Owl Creek Conservancy
Meet Our Board Members






Kimberly Davidson
Kimberly was born and raised in the rural community of Bladensburg, in southeastern Knox County, where her mother was the school nurse for 35 years and her father was the local proprietor of the grocery store. They were both devoted to the community and the preservation of community spirit and instilled that spirit in Kim. She graduated with a BS from Penn State University and immediately began her 30 year vocation in zoo business, where she was able to fully develop her interest in and commitment to wildlife, wild places, and conservation. She served on numerous national and international animal conservation programs and committees, in positions as officer and/or advisor. She retired as Assistant Director from the zoo in Salt Lake City, and returned with her husband to the home she grew up in, in 2013. Together, they have established the Bladensburg Community Heritage Foundation, which is devoted to the restoration, development, and preservation of the old Bladensburg School. She currently serves as president. She also serves as the secretary for the Bladensburg SERTOMA (SERvice TO MAnkind) organization.

Howard Gratz Vice President
Howard taught biology and earth science at Loudonville High School and then spent 30 years at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, as a regional naturalist and planning section administrator. Howard is an avid birder and participates in wild bird research, including breeding bird surveys, point counts and Christmas bird counts with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Audubon Society. A resident of Knox County since 1980, Howard is very interested in the conservation of farmlands, open spaces, waterways, wetlands and natural areas throughout the county.

Ray Heithaus, Ph.D., President
Ray first arrived in Knox County in 1964, where he still resides with his wife, Pat. He enjoys visiting and photographing Knox County’s natural areas. Ray is a Professor Emeritus of Biology and Environmental Studies at Kenyon College; a co-founder of the Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College; a co-founder of the Environmental Studies Program at Kenyon College; and a Board member of the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association.

Mark Phelan Secretary
Mark Phelan, a native Ohioan, began a 39-year love affair with Knox County in 1980, and moved here in 2007. He discovered Owl Creek after planning an event for the Conservancy while manager of the Mount Vernon Country Club, and became passionate about contributing to the Conservancy’s mission. Mark enjoys traveling the world with Jodie, his wife of more than 20 years. His love for the outdoors and nature keeps him busy on weekends planting trees, gardening, hiking or walking his dogs on one of the many great trails in Knox County.

Richard Stallard, Ph.D., Vice President for Land Protection
Richard was a Clinical Cytogeneticist, American College of Medical Genetics before retirement. He is a Founding Fellow of the American Board of Medical Genetics. He was the Vice Chairman of the Knox County Regional Planning Commission from 1999 to 2009. Richard served as President of the Conservancy from 2001 to 2010 and as the Executive Director of the Conservancy from 2010 to 2013. He has been the Vice President for Land Protection since 2014.

Kyle Walls
Kyle was born and raised on a cattle farm in central Indiana and attended Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, with a focus on business management and marketing. After college, Kyle spent five years in South Dakota working for a quarter horse operation and cattle ranch. After meeting his wife, they moved to her original home town of Mount Vernon, Ohio. Kyle has been actively involved in the agriculture industry with the Ohio Farm Bureau as well as the Ohio Cattlemen's Association, where he is currently the Vice President of the board of directors. Kyle and his wife Ashton won Ohio Farm Bureau's Excellence in Agriculture award in 2020 and also placed in the top 10 at the national competition. Day-to-day, he works for Park National Bank as a commercial and agricultural lender and operates a livestock operation at home. He and his wife have been blessed with a four-year-old daughter who is full of energy and has a shared passion for agriculture.

Ian Watson, Treasurer
Ian retired from The First-Knox National Bank at the age of fifty-eight, where he served as Senior Vice President and Trust Officer. After working with various estates over the years, he discovered how you can, in fact, “take it with you” and has used the ensuing years to hone his estate plan. He has served as Treasurer of a number of organizations in Knox County over the years, including Knox County Mental Health, Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County Endowment Fund, Kiwanis Club of Mount Vernon, the Knox County Chapter of Barbershoppers, and the Knox County Symphony. He is currently serving as Treasurer at the First Congregational Church as he has for over 30 of the last 40 years. He is the President of the Knox Community Hospital Board of Directors and is a board member of the Knox Community Hospital Foundation Board of Directors. Although technically not a native, as virtually all of his forebears began in Western Europe, he does claim deep roots, as one of his great-great grandfathers was born in Knox County November 9, 1818. As you may have noted, he is also sliding inexorably into studying genealogy…

Jeff Wells
Jeff has been a Knox county resident for over 50 years, graduating from the Mount Vernon High School, and The Ohio State University with a Bachelors degree in Business. After working as a teenager at the McConnell Berry Farm, he purchased and operated Blueberry Hill, a 20-acre blueberry farm located in northeast Knox County, for more than 15 years. He elected to retire from Siemens Energy Inc, formerly Rolls-Royce Energy and Cooper Energy Services, with over 37 years of service after holding various manufacturing management positions. Jeff has a life-long interest in the outdoors including hiking, bike riding, golfing, hunting, fishing, and along with his wife Pat, enjoys gardening and bird watching. He has also been an active volunteer for the CES Credit Union for over 30 years, where he currently serves as Chairman of their Board of Directors.

Gordy Yance
Gordy is the retired past president of the First-Knox National Bank in Mount Vernon. He served as Chairman of the First-Knox Board for ten years and was a member of the Farmers and Savings Bank Board in Loudonville for thirty years. Prior to joining First-Knox in 1978, he was employed for seven years by the public accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand in Columbus. Gordy has volunteered his time and talent with numerous organizations, including: Knox Community Hospital, Trustee and Board Chairman; Area Development Foundation of Knox County, Trustee and Board Chairman; Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Board Member; Mount Vernon and Knox County Chamber of Commerce, Board Member; Mount Vernon Rotary Club and Foundation, Club President and Foundation Chairman; Central Ohio Technical College, Mount Vernon Campus Advisory Board, Trustee and Board Chairman; United Way of Knox County, 24-year Treasurer; Village Network/Knox County Children's Resource Center, Advisory Board Member; Mount Vernon City Income Tax Appeals Board, Board Chairman, and Salvation Army, Board Member. Gordy holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from Ohio University and was a certified public accountant. He and his wife, Fran, live in Mount Vernon and are the proud parents of Jennifer and Justin.

Guy Denny (Advisor to the Board)
Guy is the retired Chief, Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, Ohio Department of Natural Resources; Secretary/Treasurer of Outdoor Writers of Ohio; a member of the Board of the Midwest Biodiversity Institute, the Brown Family Environmental Center, Scenic Ohio, Friends of the Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden, and Ohio Trust for Public Lands. He is a Special Advisor of the Ohio Environmental Council and Ohio League of Conservation Voters. He is a member of District Seventeen Natural Resources Advisory Council; a former Executive Director of the Ohio Biological Survey; he was appointed by Governor Taft to a term on the Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden Commission. He is also the owner and creator of a notable Ohio prairie, where he gives educational tours.

Doug Givens (Advisor to the Board)
Before his second retirement, Doug was the founding managing director of the Philander Chase Corporation, a non-profit land preservation organization associated with Kenyon College. He served as chair of the Farmland Preservation Committee of the Knox County Regional Planning Commission and served on the State of Ohio Farmland Preservation Advisory Board. Doug was a founding trustee of the Owl Creek Conservancy. He is the vice president, director, and member of the executive committee of the Scranton-Averell Company (a land holding company) and is a director of the Bradford & Carter Company (a real estate development company). He served as president of the Brown Fund and currently serves on two committees of the George B. Storer Foundation. For 28 years, he worked in the development office at Kenyon College, retiring from the vice presidency in 2000. He earned his bachelor's and master's degree at Indiana University and received a doctor of laws degree from Kenyon College. Doug's tireless volunteer work on behalf of the Conservancy has been invaluable.

Mark Leonard (Advisor to the Board)
Mark is a lifelong resident of Mount Vernon. He started his banking career after graduating from Kenyon College, and retired from his position as Senior Vice President of Commercial Lending at First-Knox National Bank in 2015. He is a member of the Board for "Diversified Products and Services" at the Mount Vernon Developmental Center and past Co-Chair of the United Way Campaign (2009). He retired from the YMCA board after 25 years of service. Mark is an avid fisherman and kayaker who has spent much of his life exploring and fishing the Kokosing Valley. He became a grandfather for the first time in January 2015.

Sally Nelson, CPA (Advisor to the Board)
Sally is a self-described "recovering CPA" who retired from the accounting life after the 2016 tax season. She is the treasurer of Food for the Hungry and the Schnormeier Gardens Foundation; past chair and treasurer of the Knox County Chamber of Commerce; past president and treasurer of the United Way of Knox County and Psi Iota Xi; past treasurer of the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County; and a past member of the Rotary Club and Foundation. She recently had the pleasure of seeing her youngest daughter married in the mountains of Colorado.

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