Schaumburg senior works to save natural area
Herb Demmel, 85, works to save a natural area near Friendship Village in Schaumburg
Most afternoons, Schaumburg resident Herb Demmel can be found outdoors clearing brush from the largest remaining remnant of Sarah's Grove woodlands, located adjacent to his home at Friendship Village.
He has been at it for 15 years, nearly since moving into the senior living community, and finally he sees a difference.
"I've practically eliminated the garlic mustard and wild buckthorn, so that it's quite different now," says Demmel, 85. "I can't say if it's the same as it was 200 years ago, but I imagine it's close."
His work increasingly is drawing attention. Just last month, Demmel was presented with a Conservation@Home certification by the Barrington Area Conservation Trust, whose mission is to preserve open spaces in the greater Barrington area for future generations.
"We know firsthand how labor intensive it is to take care of a natural area remnant like Sarah's Grove," says Lisa Woolford, executive director.
"Herb is an extraordinary person to have put such loving care and endless hours of restoration work into the property over the years. The incredible high quality of this property is a true gift to the community."
Demmel worked in the corporate world before leaving to teach economics to night students at Elmhurst College. With his days open, he gradually began to spend more time outdoors, volunteering in prairie and woodland restoration.
It's a long way from his youth growing up in an apartment in New York City, but he credits his mother, who grew up on a farm in Germany, with planting the seed, so to speak, for a love of nature and the outdoors.
"She was big on keeping plants in the city -- she even kept some out on the fire escape," Demmel says. "She'd also take us to the parks in the city, so we spent as much time outdoors as we could."
Before long, Demmel became involved as a steward with the forest preserve districts in Kane and Cook counties. He also spent time harvesting seeds at Fermilab in order to restore the native grasses there.
All of which led him to the five acres of woodlands that serve as the front yard at scenic Friendship Village. Although Demmel was drawn to the community for many reasons, seeing the preserved, natural acreage next to the property sold him.
That is, until he walked into the woods and found it overgrown .
"Here you have this beautiful woodland right in our front yard," he says, "and it's going to hell in a handbasket."
Thus began his passion to clear out all the nonnative weeds and brush and spread wildflower seeds and native grasses while clearing paths to allow for easier passage through the woods.
During the winter months, he works with Jane Rozek, the local history librarian at the Schaumburg Public Library, to organize his photos of the area into PowerPoint presentations for local lectures, as well as for the library's own archives collection.
In April, Demmel shared his photos with Friendship Village residents on Earth Day, and every month he leads tours through the woods, pointing out the progression of flowering plants and the 250-year-old oak trees growing in conjunction with shagbark hickories.
His next tour takes place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and is open to Friendship Village residents, as well as members of the general public.
"This isn't about me," Demmel insists. "It's about saving these woods for future generations. I just hope that after I'm gone, someone will take care of them."