After moving to Brown County 36 years ago, Cathy Paradise thought she would work as a probation officer. She had worked in that field in Johnson County.
But she ended up taking a job with the Natural Resource Conservation Service office — and never left.
Though her office and title have changed in that time, her passion for the work has remained the same.
“When you work in a jail, there’s a part of you that has to be hardened to do the things you have to do. And I realized that this job made me a softer, better person and I liked that. I thought this is the best place to be,” she said. “I liked who I was.”
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On Sept. 1, Paradise is leaving her job as manager of the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District. But she’s not leaving the work.
“This has not been a job, this has been a passion for me, and I’m not going to quit because I’m retiring. There are other things I am going to do. I am on the board for Keep America Beautiful. I was tickled that they asked me, because it keeps me involved in environmental issues, education and with the community, which is very important to me,” she said.
She also will continue to serve on Nashville’s Tree Board, which is responsible for applying to be a Tree City. Nashville has been one for 24 years.
She also plans to work with Purdue Extension Educator Lisa Wilson on 4-H and natural resources.
“I may be retiring, but I am going to be one active retiree,” she said.
Paradise and BCSWCD associate member Alice Lorenz will continue to work on new exhibits for the Brown County Historical Society’s History Center and programs for children.
“She may be on a different schedule, but I’ll know she will carry on her enthusiasm for the outdoors and taking care of our land in Brown County,” Lorenz said.
Working with children is another of Paradise’s passions.
For 20 years, she offered a workshop for teachers at Camp Gallahue about natural resource studies until the school district decided to discontinue it. “Which is unfortunate, because kids are not connected anymore to the outdoors and natural resources,” Paradise said.
For 27 years, she helped put on a Field Day for fourth-graders where they could learn the importance of recycling, conserving natural resources and wildlife. ISTEP+ testing prevented it from happening last year for all fourth-graders except Helmsburg’s.
She credits the people she works with for keeping her in the same position for more than 30 years.
“I love the work, but it’s the people that make the work fun. You enjoy it because you work with great people,” she said.
Paradise started out in a five-person office, but it was downsized because Brown County was not considered an “agricultural county.”NRCS moved to Bloomington, and Paradise became the one-person Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District county office.Under Gov. Mitch Daniels, Paradise’s office was again changed, from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil Conservation to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture Division of Soil Conservation, which caused further reductions. She no longer had a technician.
She took on that job. “It was either I had to learn it, or I had to tell those people we couldn’t do it for them,” she said.
Paradise would examine ponds on properties and help owners stock them, identify vegetation and look at dams.
She went to a lot of workshops. If she couldn’t find an answer to a question, she would reach out to NRCS in Bloomington. But after a while, she was able to deal with most problems on her own, from soil erosion to drainage and driveways
Her office has moved 11 times.
“For a long time, people would say, ‘Oh, she went to Bloomington,’ because when NRCS went to Bloomington they thought I went to Bloomington, but I never moved to Bloomington,” Paradise said. “I have been all over this town.”
Now, the BCSWCD office is in the Purdue Extension office at the fairgrounds.
She hopes, for her replacement’s sake, that that won’t change.
“This is a good fit: Great people to work with, great location.”
When asked what her accomplishments are, Paradise responds: “Everything.”She was one of the first people to start Master Naturalist classes. She also established conservation grants in 2007 for landowners who did not fit into any existing programs.Along with workshops and field days, Paradise has worked with Nature Daze, which teaches landowners the importance of creating a native habitat free of invasive plants. It’s part of the Native Woodlands Project.
Paradise spent her last week training her replacement, Alison Rubeck.“I am excited to be that person people can call to get advice about things,” Rubeck said.She graduated from Purdue University two years ago with a degree in forestry and worked with the Department of Natural Resources.
She is originally from Bloomington and was looking for a job closer to home when she saw the BCSWCD manager posting online.
“It’s really tailored to my background in forestry because of Brown County’s many forested areas. It was the perfect fit for me, and it happened to be fairly close to home,” she said.
She hopes to bring to bring more environmental education into the schools to develop a connection with students.
She describes training with Paradise as being a whirlwind because they’re both learning as they go, in a way. Paradise hasn’t had to train someone for 32 years.
“She’s going to do it her way in her time, and I think she’s going to be great,” Paradise said.
Paradise will be missed by the BCSWCD board of supervisors, with whom she has worked closely her entire career.
“Truly, Cathy has been an unsung hero for conservation in Brown County, so creative and active for all the years of her service,” said Laura Young, chairwoman of the board. “It would be difficult to overemphasize her hard work and passion. She will be missed.”
Paradise bought a camper and plans to do some traveling. She wants to spend more time with her two grandsons. One is on an all-star baseball team, traveling all over the country.
But first, she looks forward to a few weeks of not having a place to be.
“I’ve gotten up early for so many years that I am just really looking forward to a few weeks of not having to have a schedule and just getting to sleep and having some time to relax.”
Cathy Paradise’s retirement party will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, at the BCSWCD office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds.