Helen C. Black

Jun 11, 2018
Helen Black

Indian Hill, Ohio — Helen C. Black, a fierce advocate for the environment, nature educator and leader of successful and wide-ranging conservation efforts, both in Maine and in southern Ohio, died June 7, 2018, at her home at the age of 94. Mrs. Black was predeceased by her husband, Judge Robert L. Black, Jr.

Helen Black grew up in Indian Hill. Her interest in nature and the environment stemmed from Mrs. Louis Brand, who was Helen’s teacher from the second grade to sixth grade at the Lotspeich School, now a division of Seven Hills School. After graduating from Vassar College, Helen and her husband made their home in Indian Hill, raised three sons, and committed themselves actively to improving parts of Indian Hill, the Cincinnati community, and Adams County, Ohio. Helen was inspired by E. Lucy Braun, Ph.D., a prominent botanist, ecologist and expert on the forests of the eastern United States, who was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and with whom Helen explored the edge of the Appalachian Mountains in Adams County.

Helen’s life-work was dedicated to understanding and preserving the environment. Helen served from 1977 to 1983 on the national board of the Nature Conservancy. Mrs. Black spent years fostering relationships that have led to extensive protections of green space, both in Ohio and in Maine. In Maine she spearheaded the acquisition of land and conservation easements for public use in the environs of Rockport, where she was a summer resident for all but two summers of her life. At Megunticook Lake, led by her brother Charles Chatfield, Helen was part of a family effort that led the campaign in 1969 to save Fernalds Neck from development and to create the Fernald’s Neck Preserve, now managed by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust.

In 1969 Helen was a founding member of the Megunticook Watershed Association, which is dedicated to the improvement of the environments that surround Megunticook Lake. Similarly, in 2005 Helen was one of the leaders of the effort to preserve the Milliken property on the back-side of Maiden’s Cliff in Lincolnville. Helen was a charter subscriber to Bay Chamber Concerts, and was generous in her support of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Coastal Mountains Land Trust and the Maine Farmland Trust. Also, after 2000, together with other family members, Helen was instrumental in the support of Aldermere Farm as it became a program of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

Helen loved to be outside enjoying nature with friends and family. She valued the natural world and was concerned about air pollution and about natural lands being gobbled up by development. “You can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment,” she said. “People need to realize that long-term solutions are more important than short-term economic profit.” She had early concerns with the overuse of chemicals in the environment. “We see many instances of cancer among our age group and even younger, which may well be attributed to the carcinogens in the air, water and food.” Helen’s political passions included Planned Parenthood, women's rights and racial equality.

In Ohio, Helen’s contributions to conservation and environmental education were numerous. For years, in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, she volunteered as a nature educator at elementary schools in Indian Hill and the Seven Hills School. In 1981, the Garden Club of America presented her with the Margaret Douglas medal for outstanding service to conservation education. In 1967, she was founder of the Little Miami Conservancy, which is dedicated to conserving the natural splendor of the Little Miami River – the river that is at the heart of the watershed that drains a 1,700-square-mile area in 11 southwestern Ohio counties. In 1965 Mrs. Black was a founding member of the Cincinnati Nature Center, now the United States' largest member-supported nature center, which serves Cincinnati as a valuable multi-format educational resource for nature-based learning. For 32 years Helen volunteered at the Nature Center in capacities ranging from trustee to teacher to trail-guide to fundraiser. In 2012 she received the Nature Center’s Wood Thrush Award for her significant contributions to conservation.

In the late 1960s, Helen was a founding member of the Redbird Hollow Association, which developed conservation protections for a rail trail and 54-acre woodland in the village of Indian Hill that is associated with The Nature Conservancy, and in 1983 was designated an Ohio Natural Landmark. Helen was a past president of Ohio Nature Conservancy, and was a board member of the Ohio Environmental Council, receiving its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

In 1978, Helen was admitted to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame for her work in conservation and nature education. In 1983, jointly with her husband, Helen also received Seven Hill School’s Goodall Award for “distinction in bettering the lives of others.” In 1997 the Greater Cincinnati Foundation awarded its Jacob Davis Volunteer Leadership Award jointly to Helen and Robert Black for their contributions to to the environment and racial diversity.

Helen is survived by her three sons, their wives and families: William Black and Jackie Potter of Portland, and their sons, Sam Black and his wife, Zohra Ahmed, of Ithaca, N.Y., and Dan Black, of Portland; Stephen and Susan Black of Cincinnati, and their children, Christopher Black, Charlie Black and Heidi Black and her husband, Jay Kincaid, who have twin daughters, Elizabeth and Helen, in Cincinnati; and Luther Black and his wife, Christina Wright, of Seattle;

Helen’s family would like to thank Sarah Perkins, Ken Cleaves, Rachel Cullerton, Ron Howard and Janet Krefting for their extensive support and loving care of Helen.

A memorial service may be held for Helen in Rockport sometime during August. In lieu of flowers, Helen’s family suggests that donations in her name be sent to the Aldermere Farm program of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust: give.mcht.org/aldermere-farm

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