Man with coat and tie stands beside woman with dress holding plaques
William Flanegan is shown here with Erica Thomas of Richland Soil & Water Conservation District after he was selected the Cooperator of the Year.

SHELBY — William R. Flanegan Jr. was awarded the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (Richland SWCD) Cooperator of the Year at the joint annual celebration held with Richland County Farm Bureau Sept. 7 at the Kehoe Center in Shelby. 

In addition to being recognized by Richland SWCD, State Senator Mark Romanchuk, State Representative Marilyn John, and the Richland County Commissioners acknowledged William’s Cooperator of the Year award with commendations.

William was awarded for his work at the Nature Park located at the Richland County Fairgrounds.

William Flanegan, Cooperator of the Year, and his wife, Tonya, are shown here with Erica Thomas and Theresa Sutter of the Richland SWCD.

Over a 10-year period, the life-long, master gardener has transformed and maintained the landscaping into a beautiful green area adorned with native plants.

He has coordinated the work at the Nature Park with help from other volunteers including his wife, Tonya, Howard Harriman, Linda Bixler, Barb Keller, Vickie Eichof, Doug Versaw, Jim Kulig, Carol Sheppard, and Randy Hanlon.

If you go to the Nature Park on most Wednesdays at 4 p.m. from March through November, you will find Bill and other volunteers mowing, planting, watering, dividing plants, installing landscape art, putting up Nature Park signs, and enjoying each other’s company. 

They are happy to point out pollinators who land on a plant and share their knowledge about the plants. Spotting a pollinator never gets old.

Bill’s love for native plants was inspired by a book he read by Doug Tallamy, “Bringing Nature Home.”

Now he inspires others to use native plants for the benefits they provide like having a strong root structure which helps prevent soil erosion, being acclimated to our climate so they require less watering and helping pollinators and other wildlife.

Cooperator of the Year William Flanegan (in red sports coat) is shown here with other NP Volunteers.

Other projects Bill has been involved in at the nature park include removing non-native species, reconstruction of a wall and providing plant identification. Have you ever planted a dead tree upside down on purpose?

Bill has and he is unapologetic.

“These are bird attractors and for some reason they just feel safe perching in them,” Flanegan said. “We also planted some dead Black Locust trees upside down to display contorted root systems.

“I love watching people’s reactions to this oddity. I think it is natural ‘art.’ ”

William is also devoted to educating the public and fellow volunteers about the importance of planting native plants.

He invites groups to the Nature Park to learn more about native plants and conducts an annual program highlighting the native plants during the Richland County Fair.

To learn more about services and programs Richland SWCD provides, please visit or call 419-747-8686.

The Richland Soil and Water Conservation District develops, implements, and assists landowners, government agencies and our partners with a wide range of natural resource conservation programs.

Programs and assistance of the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District are available without regard to race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, age, national origin, ancestry, disability, or veteran status.

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