In “Paid for what you love to do,” a recent article in the Newburyport Daily News, Bill Gette ’66 reflects on the passion that sustained his nearly 20-year career as sanctuary director at the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, Mass.
Gette, who is retiring in February, told the Daily News that his “position has been great…one that you’re paid for what you love to do…I’ve spent much time outdoors, with nature, in this beautiful area. We’ve offered learning programs here, and educational trips to other states and countries. I’ve really enjoyed the role of passing on valuable information to help us all learn more about the natural world around us.”
Regarded as a skilled teacher and field naturalist, Gette led domestic and international natural history expeditions for Mass Audubon for nearly 30 years, including successful programs throughout the U.S., as well as in Canada, Kenya, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands.
After more than 20 years working with the Honeywell Corp. during Massachusetts’ “go-go computer years,” as the Daily News notes, it was the computer world that brought Gette to the area, where “he began volunteering with the Audubon Society in Newburyport in the mid-’80s” and joined the organization as an employee in 1996.
He took a leadership role in bird research and public education concerning birds and bird conservation, directing the Joppa Flats Station, a research and education facility operated in cooperation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. He and his staff developed interpretive programs and field trips for audiences with special needs, including the visually impaired, and spearheaded the Mass Audubon’s Birder’s Certificate Program, which is designed to enhance the public’s knowledge about birds and to stimulate a conservation ethic.
At Hobart, Gette majored in America history, was a Phi Kappa Tau brother and played soccer. He is married to Marsha Carlson Gette ’67.
The full article from the Daily News follows below.
‘Paid for what you love to do’
Bill Gette retiring as Mass Audubon center director
NEWBURYPORT — Much could be written about what makes the ideal job, and local Massachusetts Audubon sanctuary director Bill Gette would enthusiastically say that he has held one such post for almost 20 years.
Gette will be retiring in early February, and it is a vocation that he has relished.
“My position has been great, and it’s been one that you’re paid for what you love to do,” said Gette, who came to the post as a second career. “I’ve spent much time outdoors, with nature, in this beautiful area.
‘We’ve offered learning programs here, and educational trips to other states and countries. I’ve really enjoyed the role of passing on valuable information to help us all learn more about the natural world around us.”
His outpost is known as the Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, and it runs scores of programs for schools, organizations and its many visitors.
It is part of Mass Audubon, a growing state organization that permanently protects more than 35,000 acres of land across Massachusetts.
Audubon leaders say that with more than 10,000 acres protected since 2000, Mass Audubon’s statewide sanctuary system now stands as the largest ownership of privately conserved land in the commonwealth.
With Mass Audubon on one side of Plum Island Turnpike and the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on the other, Newburyport has emerged as one of the leading birding and naturalist destinations in New England.
Gette, a native of Mendham, N.J., graduated from Hobart College (1966). After a tenure with the military, he entered the burgeoning computer world.
He spent more than two decades with Honeywell Corp. during this state’s go-go computer years, though the company’s name changed numerous times during his tenure.
The computer world brought him to Lawrence, and he began volunteering with the Audubon Society in Newburyport in the mid-’80s.
Gette joined the organization as an employee in 1996.
Audubon was able to build a center on the Plum Island Turnpike in 2003, and it is regarded as one of the area’s leading educational resources.
“Being with Audubon was a chance to do what I wanted,” said Gette. “Half of the people in the computer business hated what they were doing.”
Audubon here has stood for education, and Gette said he will remember the strong community support for learning in this area.
He said local banks and business supported Mass Audubon, and dedicated volunteers made the center work.
“The culture of volunteerism in this area is tremendous,” the Amesbury resident said. “We have really appreciated the support.”
Molly Ettenborough, recycling and energy manager of this city’s Sustainability Office, said, “Bill has been an invaluable resource through his dedication to ecological management, education and community outreach. His passion for the area’s wildlife, conservation and habitat management is unwavering and we have all and will continue to benefit from his leadership.
“And he has been a leader in community efforts such as beach clean-up.”
As he prepares to leave the director’s office, one source of satisfaction is the increasing cleanliness of the Merrimack River.
“Forty or 50 years ago visitors couldn’t go near it but today people boat, fish and go paddle-boarding,” he said. “That has been a big achievement for everyone involved.”
Another sign of progress has been the return of eagles to the Merrimack River basin. “There are 40 to 50 pairs just in our area, and close to 10,000 in the country, after a time when there were only about 400 (in the lower 48 states).
“Education and improving the way we treat nature has helped. Now our area even enjoys an Eagle Festival.”
He added that there must be “more than 100 seals” near the mouth of the Merrimack, another manifestation of cleaner water and more amendable living conditions.
The director said that there remain numerous areas for improvement, including promoting the health and survival of migratory birds.
Gette says he will transition into a volunteer mode after retirement, set for Feb. 5, and he will be leaving to applause and good memories.
“As director of Joppa Flats Education Center since its inception, Bill Gette has literally personified the very best of this wildlife sanctuary and what it represents for Newburyport, the North Shore, and beyond,” Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton said.
“His colleagues and friends within the organization will certainly miss him, but Mass Audubon members and other visitors can take heart in knowing Bill’s legacy remains in Joppa Flats’ welcoming culture and its remarkable range of programs and initiatives.”