IDNR recognizes 2023 Outstanding Volunteers of the Year

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) recognized recipients of the 2023 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year awards, expressing gratitude to individuals and members of outdoor organizations for their volunteer service to IDNR and the people of Illinois.

“Volunteers are vital to the operation and upkeep of state parks, historic sites, state museum facilities, and nature preserves,” said IDNR Director Natalie Phelps Finnie. “Volunteering can be hard work, but it’s important work and it benefits everyone who enjoys IDNR sites throughout the state. We are pleased to recognize their extraordinary efforts on behalf of the people of Illinois.”

The 2023 IDNR Outstanding Volunteers of the Year in the Heritage Corridor Destinations region are:

Robbin Keenan, Ottawa – Volunteer at Starved Rock State Park for the Starved Rock Historical and Educational Foundation. Keenan started volunteering in 2019 in the foundation’s nonprofit LeRocher bookstore and now volunteers as the store manager. She has donated hundreds of hours with financial accounting, inventory, ordering displays and more, leading the store to set monthly and yearly sales records. Thanks to volunteers like Keenan, the foundation been able to contribute nearly $450,000 to the park since 1991.

Jake Krancic, Utica – Volunteer at both Matthiessen and Starved Rock state parks for seven years. Krancic mows and maintains the model airplane field at Matthiessen, and he helps distribute park and trail information at both parks and at the Starved Rock visitor center. He also volunteers his photographic skills and submits seasonal videos about both parks that are used for public outreach.

Craig and Linda Nelson, Lockport – Husband and wife volunteer interpreters at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site since 2016. The Nelsons drive more than 170 miles from their home to Menard County to volunteer, often leaving at 6 a.m. and not returning home until 8 p.m. During the past year alone, they have logged more than 500 hours of volunteer service at the site. Much of their volunteer time is spent in the historic village wearing period clothes in weather that is not always ideal. They are passionate about Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s New Salem, and Illinois history. They visit Illinois schools and other sites as ambassadors for the site. Visitors are familiar with the Nelsons, as evidenced by anecdotal stories and the Google reviews that reference the couple’s service and welcoming nature.