Douglas Graber (GC class of ’76) joined the Merry Lea Team as its new building manager and grounds assistant March 1.

Douglas comes to Merry Lea following 20 years as director of maintenance at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kans. The combination of a position at a nature center and family members in Goshen, Ind.,–including a new grandchild–wooed Douglas and his wife, Nancy (GC class of ’76), away from the sunny prairie state.

Caring About Nature

“Being part of a great learning experience for young people appeals to me,” Douglas reports. “I hope I can be of assistance to the professional staff. I care about what they are doing and why and how they are doing it. I care about the world of nature.”

For Douglas, caring about the world of nature began on his childhood farm in Freeman, South Dakota. He recalls how the alfalfa fields his father mowed always sported a mop of uncut alfalfa in the center. His father left the center uncut out of compassion for the animals that would be herded into the center of the field as the tractor circled a shrinking perimeter. He also avoided heavy use of fertilizers and chemicals.

In high school, Douglas read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and started a recycling club. He hatched pheasant eggs under chickens and observed the ways that wild chickens affected the hens’ foraging patterns. At Goshen College, he majored in biology.

Douglas used his biology degree in a variety of ways over the course of a lifetime. Initially, he taught science to middle school students at Sarasota Christian School, Sarasota, Fla., for eight years. He and his students sometimes used Goshen College’s marine biology lab.

International Service

Before settling in Kansas, the Grabers also served with Mennonite Central Committee in two countries. In Zambia, Douglas directed a community development program that trained adults in skills such as sewing and carpentry. In Jamaica, Douglas organized groups that worked together to build homes through a Habitat for Humanity program.

A background in both biology and farming was helpful as Douglas navigated international settings. In Zambia, he developed wood lots and orchards, learning to work with trees he was not familiar with such as pawpaw, mango and lemon. This project produced 25,000 seedlings a year and its percentage of successful grafts was higher than the University of Zambia’s. A drought added well construction to his resume, as well as knowledge of the African bush and how Indigenous Peoples used neem seed pods to purify water.

Settling in at Merry Lea

Douglas has already found a favorite spot at Merry Lea: Rieth Cottage, a two-bedroom home nestled into the landscape near the Learning Center Site. When he visits, he is struck by the view of Bear Lake.

When the weather warms, Douglas looks forward to mowing the trails where students will walk with their instructors. Being part of the controlled burns that Merry Lea conducts to maintain prairie habitat also intrigues him.