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The Dirt | Remembering Jerry Paul

By Holly Crosson, Executive Director, Benton SWCD

Benton Soil and Water Conservation District’s long-time Zone 3 Board Director, Jerry Paul, passed away on July 20, 2023.

Jerry’s deep and lasting imprint on the District, and Benton County, cannot be overstated.  Immediately after being elected to serve on Benton SWCD’s board in 2012, he went to work for his constituents.  The words public servant could not have been more fitting for Jerry, as everything he did was with the residents of Benton County in mind (both human, and wild residents from native plants and birds to native bees).  Jerry was a master at getting things done.  He had a knack for improving the process, and outcome, for all the projects he participated in.

No task was too big or too small for Jerry.  During his tenure he stepped up to every challenge with rolled up sleeves and a broad smile.  It didn’t matter if it was a long deliberation during our annual budgeting process, or fixing a broken piece of tile on our office floor; improving the flow of customers at our native plant sales by designing a new fairgrounds layout, or creating architectural drawings for a proposed new office space; traipsing through fields to collect teasel stalks to build mason bee homes, or reviewing monthly financial reports, commenting on restoration grant proposals, or signing checks. 

Jerry carried his toolbox and pencil everywhere.  He was a problem solver extraordinaire.  Jerry was my sounding board for tough decisions at work, but he was also a good friend who shared conversation off the clock on everything from what to look for in a camping trailer to the joys of woodworking and the best knots to learn.  Having a cup of coffee with Jerry was like going on an exploration: always engaging, often learning something new, never without gaining useful insight.

Jerry’s can-do attitude was the impetus for him signing up for all manner of responsibilities as a public official.  He accomplished these roles with aplomb, and one past board chair was always awarding him the ‘Gold Star’ at board meetings. I think Jerry missed only one board meeting in more than ten years of service. 

 Over the years, Jerry took on many projects and official business at the District, including:

  •  Search/Hiring Committee for the District’s first full-time Manager
  • Treasurer
  • Personnel and Finance Committee
  • Strategic Planning Work Group
  • Native Plant Sale site coordination and clean up
  • Budget Committee
  • Bee Buddy Program 
  • OWEB Small Grant Review Team
  • Confluence Steering Committee
  • Confluence Architecture Committee
  • Annual Audit Review Team
  • Volunteer for just about everything

Perhaps Jerry’s greatest joy in working with the District (aside from his passion for conservation, especially related to pollinators and their habitats) was his wonderful relationships with fellow Directors and staff.  Jerry was beloved and respected by all.  He was prodigious in his talents but incredibly humble with the gift of his time and knowledge that he bestowed on the people who were fortunate to work with him. Jerry stewarded the land and all its creatures with the greatest of care.  When the District initiated its Conservation Neighbor Award, Jerry was the first recipient.  He worked tirelessly for the causes he believed in and our District, and community, are forever better for it. 

I will miss Jerry’s quiet leadership, wise counsel, and friendship.  The District will honor and celebrate Jerry’s extraordinary work by creating an annual conservation education grant award in his name so his inspiring conservation legacy may live on.

Click below to read more stories of remembrance by some of our staff and Board members.

A neighbor and a friend 

By Donna Schmitz, Resource Conservationist

“The floor slopes to the east’, he said. I looked in that direction and it sure looked level to me.  In 2020, I invited Jerry and Judith over for the building inspection visit for the old house I was about to purchase. The foundation inspection assured me this house had long settled to its current stable condition and wouldn’t move. I measured it later with a level and sure enough, the floor sloped a ¼” in one foot. How did he ever see that? Since I first met him, I had solicited Jerry’s vast knowledge and experience of carpentry/woodworking/plumbing/irrigation and for every other handyman question I had. Jerry had the gift to see a problem, analyze the issue, come up with the solution, construct or repair and lead others to make things better for all the community groups he became involved with.

During the early morning hours in the summer of 2006, the sound of construction equipment came drifting over the hill where I used to live. I met this new neighbor, Jerry, when I visited him and another neighbor to talk about riparian plantings along Sequoia Creek. They had controlled the invasives and were looking for native plant recommendations.  We talked about the wildlife they’d seen and how to encourage wildlife through improving the habitat. They shared a video of a cougar crossing the creek from the wildlife cam. YIKES! We discussed the low volume wells in the area and the impacts of urban development on these small streams. They were committed to doing their part to reduce those impacts and to improve the wildlife habitat on their properties. Several years later, Jerry became a BSWCD director.

When Covid struck, our office was closed to the public and staff mostly worked remotely. I would come into the empty office several times during the week. But on Wednesdays, Jerry came in to sign the checks. He became my “Covid Buddy” during those long-isolated weeks. We talked a lot about projects both at work and at home, and he was generous with his time giving me his expert advice.

My last interaction with Jerry was on July 4th weekend this summer. I had purchased a new range and it was wider than my tile countertop opening. As contractors were not available at such short notice,  my only option was to cut the tile myself. Jerry helped me to choose the tools, the diamond blade, gave me instructions for making the cut and the confidence to do it. “Don’t be in such a hurry, craftmanship is the key,” he wrote in a text. When I finished, I sent him a picture of the stove in place. “Lovely job, beautiful stove. It looks like you celebrated with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” commenting on the jar on the counter. I can imagine the smile on his face and his chuckle when he wrote that final text and it lingers in my memory today.   If I drop any marbles on the floor of that room and they roll, I will remember Jerry.   I will miss Jerry for all he did for our conservation community but also as a friend.

May contain: clothing, pants, jeans, adult, male, man, person, plant, vegetation, grass, hat, field, grassland, nature, outdoors, baseball cap, cap, body part, hand, and tree
Jerry with Cliff Hall at Luckiamute Meadows, which is now a protected wildlife refuge.


Lessons remembered 

By Teresa Matteson, Resource Conservationist

Each time I plant a native plant, Jerry’s voice will remind me to add organic matter. Don’t set the plant too deep. As the freshly dug earth and organics settle, you don’t want the plant’s crown to drop below the soil surface.

When I tie a knot, I’ll see his hands in my mind’s eye. As I loop the rope and feed it through for a secure, solid stay, I’ll think of Jerry, true and dependable.

A drill will remind me to follow Jerry’s example. Lend a hand. Plan ahead to be prepared.

At Board meetings, I’ll fill his void with a vow to do my homework, organize my papers, and be dedicated to my conservation service.

And then, there are the pollinators, each special, valued, and worthy of my care. The pollinators will remind me of his devotion to duty and stalwart attention to what really matters.

May contain: clothing, hat, sun hat, wood, plant, vegetation, adult, female, person, woman, face, head, photography, portrait, garden, nature, outdoors, tree, male, man, pants, furniture, table, land, and woodland
Jerry sharing one of his many skills, knot-tying, at a workshop in 2013.
A wise perspective 

By Michael Ahr, Natural Resource Conservation Program Manager

May contain: clothing, coat, jacket, face, head, person, photography, portrait, hat, alloy wheel, car, car wheel, machine, spoke, tire, transportation, vehicle, wheel, adult, male, and man
Jerry often had a smile on his face, especially when talking about his beloved native bees.

When I was new to Benton SWCD in April 2021, Jerry took a special interest in talking to me about my new position.  He helped to give me perspective on program management and supervision that I really appreciate.  Over the next 2 years, I found myself making mental notes about big picture ideas that I wanted to talk to Jerry about.  I really appreciate how much time he gave to the District and so many other organizations.  He has left his fingerprints on so many aspects of Benton County conservation.  It’s surprising that Jerry lived and worked his whole professional career in California.  When you look at Jerry’s impact, it seems like he’s been in Corvallis for a lifetime.

Ongoing Legacy 

By David Barron, Benton SWCD Board Director

As Zone one director and previous associate director of Benton Soil and Water Conservation District Board, Jerry will be missed for his dedication, professional skill sets, and his laugh. I got to see a small part of Jerry's skills over the last few years here on the Board and I know that he will be missed.

I got to meet Jerry Paul in person at last year's annual meeting. Previous to this we were meeting over zoom because of the global pandemic. In person and on zoom Jerry was passionate about doing the work of the Benton Soil & Water Conservation board.

Although Jerry will no longer be attending our board meetings, I know that so many of the things Jerry Paul was involved with will move forward because of the dedication Jerry shared with us here at BSWCD and the many other organizations he was involved in.  

A force of nature 

By Sara Roberts, Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator

I was first introduced to Jerry while preparing for our annual Native Bulb and Seed Sale, soon after I began working at the District, and immediately recognized him as a force of nature. While sorting giant bags of seeds into hundreds of smaller envelopes, a task that felt overwhelming to this "newbie", Jerry provided both the wisdom of many year's experience and an upbeat attitude that made our work not just easier, but more fun. I couldn't help but smile back every time Jerry shot one of his trademark grins my way.

Jerry's passion for wildlife, community service, and the work that we do as a conservation district was evident with each meeting. He didn't just serve as a Board Director - he was an active ambassador for Benton SWCD at countless community events. Most of my interactions with Jerry ocurred when he came into the office to gather materials for his next outreach event. In between printing brochures and handouts, we'd chat about his latest projects, upcoming events, and of course, bees - his favorite subject. Jerry soon discovered that I shared his interest in pollinators, and was always bringing me new bee-related materials to use for outreach or simply my own enjoyment. He gave me a number of kid-friendly materials for my young son, too. 

Jerry was one of the kindest, smartest, and most thoughtful souls I've ever met. I feel grateful for the time I was able to share with him, as brief as it was. He will be greatly missed in our community, even as we endeavor to fill the considerable space he leaves behind.

May contain: kindergarten, architecture, building, school, person, adult, male, man, classroom, indoors, and room
Jerry was a tireless advocate for conservation, and especially enjoyed teaching children about pollinators and natural resources.
A spreader of joy 

By Jenny Brausch, Benton SWCD Bookkeeper

When I think about Jerry I remember his smile. He always had a smile and a twinkle in his eye. He was a spreader of joy. I know I will forever remember him as I prepare the board reports and bank reconciliations. It has been and will continue to be part of my process to make sure the financials meet up to his thorough review.

Thank you, Jerry 

By Rana Foster, BSWCD Board Associate Director

Thanks Jerry for all you did for each non profit organization you volunteered with over these past few decades.  Thanks for keeping Benton SWCD  financially darn near perfect, and for your ability to fix what was broken around the office, and at working for days to help with the entire Native Plant sales event, repeating this volunteer work for a decade.  I enjoyed your unique ability to figure out a problem and work together with anyone,  to solve or resolve things making them whole again,  and for all your efforts over time, to make this planet so much better for Mason Bee's and humans alike.

May contain: clothing, coat, jacket, cap, hat, baseball cap, face, head, person, photography, portrait, happy, smile, bicycle, transportation, and vehicle
Team work makes the dream work! Jerry with Laura Brown at the 2020 Winter Native Plant Sale.


May contain: clothing, hat, sun hat, person, nature, outdoors, wilderness, adventure, hiking, leisure activities, plant, vegetation, and tree
Jerry Paul: friend, colleague, neighbor, and tireless advocate for conservation.