Marion Eberhardt loved the outdoors. Camping, hiking, gardening, bicycling, and visiting the log cabin in Northern Michigan that she and her husband Art built together many years ago made her happy. The active member of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Angola, Ind., ran a small business selling hand-made nature crafts, and she also volunteered with the Girl Scouts and ACRES Land Trust, an organization that works to preserve forests, prairies and wetlands in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
So when Marion passed away in 2010 after a battle with Alzheimer's disease, her devoted husband wanted to commemorate her name the best way he knew how. With the help of Art and the Angola Tree Board, ACRES purchased a 20-acre plot of old hickory forest in the center of town, saving it from possible development. To honor Marion and as part of their Mission 4/1 Earth efforts, members of First Congregational UCC will spend two Saturdays in April cleaning up the area, and erecting and blessing a sign forever designating the space as "Marion's Woods."
"He teared up and said, 'Do you think people would want to come out and do that?'" said the Rev. Deb Davis, pastor of First Congregational UCC. "And I told him, 'Yes, Art, it's going to be something people will want to do a whole lot.'"
Thanks to Art, Marion's Woods will now be a preserved nature area. ACRES will work to make it accessible to the public, adding a gravel parking lot, walking trails and some picnic tables. Davis expects at least 30 to 40 of the congregation's 90 members to come out and assist with the cleanup and the sign blessing, and says the couple was loved and respected by all. She recalls how one of the congregation's younger members has often said he wants to grow up to be just like Art.
"Art and Marion are just salt of the earth people – just good, good people," Davis said. "They have been so attached to this congregation and are so beloved here."
Now well into his 80s, Art continues to support his love of nature, even without Marion by his side. Every spring for nearly 25 years, Art leads a community tree giveaway with trees donated by ACRES. Each year, more than 500 trees have been given to members of the community, and the event also features children's activities, like building birdhouses and birdfeeders. It's a community-wide, family event, and anyone who comes can have a tree – Art's only requirement is that they have to promise to plant it.
"You just wish everyone was like them," said Davis. "They lived very simply, always have – they would bike more than they would get in their car.
"It's a wonderful thing for Marion to have this preserve named after her and it means the world to Art to do this," she continues. "It's a beautiful forest, and now it will pretty much stay just that."
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.
Here's a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.