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Notable Neighbors
home : features : notable neighbors
August 14, 2022

12/6/2019 4:29:00 PM
Notable Neighbors

The “Lion King” spends an intimate interlude with his pride.

The “Lion King” spends an intimate interlude with his pride.

A polar bear in the Norwegian Arctic prepares for a broadjump.

A polar bear in the Norwegian Arctic prepares for a broadjump.

Dean M. Laux

She puts people in touch with nature
“My life has been about words,” says Mary Lundeberg in a vast understatement of what she has accomplished in two careers over the last half-century. Her life has been about words, yes, but also about pictures, teaching and outspoken advocacy for better education and a more ecofriendly society.

Mary grew up in Chicago, the middle child and only daughter of parents in the medical field, and she went to the local city schools before moving on to college at the University of Illinois in Urbana. She didn’t particularly like what she saw in the city schools, and she decided that a career in education would be the best starting point for doing something about it. After earning a B.A. degree in English at Illinois, she went on to earn an M.S. in K-12 reading at the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D.in educational psychology at the University of Minnesota. As Dr. Lundeberg she held increasingly impressive positions as a full professor at the University of Wisconsin and Professor and Chair of the Education Department at Michigan State, teaching teachers to teach–in particular, using case-based methods involving students in interactive learning experiences. Her students learned by doing, whether at the grade school or collegiate level. 

During her 23 years as a professor, she co-authored over 88 articles and chapters, was Wisconsin’s Teacher Educator of the Year in 1994, was named Outstanding Faculty Member of the College of Education on the Wisconsin-River Falls campus in 1999 and served for three years as associate editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology from 1999 to 2002. The awards were earned and appreciated, but she says, “what was really special was when my former students remembered me for what I gave to them.” She gave them a love of learning and searched for the best methods to help them learn more.

In 2002 Mary lost her husband of 17 years. “He was wonderful, and I never expected to marry again. I never thought I would find another mate so special,” she says. But she did. In 2005 she married Bill Karnes, whom she describes simply as “fabulous” and “phenomenal”–pretty nice labels for any marital partner. And Bill changed Mary’s life in another way: In 2009, for a valentine present, he gave her a Canon DSLR camera, and later a 600 mm lens. In case you’re not into cameras and photography, that is a mighty pricey camera intended for professional use only. “I think he actually bought it for himself, and he lets me use it whenever I want,” she jokes. But let it be clear: It’s her camera and she uses it a lot–“probably 100 or so shots a day, and sometimes up to 500 in a day.” You won’t find pictures of her latest meal among those shots, either. She has become an award-winning professional wildlife photographer. Check out her website (www.marylundeberg.com) for proof. 

“I hadn’t done much picture taking before getting that camera,” she avers. “But the camera sparked my interest in photography, particularly photos of nature.” On her website she says, “My goal as a photographer is to create appreciation for the beauty and fragility of this planet, especially water ecosystems, such as the estuaries in Florida, the rivers in Wisconsin and Colorado and the glaciers in Antarctica. Photographing wildlife requires stillness. This challenges me to slow down as I listen to nature speaking to me. I take care not to disturb wildlife, preferring to capture critters’ behaviors in their natural habitat.” In particular, she says, “I like to focus on the nurturing behavior of animals”–a female elephant tending to her babies, a leopard teaching her young to hunt, or eagle parents watching their nest, for example. And she’s traveled the world to do just that.

One trip took her to Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, where she photographed  colonies of King penguins and Gentoos, watched elephant seals tend their young and Adele penguins ride an ice floe. She has filmed polar bears in arctic Norway and Cape Buffalo in Kenya. On safari in Africa she took photos of a lion pride, elephants feeding their babies, leopards on a hunt and giraffes fighting. It was nature red in tooth and claw, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson put it. “When I first saw them bobbing at each other with their long necks, I thought it was a mating dance,” she says. “But then it became much worse. They fought until one walked away, the victor.”

Last year she decided to go to India. “I’d had a number of students from India, I was doing yoga, and I was interested in their culture and religion,” she says. She took the opportunity to get a snapshot of India’s famed Bengal tigers along the way.

Her portfolio of nature photos is huge: ducks and dolphins, foxes and flamingos, hummingbirds and hippos, manatees and mountain goats, panthers and pelicans, wolves and woodpeckers are all a part of it. And her photos of Florida’s wildlife are both extensive and exquisite. “I’ve traveled all over the planet,” she says, “and I’ve never found a place more special than Florida. We live in a paradise, and we have to protect it.”

She first came to visit Florida in 2009, when her daughter Betsy was living in Sarasota. “I loved it here. And I found Stump Pass,” she says with a smile. Officially it’s Stump Pass Beach State Park, 245 acres at the most southerly point on Manasota Key, and their brochure states that it’s “the perfect spot for viewing wildlife, sunbathing, hiking, fishing and boating.” Mary agrees. She has become a volunteer with the Friends of Stump Pass and is their official photographer. She participated in the re-nourishment project this past year that rebuilt some of the Key’s eroded beaches, and she helped in the relocation of protected turtle nests affected by that project. She is particularly fond of Florida’s shorebirds and has become an advocate for their protection–especially the threatened terns and plovers–enough so that she is known to many folks as “The Bird Lady.” She cautions that Florida has lost millions of shorebirds in the past few years due to loss of habitat, loss of food sources affected by red tide and disruptive activities of tourists and Florida residents. She gives speeches on these issues and writes a regular column (“Noticing Nature”) for the Englewood Sun.

On the side, she’s been teaching a class in photography at Ringling College of Art and Design. “I’d never taught photography before, but I was a teacher and I am a photographer, so I thought, why not? I’ve had my career, I’m retired and now I do the fun stuff.” That includes five books of photo studies of nature she’s had published since 2014. “I love being out in the morning,” she says, “and people can usually find me at Stump Pass beach.”

And if she’s not there, who knows? She might be off on another jaunt, shooting pictures of lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: tomnewton@englewodreview.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.

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