Exceptional People: Mary Maxwell
A common thread runs through the narrative of Mary Maxwell’s life.
“I just grew up being interested in the woods, in trees and the outdoors,” Mary says of her passion for the natural world. “I love helping people discover new things outdoors, and helping them appreciate nature in a new way.”
Mary spent her career as a social worker for the Madison School District and found time after her retirement in 1993 to become a guide at the Madison School Forest. The Forest spans 307 acres southwest of Verona, and is home to over 40 species of birds, and many other types of wildlife. In her nearly 25 years as a paid guide, she spent countless hours inspiring the curiosity of young minds. “I really liked outdoor education; that was a fun thing for me to do,” she recalls.
I love helping people discover new things outdoors, and helping them appreciate nature in a new way."
Mary and her husband, Ken, came to University Woods seven years ago after making their home in Mount Horeb for 40 years. The Maxwells moved from a 17-acre oak forest to their apartment home in The Oaks, overlooking Oakwood’s nine acre nature preserve. Now a dedicated member of the Prairie Caretakers group, a member of Oakwood’s Nature Preserve Committee, as well as an occasional guide for tour groups through the preserve, Mary hasn’t missed a beat in the outdoors. On wintry mornings following a fresh snow, you might find Mary salting the nature preserve sidewalks by hand to make sure they’re not over-salted, which can be detrimental to surrounding plant species. “That’s one small way I can enhance our woods,” she says of the work.
Even Mary’s volunteer work with her church is nature-focused. Madison Christian Community is home to a large garden that produces great harvests of rhubarb, strawberries and many vegetables. Most of the produce they harvest is then donated to Lussier Food Pantry. “Gardening is an important thing for me,” Mary shares with a smile. “I have to have a place to weed, do work, and to take garlic mustard from!”