Passion for Nature Inspires Lasting Legacy
Suzie and Randy Leslie
By Maureen Halsema
"As you get older, you realize you need to find a way to give that works for you," declared Suzie Leslie, director for undergraduate advising for the College of Natural Resources. "Nature means so much to me and I love to share it with people. I want to continue sharing my passion for nature, even when I'm gone. This is what made me realize the need for planning for the long term."
Suzie and her husband Randy, a real estate appraiser, discussed their interest in leaving a nature legacy with the university and have decided to leave a percentage of their estate to Virginia Tech.
"We don’t know how much we'll have when we die, but we hope that it will be a significant enough amount to accomplish something substantial," Randy said. "The university worked with us to develop and finely tune a plan that details what we would like to see happen. We are satisfied that the university understands our wishes and will follow them as outlined."
Suzie and Randy teamed up with an estate planning attorney and the University Development office to formalize their plan. "One of our major goals was to leave enough to build an outdoor environmental education center somewhere on campus," Suzie explained.
As part of the College of Natural Resources, the center would promote environmental awareness, understanding, appreciation, and responsible natural resources stewardship -- a place for interns, students, and volunteers to get hands-on experience working with environmental programs.
Suzie and Randy would like the center to offer students of all ages the opportunity to connect with nature and gain an appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things. They hope it will promote understanding of the importance of human actions and the impact that those actions have on the ecosystem and the global environment.
Another portion of the funds left by Suzie and Randy will be put towards scholarships to fund interns who will staff the center.
"Nature is my passion," stated Suzie, a member of the Master Naturalist Program. "I have found that if you help someone see the wonders of nature for themselves, they get excited and want to share that experience with someone else."
Suzie is involved in a variety of environmental organizations -- the New River Valley Bird Club, Blacksburg's Greenway/Bikeway/Sidewalk/Corridor Committee, Friends of the New River, Whitewater Women's Canoe Club, and the Native Plant Society. She leads hikes for the YMCA, identifies birds on rafting trips for the Mountain Lake Birding Festival, and gives educational programs on enhancing backyard diversity, such as landscaping for wildlife, especially butterflies and birds.
The environmental center that Suzie and Randy envision is one more way that Suzie hopes to share her passion for the environment with generations to come. Suzie and Randy have designated additional scholarships that will be awarded to undergraduate students who are residents of Virginia studying wildlife, fisheries, natural resources conservation, or similar natural resource fields with an interest in environmental education.
The Leslies have also specified a scholarship for the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. "We had a dog, Zeke, who was very, very dear to both of us, but he was Randy's sidekick," Suzie recalled. "When we found out he had cancer, the vet college was just amazing. All the students and faculty there were just wonderful. They dedicated so much time to us and to Zeke."
Randy has requested that the scholarship be designated for a student who wants to work in a small animal practice and could not otherwise afford to go to the vet college. "For my buddy Zeke," Randy added.
Suzie and Randy hope that their gifts to the university will render a long-term impact. "If we can help create an environmental education center, fund internships, and encourage students to intern at the center, down the road we are helping to educate many people," Suzie noted.
This is also true of the scholarships. By offering students with the desire to learn the opportunity for an education, she and her husband provide the means to equip them with the tools necessary to help others. Suzie and Randy also hope that the funds they provide will create opportunities for others to contribute to this or a similar cause.
"We hope that we are constructing a foundation on which others will build," Randy emphasized.
This article first appeared in CNR News (PDF)