November 14, 2023

2023 ANCA Leadership Awards

by Asa Duffee, ANCA Director of Marketing & Communications

Two people stand and pose in a crowded room. The two people each hold a small rectangular wooden item with a plaque on it.Veronica Frehm and Pete Smerud.ANCA serves to support best leadership practices for our profession, and as part of this work we aim to acknowledge and highlight the exceptional leaders within our unique field. To this end we give two awards annually, the ANCA Nature Center Leadership Award and the ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award.

The ANCA Nature Center Leadership Award recognizes an individual who in their role at the highest administrative level of an organization has made a major contribution to the success of a nature center, as well as important contributions to the profession through professional organizations and the support and mentoring of other nature center leaders.

The ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award recognizes an individual with the potential for future impact within the field of nature center administrators, who has already demonstrated leadership, professionalism, and creativity within their role. Recipients have less than five years of full-time work experience as the director, executive director, or leader at the highest administrative level at a nature or environmental learning center.

Each year we present these awards at the ANCA Annual Summit. At the Summit this year we recognized Peter Smerud, Executive Director of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minn. with the ANCA Nature Center Leadership Award and Veronica Frehm, CEO of the Friends of MacArthur Beach in North Palm Beach, Fla. with the ANCA Outstanding New Leader Award.

Upon receiving his award, Smerud acknowledged nature centers and outdoor schools as organizations at the forefront of connecting communities with nature.

“We do the most important work in the world,” Smerud said in a speech to over 150 participants at the Summit. “[We] are reconciling the relationship between human systems and natural systems.”

Smerud also spoke to the profession as a catalyst for changing our society’s connection to the environment. “We seek paradigm shifts in society,” Smerud said, and quoted American inventor Buckminster Fuller, who said, “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

In her acceptance speech to Summit participants, Frehm reflected on the impact of professionals in our field, even if those impacts aren’t always seen. She recounted a time in her own life when she was looking for a professional direction, but didn’t have a strong sense of what to do. At that time Frehm took a trip to Yosemite National Park and came across a naturalist leading a youth program outdoors.

“I did not know that was a job,” Frehm said, “and I wanted that job immediately.”

Frehm indeed went on to work in outdoor programs, eventually leading to her current role at MacArthur Beach.

Whether or not that naturalist in Yosemite had a significant impact on the lives of the children in his program, Frehm said, “he certainly had an impact on mine.”

Frehm encouraged her fellow ANCA members that they’ve undoubtedly had similar “ripple effects” — and that though they might not always know of those effects, their efforts have a major impact.

“I'm so incredibly grateful for this award,” Frehm said, “but I'm so much more incredibly grateful for all the work that every single person in this room is doing.”