Grand visions are all well and good – even necessary – when launching a new organization, but there are some inescapable practical matters that soon also demand one’s attention. One of them, of course, is where the money is going to come from. Start-up costs abound, even for an all-volunteer organization, as the Thames Talbot Land Trust (TTLT) was in its early years. These include everything from the extraordinary – paying legal fees for incorporation – to the mundane – renting a post office box.
To fund this early phase of the Trust, a limited-time class of membership – termed Founding Member – was established. A Founding Member was any individual or organization contributing $1000 or more to the Trust during its first five years of existence. Fortunately for TTLT, nineteen individuals and three organizations answered the call, providing a firm financial footing from which to launch this bold undertaking.
Among our Founding Members was Albert Karl (A.K.) Betz. Born in Germany, Albert was learning to be a potter when he met his future wife, Ingrid, who had been sent overseas to the same studio by her parents, owners of a pottery in Quebec’s Laurentian region. After immigrating to Canada, Albert began working as a technician for 3M in Montreal, later earning a promotion to the head office in London. By the time he retired, he had worked his way to the position of Vice-President and Director of 3M Canada.
Upon arriving in London, Albert and Ingrid rented a home in Lambeth, but soon began searching for a property of their own. In 1967, they purchased a 55-acre property on Woodhull Road just west of Lambeth. Half the property comprised woodland bordering Dingman Creek. It was a property they enjoyed – together with their children Martin and Monica – for many years until Albert’s passing in 2013. For a ten-year stretch, Albert walked the woods each day after adopting – with a neighbour – Mac, an Australian shepherd that had been dropped off in the area.
Speaking of their property, where she still resides, Ingrid remembers, “My husband was particularly proud of the fact that he never allowed the property to be logged, in spite of regular offers from eager wood-cutting companies. [He was] one of the few owners on Woodhull Road not to do so. It used to make us sad to drive by neighbouring properties and see the piles of magnificent dead trees waiting to be hauled away.”
Donating to a fledgling organization is not without risk. There is always the chance that things will go sideways and that one’s contribution will be, in a sense, wasted. Albert and Ingrid were not without their reservations. Reflecting on their motivation to support the Trust, Ingrid recalls, “We’d been donating to The Nature Conservancy and liked the concept when we saw a small ad for a group starting up as the Thames Talbot Land Trust. We thought, ‘That’s what the London area needs, a local group interested in preserving local properties.’ So we sent a cheque. Not without trepidation. Who are these people? Can we trust them?” Despite their reservations, they, and our other Founding Members, took a chance on an ambitious, but unproven, organization.
Although they continued to support TTLT financially, Albert and Ingrid remained among our group of “silent supporters”, so to speak. Explains Ingrid, “Although we remained donating members over the years and were thrilled when the Trust acquired their first property, regularly followed by more, we never did become hands-on volunteers. The reason being, we were too busy with our own property.” Their activities included “hacking out modest trails, calling on the conservation authority for help when fallen trees blocked the creek, and trying periodically to discourage bands of invading beavers (hopeless!).”
Today, the seed nurtured by Albert Betz and our other Founding Members has blossomed into something truly special, a thriving organization that conserves over 1700 acres of natural and agricultural land across 17 sites. Sometimes, it pays to take a chance.
Bernie VanDenBelt with contributions from Ingrid Betz