Reflections on NANPA Summits, Part Two

Joe and Mary Ann McDonald

Summit Memories, Continued

By Shirley Nuhn

NANPA has a rich and interesting history spanning more than a quarter century. Members who joined more recently might not know some of the unique individuals and memorable events that came before them, so we asked Shirley Nuhn, who serves on NANPA’s History Committee, to share some of her memories. Those who have been members longer may enjoy these trips down memory lane, too.

For Part Two of my blog on NANPA Summit reflections, (see Part One here) I’m turning the spotlight on long-time attendees.  Joe and Mary Ann McDonald are the recipients of NANPA’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award. Here’s what Mary Ann recently told me:

“Joe and I are founding members and it’s been a wonderful adventure. I just found in our files the Volume 1, Number 1 edition of Currents [NANPA’s first newsletter].  That brought back great memories of years of service that we both gave to NANPA. My fondest memories are from when I was emcee at several of the Summits. I tried to make it fun for those who attended by using my theatrical and creative talents. For one of the live auctions, I said that I would take off an item of clothing for every $500 made for the Foundation. Joe drew a breath of relief when the bidding stopped and I was still clothed.

“Another time I dressed up like Marilyn Monroe and for a $100 donation I would sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to that person, like she did for JFK.  One of my fondest memories, and one that I was truly honored to perform, was when I auctioned off Jane Kinne’s multi-colored blazer.”

That was the “coat of many colors” I mentioned in my previous blog.

Mary Ann added, “Throughout our years with NANPA, Joe and I volunteered to lead day, or night, trips with the high school and college students. We worked with students who are now skilled professionals in their own right and that is a great legacy for us and for NANPA. And now with my tenure on the Foundation board I look forward to continuing my service for a truly inspiring organization.”

Francine Butler and Jerry Bowman were the original executive directors of NANPA, through their association management firm, the Resource Center in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.  Francine still tells people about the fascinating character of NANPA.  She spoke to me of what it took to put on the Summit each year. 

January 2000, Austin, Texas, NANPA Nature Photography Summit.  NANPA Executive Directors Francine Butler and Jerry Bowman. © David Small.
January 2000, Austin, Texas, NANPA Nature Photography Summit. NANPA Executive Directors Francine Butler and Jerry Bowman. © David Small.

She, Jerry, and other staff at the Resource Center managed numerous assignments, including the onsite bookstore. Then came the final event—the Saturday evening celebration. NANPA held a banquet, presentations, and awards.  She described it as hypnotic. “I floated out of that meeting.  I thought of all that we did, in that special place with incredible people.” Of the photographs presented, she pondered, how did the photographers do that, waiting for just the right image?  “I felt energized.”

I asked Francine, who is now serving as a Foundation trustee, what stood out about NANPA as a client. She said other groups the firm managed were involved with science and technology.

“Their questions were, ‘What’s the budget?’ ‘What’s the operating plan?’ People operate on different sides on the brain.  Approaches to things can be very different. NANPA asked, ‘What is the value?’ ‘What will this association do for people?’ It is the nonanalytical side of the brain.”

Francine pointed out that photographers know the technology of the camera. But the product is art. “The vision drives the outcome. In NANPA is the remarkable ability to switch gears when necessary.”

The pandemic has changed so many of the ways in which we meet and interact. She said that NANPA has done a good job in continuing to build on other modes of communication—through its website, online activities, and regional events. “They knock it out of the park!”

NANPA’s core is volunteerism, both in its organization and activities. What is Francine’s view of volunteering? “It’s the best way to learn.  It’s a sharing of expertise, too.”

Finally, I contacted George Lepp, Outdoor Photographer columnist who was a member of the founding board and has also received NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2019. George reflected on the meaning of Summits:

Photo of George Lepp holding a camera. In the background is the bark of the trunk of a very large tree. Photo credit Kathryn Vincent Lepp
George Lepp. Photo credit Kathryn Vincent Lepp

“I fondly remember presenting at that first meeting, along with my colleagues Dewitt Jones, Frans Lanting, Galen Rowell, and Art Wolfe. A couple of the commemorative NANPA sweatshirts were passed around for notable speakers and organizers to autograph, and these became instant collector items that over the years were brought back to NANPA conventions for auction to benefit NANPA and the NANPA Foundation.

“One year, my son Torrey won at auction a sweatshirt I had signed years previously; the following year he donated it back for re-auction.  Somewhere out there, those two original signed sweatshirts must still exist, although some of the original signers have since passed away.”

George also mentioned other practical elements of NANPA’s key events: “Beginning with the Ft. Myers Forum, trade shows brought suppliers and products together with photography consumers, enabling them to meet producers and experience first-hand new products that advanced their work. The trade shows grew in size and variety with each subsequent NANPA Forum/Summit, as new collaborations were formed and projects conceived. Those of us who were part of each and every NANPA convention cherished the opportunities the meetings gave us to meet with a broad range of fellow professionals and students, teaching and learning from each other in prime locations across the country.

“My involvement with NANPA at its beginnings, and in the decades that followed, has been a source of pride and pleasure for me, and I am looking forward to the next in-person Summit!”

Like Francine, I have felt energized during NANPA’s Forums and Summits—even in preparing to attend them and for a while afterward. As a writer, editor, and educator, I have found that photographers’ topics and discoveries have much in common with my own. And so I stay involved.

Here’s to many more creative, informative fun events from our association!

Shirley Nuhn, along with her husband, John, has been involved in a variety of roles in NANPA, beginning with the 1993 conference at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute at which the idea for NANPA was formulated. She’s chaired NANPA’s History Committee since 1996 and is often credited as “the godmother of Nature Photography Day.” Shirley is a writer, editor, professor, podcaster, and researcher. For more than two decades, she has served as faculty in English as a Second Language—mostly oral communications and reading—and composition at Northern Virginia Community College.