Making Connections: Individual Donors Support Promising Students and World-Class Research at the CFL

by Adam Hinterthuer

Indivudual gifts make it possible for students to get hands-on fieldwork experience. Photo: Sydney Widell

Earlier this year, the CFL received a gift that will endow an award to annually recognize noteworthy research in the graduate student community at Trout Lake Station and help defray costs associated with graduate work.

Sandy Gillum and her late husband, Don, are the donors behind the Gillum Trout Lake Station Graduate Student Support Fund. Sandy notes that she and Don had discussed ways to support freshwater research for years and knew they wanted it tied to graduate students. “We truly believe that good management and good decision-making stem from knowledge,” she says, “and [we have] a strong interest and confidence in the environmental knowledge that comes from graduate studies.”

The Gillums’ relationship with the CFL began back in 1996, when Sandy was studying lakeshore habitats and involved in common loon research with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). The WDNR had hired a graduate student to assist with the projects and he needed somewhere to live for the summer.

“He had no place to stay, he had no money and he had a clunker of a car,” Sandy recalls. She says she “hunted all over” for an affordable place but had no luck. “Finally,” she says, “I called Trout Lake Station.”

Gillum had spent time in and around northern Wisconsin lakes since the early 1950s, but that 1996 phone call was her first connection with Trout Lake Station. It’s a connection that has endured ever since. Through a career that included stints as president of the Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association and vice president of the Wisconsin Lakes Association, Gillum never forgot how good it felt to make it possible for a young scientist to work on Wisconsin’s lakes. In the back of her mind, she knew she would love to do it again.

The Gillum’s gift is one of many ways that individual donors help keep the CFL at the forefront in the field of freshwater sciences. Of course, not all of them come from people with such strong prior connections.

Jake and Pat Lane talk with summer fellows, Meredity Smalley and Paul Schramm, after an annual “Funders Luncheon” at Trout Lake Station. Photo: Carol Warden

Jack and Pat Lane’s story is more of a happy accident. In 1998, the Florida-based couple drove to Georgia’s Jekyll Island to attend a UW Foundation event where they saw CFL director emeritus John Magnuson give a talk on limnology in Wisconsin.

“What is this word?” Jack remembers thinking. “We’d never heard it before.” But the couple was intrigued and, from their summer cabin on Sugar Camp Lake in Oneida County, they soon learned about Trout Lake Station and were introduced to Tim Kratz, who was then station director. Through these connections, the John and Patricia Lane Award in Limnology was born. Since 2011 “Lane Fellows” have spent summers pursuing all sorts of limnological projects – from restoring walleye populations, to building “bog batteries,” to honing their science communication skills.

In all, the Lanes have helped 24 undergraduates and graduate students get invaluable “real life” experience conducting fieldwork on Wisconsin lakes.

“We’ve enjoyed supporting something that’s worthwhile,” says Pat. “I mean, we love our lakes!”

The Lanes aren’t the only family supporting our students. For example, the E.T. and Jean Juday Award in Limnology was created by the descendants of one of limnology’s important historical figures, Chancey Juday, and also endows summer fellowships at Trout Lake Station.

In addition to student awards, individual gifts also sometimes help support specific research projects, like the invasive rainbow smelt removal project in Crystal Lake. Or they can be key in getting innovative research off the ground. Upon his retirement, CFL director emeritus Steve Carpenter and his wife Susan established a fund for “creative, innovative, and novel research” conducted by CFL faculty that, they hope, will be a source of funding for promising projects that are not yet developed enough for sources like federal grants.

Whatever path it takes to get to us, the support of individuals is crucial to ensuring the CFL is both a leader in limnology as well as a source of life-changing experiences for our students.