Paying It Forward

January 27, 2024
Steve Inglish with binoculars, standing outdoors.

A story by Barbara Moss on Cincinnati Nature Center volunteer Steve Inglish. This article is also featured in the February 1, 2024, issue of The Ripple.

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There are influencers. And then there are Influencers, capital “I”! 

Sometimes the effect of influence is action; perhaps more often, an attempt to influence is met with resistance or even hostility. Occasionally, certainly more rarely, the effect of an influencer is to develop another powerful influencer. Cincinnati Nature Center volunteer Steve Inglish is the product of mentoring by some very capable naturalists. 

If you ask Steve about the genesis of his love of nature, he cites childhood exploration of his rural environment and outdoor play with lots of physical activity and fun with friends. Steve’s interest in and talent for science led him to an undergrad degree in natural resources and then a master’s with specialties in wildlife diseases and parasitology. Being involved in the first Earth Day while in college was an “aha moment” for his nature ethic. Once he became a young parent pursuing a career, he supported environmental causes but was too busy to be more than a letter-writer and donor. Sound like a familiar pattern?  

After retirement and as a new Nature Center volunteer, Steve found his current passion; it stoked his propensity to activism and shaped him as an influencer of, and mentor to, others. 

When you ask Steve’s fellow volunteers how to characterize him, they use words like integrity, humility, and intelligence; they say he is informed, sincere, generous. As leader of the Nature Center's butterfly monitoring team, he provides gentle encouragement for both new and veteran group members and applies his knowledge about how people learn and how he can best teach them. Oh, yes—he’s also organized! 

Steve will admit that he was not naturally—pun intended—as skilled a teacher and presenter as he is now. And here’s where that paying-forward title comes from. 

For 2010’s Earth Day, Cincinnati Nature Center had programmed a talk by Wes Duren, son of the proprietor of Marvin’s Organic Gardens. Wes was promoting the use of native perennials as well as the family business, one of only a few regional plant centers then offering such stock. Steve Inglish attended the presentation. Then he promptly hired Wes to help him design the five-acre landscape around his newly built house. Wes, an influencer, becomes connected to Steve, now a confirmed action-taker. 

Then Steve becomes an influencer himself when he re-tools to give talks about planting natives. Someone whose professional life involved sales, he already knows how to speak to people, but how does he gain skill in interpretation in this subject area? He develops a relationship with Jason Neumann, the Nature Center’s public programs manager and influencer extraordinaire. Jason eagerly assists Steve to best convey this specialized information but to do so with an outcome of, yes, influencing his audiences to take action. 

Steve has delivered his well-honed presentation on planting natives to garden clubs, churches, Nature Center volunteer groups, and Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist (OCVN) cohorts. With convincing facts and limited confrontation, he answers questions like these: “How can I get my husband to give up some of his lawn?” “How do I respond when neighbors say my yard looks unkempt, poorly maintained?” “My condo rules prohibit ‘wild’ landscaping. What do I do?” “My township has a regulation against growing common milkweed. Got any suggestions?” One ace in his deck is the reminder to his audiences that they should make changes for the sake of the planet and thus for the sake of their grandchildren! 

There are many factors that have inspired Steve’s intention to “pay it forward” and to champion the value of natives in the garden.  

  • First, he has been propelled by several mentors besides Jason. One was Linda Romine, an Army Corps of Engineers ranger assigned to Harsha Lake and a butterfly expert. Another was Toni Stahl, who is a National Wildlife Federation Habitat Ambassador (also one of Steve’s achievements) and publisher of the newsletter, Nature Scoop 

  • Second, he has become an expert about pollinator species, especially the Lepidopterans he and his team monitor at Rowe Woods as community scientists. Knowing the importance of pollinators translates for Steve into promoting the importance of the plant life that supports them.  

  • Third, expanding native habitat and conserving wild areas are two of his primary principles; constantly bettering himself to do this work is a goal. 

What is in the future for Steve Inglish? He most recently agreed to head the education-and-resource team of the Cincinnati Nature Center’s Native Plant Club. He intends to continue to reach out to others through public speaking, to work with groups of like-minded people, and to further develop his relationships with Nature Center staff. 

In all he does, and especially as he advocates gardening for wildlife, Steve will continue to pay forward that original inspiration on Earth Day 2010 into exponentially greater influence, a tribute to those who influenced him. 

Steve Inglish can be booked to give a presentation on native plants to your group. If interested, you can contact him via email at with “native plant talk” in the subject line.

The Native Plant Club meets the first Thursday of each month, except December and July, from 7–8:30 pm. Click here to learn more!