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32 The postwar years were a time of major change for George Fell, as indeed they were for the entire country. After his discharge from the Civilian Public Service, he returned home to find Rockford booming. The postwar euphoria fueled a population surge to ninety-three thousand by 1950.1 New bridges spanned the Rock River. New suburbs incorporated, expanding the footprint of development ever further. The city opened its first municipal landfill. The buildings of Camp Grant, where Fell’s father had treated patients suffering from psychological wounds during World War I, were torn down, and a new airport went up in their place. In the midst of Rockford’s sprawl, Winnebago County did manage to set aside a sixty-acre tract of land as Memorial Forest Preserve in honor of its men and women who had served in the armed forces during the war. For Fell and the woman who would become his wife, that was not nearly enough. They were deeply troubled by the accelerating destruction of remnant natural areas throughout the greater Rockford area and beyond. Fell finally found his calling: pushing back against the powerful tide of postwar development by pursuing a state-sponsored system for preserving natural lands. Initially, with little more than a vague idea of what that system should be, he tapped into a network of like-minded individuals who had been wrestling with this idea for years. They were impressed with Fell’s passion and persistence and with how quickly he pulled together a new and viable strategy for protecting what amounted to the state’s orphaned natural land remnants. Fell’s initial statesponsored effort failed to materialize, but it set the stage for his advancing the nascent natural areas movement on the national stage. 2 Threatened Lands, Living Museums Threatened Lands, Living Museums 33 Honeymoon on the Prairie Following his discharge from the Civilian Public Service, Fell was no closer to deciding on a career than he had been at the time of his induction four years earlier. Just as he had following his graduation from the University of Michigan, he applied for a scattershot array of positions, this time ranging from researcher at Patuxent Research Refuge to director of a children’s museum in Nashville, Kentucky, run by the William T. Hornaday Memorial Foundation. Into this mix he added the possibility of returning to the University of Illinois to obtain his doctorate, provided he could secure a teaching assistantship to offset the cost of tuition.2 Once again, Fell had little luck. There is no record that he received any response from Patuxent, where he had spent time as a disgruntled conscientious objector. In an ironic twist, his old undergraduate professor Arthur Vestal, whom Fell had “graded” poorly as a teacher, candidly informed Fell that his being accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Illinois was unlikely because “some of your past grades will not impress favorably.”3 Perhaps the most encouraging response came from the Hornaday Foundation. The foundation’s director responded that Fell did not have sufficient experience to head up a children’s museum. Having been a conscientious objector himself, however, and knowing how hard it could be for “conchies” to find work so soon after the war, the director offered Fell an entry-level position as a stepping stone toward advancement.4 “A bit incensed” by the low pay offered, Fell refused the offer.5 As it turned out, the rejections and lack of suitable offers did not matter. Fell soon found his calling while wooing his future wife. On his return to Rockford following the war, Fell found a part-time job teaching botany at the University of Illinois Extension. To help make ends meet, he also hired on as a lab technician at the Rockford Public Health Department, filling the position of a young woman who had returned to the University of New Mexico to complete her undergraduate degree.6 That woman was Barbara Garst. While on summer break in 1946, she stopped in to see her friends at the lab and met her replacement . Asked later if it was love at first sight, Barbara replied, “Oh, I think probably . We hit it off right away. I had taken courses in entomology, ornithology and field botany, and I was interested in field work, so we had lots to talk about.”7 Fell went further, recalling that at their first meeting “it became an alliance between the two of us.”8 “Alliance...


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