For Thom Pence, volunteering isn’t just a job or a hobby—it’s his life. 

Each year, the San Juan Preservation Trust’s staff selects a volunteer whose efforts exemplify the best qualities of our members—cheerful diligence and dedication to our conservation mission.  

Our staff unanimously chose Thom Pence as our 2023-24 Volunteer of the Year. Thom retired from his position as the Preservation Trust’s Red Mill Farm Preserve caretaker in 2022. Even then, he worked far beyond his quota of part-time hours provide volunteer help on countless additional projects. He has continued to do so since he “retired,” volunteering not just for SJPT, but also for the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank and other conservation organizations. 

Watch this video of tributes to Thom from our staff (and scroll down below the video to read excerpts):

“Tom wouldn’t just do his job. I mean, it’s not really a job for him. It’s his life. And so not only did he fulfill the caretaker role, he would volunteer above and beyond—month after month taking care of the [Red Mill] property and then he would go out and do all sorts of other field work.” –Dean Dougherty, Director of Stewardship

“Thom Pence is one of the first staff members I met when I joined the trust. … Since then I have seen him volunteer for basically every project that is put in front of him. If you need a helping hand, Thom is always there.” –Marianne Tynan, Operations Manager

“He is one of the best volunteers to work with. And he’s always out—it’s hard to keep him away from some of these projects. And he just is so positive. Regardless of the weather, he shows up. It’s always great to see his bright, smiling face. I don’t know what could keep him from smiling.” –Jack Russillo, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator

“Every time I come out to Red Mill for work, he’d greet us with a big smile and lean on his shovel and want to just chat about what was going on. I miss having that daily contact with him at Red Mill Farm.” –Kathleen Lewis, Special Projects Director

“A lot of places where we go out and work on now, Thom has [already] put so much time there—decades and decades. It’s not a hobby for Thom. It’s not a side project, where he goes to work and then puts in a couple of hours on the weekend. As others have already said, this is his life.” –Ben Hallowell, Land Steward

“I think about the saying that ‘Work is love made visible,’ and to me, Thom personifies that. He loves what he cares about, and he works towards caring for it in a very loving way.” –Ruthie Dougherty, Curator/Interpretive Specialist

“Tom is such an incredible human, as anyone who meets him will find quickly. He’s kind of the embodiment of the spirit of the oak tree. He’s just so warm and dedicated, and his strength and passion for this ecology and the islands is infused in everything he does.” –Meghan Howard, Land Steward

“I’ve really appreciated working side by side with him, planting some plants, talking about what’s going on in the world, and really appreciated his enthusiasm, his willingness to get down in the dirt and, make things happen.” –Troy Buckley, Land Steward

“Over the years, I’ve learned so much from [Thom]. He’s taught me how to use a chainsaw. He’s taught me how to plant trees. He’s taught me more things than I could count.” –Rob Roy McGregor, Mapping Specialist (and former Land Steward)