conservancy has about 1,000 acres preserved in Nachusa Grasslands.

The Wade’s Frank Lloyd Wright-style home on five acres is Dot’s private sanctuary with its woods and prairie, and a view down the hillside of the Rock River Valley. Her wish is that the success of organizations such as The Wild Ones continues to snowball, because, “I want all those who come after me to also have wild places to cherish.”

Fran Lowman interviewed Dot and wrote this feature. Both are active members of the Rock River Valley Chapter in Illinois.