ELGIN – Pam Otto has worked for park districts for over 14 years, but she's been a lover of the outdoors all her life.
“My earliest memories are being outside catching bugs, staring at them in wonder and thinking, 'I've gotta learn more,' ” Otto said.
Otto's search for answers and exploration led her to a job with the Fox Valley Park District after a stint in writing and publishing. Then in 2007, she joined the St. Charles Park District in the city she has called home since 1993.
Thanks in part to the St. Charles district, Otto on Saturday received the 2014 Conservation Award from the Elias Kent Kane Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The award ceremony was part of the Kane chapter's June luncheon at the Elgin County Country Club in Elgin.
Gayla Steel, regent of the Kane DAR chapter, pinned a medal to the lapel of Otto's black Hickory Knolls Discovery Center jacket before giving her the award certificate and a hug.
The luncheon audience of about 50 people included a few St. Charles Park District staff members, including Laura Rudow, Otto's supervisor and superintendent of parks and planning, and Holly Cabel, director of parks and recreation.
Cabel said Otto was definitely the park district's candidate for the award, which is given to those who contribute to education, youth leadership and conservation-related media. Otto is the park district's manager of nature programs and interpretive services.
Otto explains conservation in a way that's easy to understand to others through presentations and in her written columns, Cabel said. Otto is also a member of the Park District's Green Team and provides conservation tips to the staff, such as how to understand the numbers on recyclable containers.
Receiving the Conservation Award is no easy feat, said Sharon Hare, the DAR Kane chapter's conservation chair. Award nominees have to be vetted by the local chapter and then at the state level.
Otto said she was thrilled to be nominated. It's an honor to receive an award for talking to people and inspiring them about their surroundings, she said.
“I'd be doing this whether I had a job or not,” Otto said.