An employee who loves his or her job is a good employee.
There are few people in Southern Illinois who love their job more than Jennifer Randolph-Bollinger, the natural resource coordinator at Giant City State Park. Recently, Randolph-Bollinger was named the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Region V Employee of the Year.
“It’s really nice to be recognized, but I have to say that there is no way I would have gotten this award without (Site superintendent) Calvin (Beckmann) and the rest of the staff at Giant City because we all support each other,” Randolph-Bollinger said. “For me, it’s great, but it’s not fair. It should be a Giant City State Park award. If it weren’t for staff filling in for me so I can do programs, not everyone can say that. I’m lucky to have that. It should be an award for Giant City.”
Randolph-Bollinger joined the park’s staff in December 2013. There had been no interpreter on site for five or six years prior to her hiring.
“Since Jennifer’s arrival, she has rebuilt an interpretive system that had been dormant for years, updating the information available about Giant City State Park as well as beginning the process at Trail of Tears State Forest,” wrote Beckmann in his nomination letter. “The IDNR and all who interact with her are better for having encountered Jennifer performing her duties.”
This year Randolph-Bollinger will oversee 30 programs at the park — programs that utilize park staff, volunteers and local experts. Seasonal programs will focus on issues and activities ranging from photography and history to hunting and outdoor cooking.
“I like to present activities for everyone — birders, wildflowers,” she said. “I like to provide a multitude of programs. My goal is just to get people outside and gain an appreciation for the outdoors.”
Some of the hiking programs have brought as many as 20 school groups or 20 community organizations to the park. Some of the Kids-N-the-Woods programs designed by Bollinger-Randolph have drawn 20 families.
“It’s a good way to get kids outside, get them dirty and send them home again,” she said.
And, Randolph-Bollinger approaches the programs with the enthusiasm of a proud parent.
“I think just providing a friendly atmosphere, a place visitors feel welcome when they come in,” she said. “If we didn’t have visitors, we wouldn’t have a park. We want to show them all the cool things Giant City has to offer. I think people, even as close as St. Louis, don’t know that. I like to really promote Southern Illinois.”
And, if she had to pick her favorite thing about Giant City State Park, it would be the wildflowers.
“I’m a little bit of a plant nerd,” Randolph-Bollinger said. “The spring wild ephemerals are closer to the top of that one. This is really one of the best times to come to the park with everything greening up. You can walk every day and see something different.
That’s extremely important. A lot of times people have the tendency to walk by wildflowers. I think the coolest thing is, there is so much more than the pretty wildflowers. Sharing those things with people and seeing their faces light up is what makes me happy. So, maybe the next time they go out hiking they’ll see something more than just a pretty wildflower.”
Beckmann said the award was well-deserved.
"I just think it was a natural fit when they said they were looking for employees of the year," he said. "She just fits that mold. She just brightens up everyone’s day when they walk into the Visitor Center. They’ll learn something."