Helen Black was a longtime environmentalist, ambassador of scientific education and exploration and friend of Cincinnati Museum Center and the Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Helen was a product of the world around her, growing up playing in the woods and marveling at the beauty of the natural world.
Helen spent over 50 years as a volunteer of the Edge of Appalachia, just 75 miles from downtown Cincinnati. She was there when Richard and Lucile Durrell founded the first 42-acre tract and saw it grow to over 17,000 acres, one of the largest privately owned preserves east of the Mississippi River. Cutting down small red cedar trees and dragging them away, building trail systems in the wilderness, monitoring water systems, collecting and planting seeds to restore a pasture to a fine prairie and leading hikes as she taught others how to identify plants and animals are a few ways she spent her decades in service to the Edge of Appalachia. In fact, when Chris Bedel took over as Preserve Director, it was Helen who trained him on the property boundaries, plants and animals.
In 1965, Helen was part of a group who founded the 175-acre Cincinnati Nature Center in Clermont County and would go on to be a lifetime member of its board. Today, the Cincinnati Nature Center spans 1,600 acres just minutes from Cincinnati’s urban core, a wooded respite from the hum of city life, offering visitors the same wild experiences that had such an impact on Helen’s early life. She was a lifetime.
Helen also began her service as a trustee for the Ohio chapter of The Nature Conservancy in 1965. She would later serve as the Ohio Board Chair from 1976-1977 and as a trustee for the national board from 1977-1983. For her lifetime of advocacy for land protection, she was awarded the highest honors from The Nature Conservancy, both in Ohio and nationally, including the Silver Oak Leaf Award in 1970, Green Leaf Award in 1972 and the Silver Bowl in 1980. Additionally, she was inducted into the Ohio Conservation Hall of Fame in 2008 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
As a board member of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History at Gilbert Avenue for over 20 years, Helen was an enthusiastic advocate for the merger of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Cincinnati Historical Society at Union Terminal, serving a term as chairperson of the capital campaign that assured its success. She joined the board of Cincinnati Museum Center in 1995, serving until 2004 when she was named a lifetime emeritus trustee. Her generosity and dedicated service to protecting Greater Cincinnati’s wild and untamed beauty has had such an impact on over a dozen organizations. Her contributions as a donor, advocate and educator have enabled significant research at the Edge of Appalachia, including the discovery of species once thought to have died out in this area. Her support for nature education has helped countless budding naturalists explore the natural beauty of Greater Cincinnati and to appreciate it in all its grandeur.
Charley Harper likened Helen’s demeanor to that of a Wood Thrush. Normally quiet and happy living in the shadows, but when it sings, everyone listens. Helen will be deeply missed by so many, but her legacy will echo through the wilds she helped protect and her impact will be felt by the hikers who bask in the beauty of our natural world.