Change Agents: Beth and Bob Staggenborg

November 2, 2023
Beth and Bob Staggenborg

A story by Bebe Raupe, on environmental influencers Beth and Bob Staggenborg. This article is also featured in the November 3, 2023, issue of The Ripple.

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There are people who “walk the walk” and those who “talk the talk.”

Then there’s Beth and Bob Staggenborg who take both tactics to the next level: they live environmental advocacy and incorporate it into almost everything they do—be it tending their verdant indigenous garden or hosting meatless meals at the Cincinnati Nature Center.

Long-time Cincinnati Nature Center members—in Beth’s case nearly 50 years—the couple’s “nature connection work” is constant, infectious, and tends to inspire most anyone they encounter.

“We like to think of ourselves as ‘change agents,’” says Bob, individuals who rouse others to personally act on behalf of nature.

“People don’t have to overhaul their lifestyle,” he says, “but if everyone adopted one or two eco-friendly habits, it would make a big difference. We show people how that’s possible.”

Currently, food is a key focus for them. “What we eat has tremendous implications for our health, animal welfare, and the environment,” says Beth, noting “everything in the natural world is connected.”

Global food production accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, with meat farming generating twice the pollution of plant crops, according to University of Illinois climate-change research.

People who eat meat can combat the climate crisis by reducing or quitting meat consumption altogether, says Beth,and one meatless meal a week is an easy way to start.

In that spirit, Beth and Bob periodically host meatless meals for the Nature Center community. Not only do these potluck gatherings offer members the chance to learn from others, but they also provide an opportunity to make new connections.

“Nature needs allies,” says Beth, and the larger a like-minded community becomes, the more that can be achieved.

Hoping to include more Nature Center members, Beth and Bob will host an evening meatless meal in November to celebrate the autumnal bounty while bringing folks together for uplifting conversation.

“How do you affect change? On a one-to-one basis, sharing what you know with others,” says Bob.

Inspired interpersonal associations have always been part of the Staggenborgs’ lived environmental mission.

They have been “activators” throughout their adult lives—teaching and volunteering at the Nature Center for decades, acting as land stewards with the Arc of Appalachia, and working hands-on at Imago, a nature preserve in Price Hill where they are especially happy that city schoolchildren get to engage with nature through outdoor field trip experiences .

Each opportunity has given the Staggenborgs a chance “to dedicate time and energy to help others experience the joy of nature connection,” says Beth.

And the Staggenborgs’ influence extends beyond southwest Ohio thanks to Bob’s Nature Guys podcast where he and various ecological experts share their love of the wild and encourage listeners “to step outside and stay a while.”

Launched in 2016, the podcast was created by Bob and Bill Creasey, who retired that year as the Nature Center’s chief naturalist.  Bill died in 2020 but before he passed away, he encouraged Bob to keep the podcast going. At that point Beth stepped in as podcast co-producer, finding a diverse roster of guest hosts to share the microphone with Bob.

Over the years the Nature Center has benefitted tremendously from the couple’s individual and joint volunteering. Both contributed to the CincyNature Preschool’s educational vision of immersive nature learning.

Until recently Beth regularly volunteered in the preschool. Sadly, the retired elementary school teacher had to give it up, she says, “because I just couldn’t get down on the floor with the little ones anymore.”

Bob, also a former teacher, acted as a Nature Center preschool leader in addition to leading hikes and special programs. He introduced Jon Young mentoring programs where multi-generational connections to nature inspire deep relationships with the land and one another.

Young’s mentoring approach recalls the way that people who lived off the land taught their children to live in harmony with nature.

One key to this proactive environmentalism calls for mentoring that engages the gifts of elders for the common good, says Bob.

This method of building community, by helping people form deep relationships with the land and each other, is how Beth and Bob plan to spend their “third act.”

After decades of volunteering and teaching, Beth and Bob hope to mentor budding environmentalists, to help them see the exciting natural world around them.

“Influencing others is what it’s all about,” says Beth. “When you open people’s eyes to the exciting natural world all around them, the circle of positive influence grows. It becomes even larger when those people take what you’ve given them and influence others.”