Blandford Nature Center founder Mary Jane Dockeray dies at 93

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Mary Jane Dockeray, who earned her degree from Michigan State College in geology and environmental education, began her career as a curator of natural history at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Courtesy Blandford Nature Center

Blandford Nature Center founder and longtime environmental educator Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray died Tuesday. She was 93.

“Mary Jane was a local icon in our community,” said Bill Faber, board chair of Blandford Nature Center. “The world was changed through her work not only because she preserved over 143 acres of habitat in the city of Grand Rapids, but because she inspired so many children and adults to fall in love with nature and do their part to protect nature, too.”

Dockeray, who earned her degree from Michigan State College in geology and environmental education, began her career as a curator of natural history at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

She was the author of “Let’s Go Exploring: Suggestions for Field Trips and Associated Studies in Environmental-Conservation Education.” She also wrote and produced a film titled “These Things Are Ours.”

“Among many other things, Mary Jane will be remembered for visiting classrooms across West Michigan, teaching kids about animals, plants and the environment with her ancient slide projector,” said Jason Meyer, president/CEO of Blandford Nature Center. “She made a deep and lasting impact on our community.”

Dockeray spearheaded the creation of the Blandford Nature Center and the Blandford Environmental Education Program. More recently, the center was expanded after the acquisition of the Highlands Golf Course in 2017 in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. Now the center and the golf course combine for 264 acres that include a farm, historic buildings and an interpretive center.

“It’s important to recognize the fact Blandford Nature Center would not have ever come into existence over 50 years ago without her courage and tenacity,” Meyer said. “There will never be another Mary Jane Dockeray, and her impact will be felt for generations. If we all followed Mary Jane’s example, the world would be a much different and better place.”

Dockeray has won numerous awards throughout her life, including the Michigan Audubon Society Outstanding Member Award and Association of Nature Center Administrators’ President’s Award for exemplary leadership in the nature and environmental leearning center profession. She was inducted in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. The Mary Jane Dockeray Scholarship fund was established at Grand Valley State University to recognize outstanding high school seniors planning on science careers.

“Mary Jane’s awards are too vast and far-reaching to list,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “She did not measure her success by awards, she measured it by the smiles on children’s faces, the curiosity and questions of visitors and the volume of frog calls in the evening. Her passion, energy and heart for our community will be greatly missed.”

Funeral arrangements are not yet complete. There will be a community celebration at Blandford Nature Center in the future. Dockeray has asked that donations be made to Blandford Nature Center.

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