Westmoreland Notables: Tarentum resident receives St. Vincent College award
Angela Belli grew up in Freeport, Armstrong County, and considered the Allegheny River part of her backyard.
She was raised in a family active in hunting, fishing, boating and water skiing.
“I was always drawn to the outdoors. I really feel like this position is an extension of what I am,” Belli said.
Environmental education director at the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve at St. Vincent College, Belli oversees a continually growing program of classes, workshops and recreation for children, students and adults.
“I always say my work is pre-K to gray. It marries all of my loves — service, conservation and the importance of education. This is the perfect career for me,” she said.
A tribute to Winnie Palmer, the late wife of golfing legend Arnold Palmer, the 50-acre reserve opened in 2007 as a recreation area, research site, education facility and wildlife sanctuary.
A Tarentum resident, Belli, 42, was named the fifth recipient of the Unity college's Projektenmacher Award, presented to her in November.
“I was totally shocked. I was really gratified and honored, really, that somebody took notice,” she said.
Brother Norman W. Hipps, St. Vincent president, annually announces the award to a member of the college community.
Hipps said the idea came from a nickname meaning “big plan maker, or dreamer,” that fellow monks gave Boniface Wimmer, founder of St. Vincent and the pioneer of Benedictine monasticism in the United States.
It later came to identify an individual who got things done and realized visions, Hipps said.
“I received a number of nominations for Angela,” he said.
Belli interviewed with Hipps, then provost, in 1999 for the position of environmental education coordinator with the Monastery Run improvement project.
She recalled telling him the job would probably be a “stepping stone.”
“Sixteen years later, I'm still here. We laugh about it,” she said.
“When we had, with the assistance of the Palmer family, an opportunity to do the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve and create an environmental center, she was the obvious person to serve as director,” Hipps said.
“I'm grateful for the flexibility St. Vincent College and the Palmer family have given me to develop the landscape,” Belli said.
Along with the environmental learning barn, the site includes numerous walking trails, gardens and outdoor classroom and recreation areas.
Newer offerings include a Nature Book Club and a Nature Night Out, combining art and the environment.
She and her staff work in the renovated barn where flocks of turkey, deer, bear, foxes and turtles often wander into view.
The barn also functions as a classroom for Belli, who is an undergraduate environmental science instructor with St. Vincent.
The reserve offers students work study opportunities, internships and research projects.
Board secretary for the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators, Belli was its 2004 Outstanding Environmental Educator of the Year.
She and her husband, Christian, are parents of sons, Eliot, 9, and Parker, 2.
“Tiny Wonder Time is really a product of what my (former) colleague (Beth Bollinger) and I did with our children. That's where the idea came from,” she said.
The preschool nature play program includes crafts, stories and outside activities.
Belli is looking to establish a mini field research station for college students and the monastic community.
“I always said my legacy would be to develop a nature preschool,” she said.
The accredited program would serve children ages 3-5 and provide learning opportunities to St. Vincent's education and psychology students.
Among Belli's favorite spots at the reserve are the Nature Explore Areas.
“I get a kick when I go out there and see what children have created that adults never would have thought of. Kids see things so differently than we do as adults,” she said.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.