Figure skater Peggy Fleming once said, “Skating was the vessel into which I could pour my heart and soul.” For “skater mom” and Franklin County Soil & Water Conservation District Manager Chastity Miller, this quote mirrors her ice time with her daughter Anna and her professional life, pouring her energy into local conservation efforts and mentoring staff throughout New York State.
At this year’s 2023 New York State Conservation District Employees’ Association (NYS CDEA) Annual Water Quality Symposium training and awards banquet in Syracuse, Miller was honored with the prestigious Willard F. Croney Distinguished Service Award for excelling as the outstanding Conservation District Employee in the state.
The Croney Award, established in 1983, carries on a legacy to have district employees work together through the CDEA to determine current and timely training needs, work with partner agencies and other professionals to provide quality training programs and share their knowledge and experience with each other. District employees take this knowledge back to their counties to help strengthen and add to their district programs and services, which Miller has epitomized throughout her career.
Adjectives from over 15 nomination letters described her as a dedicated friend, a mentor, a person with unrelenting devotion and a leader who gives tirelessly and is always willing to help.
“It would be easier to list the things she hasn’t done than what she has done,” said 2021 Croney Award recipient Steve Lorraine, who introduced her in front of 200 guests and to a standing ovation.
She has served in numerous roles and duties that promote district employees, including SWCD manager, Technical Advisory Committee, District Operations Committee, Municipal Assistance Subcommittee, Soil & Water Conservation Committee advisory member, 4-Way Partnership member, Conservation Skills Workshop Committee, Water Quality Symposium coordinator, volunteer and instructor, Administrative Conference coordinator, St. Lawrence River Watershed Project president, Champlain Watershed Improvement Coalition of New York president and current bookkeeper, New York State Envirothon Committee member and volunteer, Environmental Education Foundation board member, NYACD Legislative Days and Annual Meeting volunteer, Water Quality Coordinating Committee president, and CDEA vice president, president and treasurer – just to name a few.
“Chastity’s extreme work ethic partnered with her never-say-no attitude has greatly assisted with her dedication to advancing soil and water conservation, not only in Franklin County but across New York State,” said Franklin County SWCD Chair William Wood.
“When you have an opportunity to work with a colleague like Chastity, you quickly realize that you not only have someone you can rely on professionally, but you have made a devoted and dedicated friend,” said Brian Steinmuller, assistant director of the NYS Soil & Water Conservation Committee.
“I am humbled and honored to be recognized for my contribution to Mr. Croney’s ideals. Frankly, I was completely surprised and speechless, which is weird for me,” said Miller. “I consider my service to my community and the state of New York to be a journey and not just a destination. I’m inspired every day to be part of an integral profession that works toward environmental resiliency goals for the future. With 54 new SWCD employees, I’m excited to see what else we can accomplish together.”
Franklin County SWCD District Technician Devin Normandeau was also touted with a CDEA 2023 Heroic Action Award for his quick response in assisting a fellow employee during a medical emergency and in his volunteer role on ski patrol for the Titus Mountain Family Ski Center administering first aid to an injured skier.
This year’s awards banquet also honored other deserving land stewards. The President’s Award was presented to Suffolk County SWCD Agronomist Ann Marie Calabro for her unending dedication to the organization. The Partnership Appreciation Award was bestowed on PJ Emerick, CNY associate environmental analyst for the NYS Department of Ag & Markets’ Division of Land & Water Resources.
The District Director Award honored Robert Andrews, district board chair of the St. Lawrence County SWCD for his years of dedicated service. The Special Project Award went to the Pike Mills Dam project out of Wyoming County SWCD.
The Community Service Award was given to Shawn Murphy from Cortland County SWCD. Division Merit Awards were awarded to Al Fagan of Wyoming SWCD, Eric Jensen of the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program, Aaron Barrigar of St. Lawrence County SWCD, Angel Hinickle from Tompkins County SWCD, Alice Halloran from Essex County SWCD, Jacob Hart of Fulton County SWCD, Christine DeGroodt from Orange County SWCD and Ann Marie Calabro from Suffolk County SWCD.
To learn more and get connected with your local conservation district or NYS CDEA staff personnel, visit nyscdea.com.
by Troy Bishopp