This week for me has been one of remembering three very special people.  First is Mr. Hugh Benson. Hugh was 90 years young and the last words he whispered, “I love you”, were to his daughter, Lisa, one of the finest of our watershed’s community leaders.  Lisa shared that just days before “Hughie” passed away, he enjoyed the Valentine Dance at his living center with university sorority sisters coming by to brighten the dance floor!  Mr. Benson raised a daughter who serves our community, who in turn raised a daughter who serves the IRWP as our Education Outreach Coordinator, Lauren Ray.  Lauren wrote and composed a musical tribute to her grandfather who embodies an infectious love of life and people.

1209080_10200811597074093_1810132649_nHugh Benson and daughter Lisa Ray, grandson Skyler, son-in-law David, and granddaughter Lauren.  Click here to watch the video/musical tribute to Mr. Benson.

Second among the special people to be remembered this week is Dr. Richard Chewning.  Dick Chewning was 81 and had lived with cancer for over ten years, spending much of that time writing his seventh book, publishing articles, teaching at his church, and loving his wife of 59 years.  Dr. Chewning was a “scholar’s scholar”, having taught business finance and ethics for 25 years at the University of Virginia, and 15 years teaching business ethics in an endowed chair at Baylor University.  Moving to Siloam Springs and eventually Springdale to be near family, son Dr. Jeff Chewning, is president of Swine Research Services, Inc.  Jeff’s daughter Sarah, was a 4-time Arkansas Diver of the Year and state champion from Springdale High School who continues to dive for the University of Kentucky.  Dick lived what he taught in both his personal and professional life.  He had a booming voice and even heartier laugh and being tall in stature, he towered over us in every way, lifting our minds and spirits.


Dr. Richard Chewning: a scholar, mentor, and model of courage and grace

The third special person to be remembered this week is Ariel, age 6, with physical impairments from a human perspective  that left her more like a 6-month old child, yet she too left a legacy of love and taught us simple joys of in this life.  Ariel lived her last year under home hospice with a loving foster family and caregivers.  All life is precious and I was privileged to know these three special people and see the tremendous positive impacts their lives made on all who knew them.  These are just a few of the unsung heroes among us every day.


Precious Ariel Haak and family: mother Melinda, sister Abby, brothers Ben, Nathaniel, and Timmy, and father Luke.

Life is short and time goes very fast.  The Illinois River Watershed Partnership was formed in 2005 and this year we celebrate 10 years of stakeholder-driven education, outreach, water quality monitoring, and conservation projects in the Watershed.  While great strides by the IRWP and its Partners have been successful over the past decade, an adaptive management approach is essential to continue that progress and to continue to address key issues and challenges.  This spring, the IRWP Board of Directors will host stakeholder focus groups to solicit input that will provide a guide for continued strategic and measurable improvements and align educational, monitoring and conservation resources to achieve the greatest impact in 2016-2018 and beyond.

2015 IRWP Strategic Planning Goal

Our goal is to build awareness, encourage stakeholder buy-in and promote the implementation of the 2012 Watershed Management Plan and best management practices within the Illinois River Watershed.

Strategic Planning Process and Timeline

The IRWP will conduct an external analysis to determine the level of public awareness and perception of the Partnership and its mission by hosting stakeholder focus group meetings and incorporating feedback into strategic goals for 2016-2018.


Join Us and Participate in a Stakeholder Focus Group Meeting

IRWP will host a series of six focus groups with participants from each classification represented on the board of directors in both Arkansas and Oklahoma including agriculture, business, conservation, construction, government, and the technical/research/education fields.  Watch for dates, times, and locations and participate in a stakeholder focus group meeting to provide strategic direction for the work of the IRWP in the coming years.  

Ten years ago a group of individuals came together to create the Illinois River Watershed Partnership to make a positive impact in the Watershed.  This diverse group stakeholder pledged to hold themselves accountable by striving to improve the water quality of the Illinois River through personal endeavors and through the education, the encouragement, and the positive reinforcement of fellow Illinois River watershed residents.  The work of the IRWP focuses on the huge positive impact that each individual, working together with others, can make.  The abundance of water with which we are blessed, the beauty and diversity of our native plants and trees, wildlife and species, some of which are found only in this part of the world, can be found here in the Illinois River Watershed.  There are opportunities to farm and garden, opportunities for recreation and outdoor exploration, opportunities for economic development providing not only jobs but quality of life.

Join us as we seek to preserve, protect and restore the Illinois River Watershed.  As we begin the 10th year of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, I am struck by the importance of every person and the huge impact and opportunity one life has to enrich so many lives.

Related Posts:

Encapsulating A Watershed Legacy

Conservation 101 in 2014

Make Hay While the Sun Shines


Additional Resources:

2014 IRWP Annual Report

2015 IRWP Action Plan

IRWP Homepage