Board of Directors
HCA is managed, supervised and controlled by a self-perpetuating Board of Directors. Their responsibilities include:
Define the organizational goals and make major policy decisions
Appoint and remove, employ and discharge, prescribe the duties and fix the compensation, if any, of all officers, agents and employees of the corporation
Monitor the performance of the executive director and staff
Provide for the financial needs of the organization
Top row, from left: Bill Blessing, Sarah Hemme, Scott Schulte, Sam Bennett, Spencer Martin, Jerry Schecter
Bottom row, from left: Regan Tokos, Matt Hart, Kristen Bontrager (virtual), Roberta Vogel-Leutung
Sam was born and raised in rural Iowa, where his father worked for the Soil Conservation Service. He became an environmental activist in college, organizing for the Black Hills Alliance and Mobilization for Survival, and later planted redwoods in a deforested area of northern California. He went on to graduate school at the University of Missouri, where he earned masters degrees in library science and public administration.
He has had successive careers in public libraries and in philanthropy, retiring in 2016. Since his retirement, Sam has filled his time serving on nonprofit boards, planting trees and hiking in national parks. He has served on the HCA Board of Directors since 2017, most recently as Treasurer, with a brief stint as Interim Executive Director. He lives with his wife Joy and a fluctuating number of cats in a 113 year old house in a historic neighborhood of midtown Kansas City.
Board Vice President
Bill Blessing is the retired Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Development of Sprint and Embarq, where he developed and implemented multibillion dollar network investments, new businesses and products, and corporate acquisitions and alliances. Since then he has served on corporate and nonprofit boards including The Nature Conservancy in Kansas, and qualified as a Leadership Fellow of the National Association of Corporate Directors.
Bill is an active traveler. He has hiked in 62 of our national parks, and visited 68 countries.
Kristen Bontrager’s passions have always been rooted in nature. As a young girl she found herself collecting acorns and planting flowers. As an adult she is the Director for the Parkville Nature Sanctuary and finds herself immersed in native plants and teaching young minds the importance of nature and
After graduating Washburn University with a degree in Botany, Kristen learned many skills in the natural world and found herself more and more drawn to conservation. This led her to further questions such as, “what could a woodland look like years after invasive removal?” Being the ambitious and curious person she is Kristen began to pursue a career in land management to attempt to answer her own questions. This career would allow her to eradicate invasive species and replace them with native species thus allowing her to see the beginning steps of a Honeysuckle –free woodland. Kristen continues her passion and quest to conserve our lands in her job as the Parkville Nature Sanctuary Executive Director and she wears many hats in this position. When she is not teaching or planting trees Kristen can be found in her garden or at home reading with her two cats.
Victoria Frank is currently a Natural Resources and Sustainability Consultant for a private environmental consulting firm in KC, specializing in sustainable ecosystem restoration and environmental policy. She is a Certified Sustainability Excellence Associate (SEA) through the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, and she has a B.S. in Natural Resources and a B.S. in Sustainability from Oregon State University.
Participating in the 2018 Green Guard program was her first connection to HCA, and since then she has been a volunteer for several aspects of the organization, a member of the Steering Council, and a participant in the Policy and Conservation Work Group.
She describes her lifelong connection to nature and ecosystem health as a relationship she was born with. Since the moment she could walk, she was exploring the outdoors through a rural and wilderness lens, with lessons taught through farming, gardening, hunting, and fishing by her grandparents. In 2001, her family moved to the area, and her nature lens opened to urban ecosystem exploration while hiking barefoot in the riparian ecosystems of Grandview, MO. Her childhood summers were spent in western Nebraska on her grandparents' farm, camping with family, and exploring the forests and grasslands in the Midwest. With an equivalent exposure to rural, urban, and wilderness ecosystems throughout her life, her interests are rooted in the spaces where transitional boundaries and ideas connect to foster a balance of coexistence.
Patrice Gonzalez holds a Bachelor's in Sustainability, Society and Resource Management, a Master's in Education for Global Sustainability and a Master's in Ecopsychology. She is the Branch Manager and Lead Educator at F. L. Schlagle Environmental Learning Library in Wyandotte County, which is one of the only Nature Libraries around.
Patrice enjoys working with the community that she grew up in and that nurtured her curiosity in nature. She loves to meditate in nature, swim in any water source that she is allowed and to kayak. Water is a passion of hers. She has worked for years around the Blue River Watershed and wants to continue that passion through HCA.
Sarah grew up on the family farm an hour west of Kansas City and has lived in the metro since 2009. After stints in the historic Westside neighborhood downtown and Brookside, she settled with her partner in a small community along Blue River Road in South KC. An avid mountain biker, Sarah spends thousands of hours (and miles) each year exploring the dirt trails along the Blue River corridor and beyond. She volunteers with Urban Trail Co to build and maintain trails as well as with various HCA partners to remove invasive honeysuckle and clean up trash. She's passionate about conservation, outdoor recreation, access to public wild lands, and community cooperation and engagement.
Marjorie MacGregor teaches science in the Upper School at Pembroke Hill in Kansas City, MO. She loves taking students into the community to learn and grow together. Hands down, her and her student’s favorite places in KC include Amethyst Place, MO Hives, and the Young Family Farm.
Marjie’s previous life includes teaching English in Ecuador and being an expedition guide on ships throughout Alaska, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. After eight years at sea, Mardie shipped off to Wyoming to be a dog musher in the Wilderness. Her research background spans
from work with mountain lions in WY to deer mice in Alaska. The heart and soul of her research for over 10 years was working on the reproductive physiology of coyotes – yeah, birth control for wildlife! Marjie earned a PhD in Zoology and Physiology from the University of Wyoming.
Born and raised in Seattle, with many wild places in between, Marjie currently is enjoying her adopted home of Kansas City while connecting back with nature in the city. She currently lives in the Historic Northeast with her husband, Australian Shepard, and a couple of porch cats.
Scott Schulte has over 30 years of professional, academic, and not-for-profit experience in the revitalization of natural and human communities and the built environment. He served HCA as Board President for six years, from its founding in January 2012 until March of 2018.
Scott is an Associate Professor of the Practice in the Environmental Assessment Professional Science Masters (PSM) and undergraduate Environmental Studies programs at the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park, Kansas. Scott teaches courses in environmental assessment, policy, conservation, community resilience, and water resources management and mentors capstone students. His research focus is multi-benefit, nature-based solutions for water resources management and community and climate resilience. He previously served as a lecturer for the PSM from 2015 to 2022, and for the Urban Planning Program from 2010 to 2015. Scott is also a Senior Environmental Planner for Vireo, a community planning, landscape architecture, natural resource management and public engagement consulting firm.
Gerald (Jerry) Shechter is recently retired from the City of KCMO as the sustainability coordinator for KCMO Office of Environmental Quality where he helped develop and implement the city’s first Climate Protection Plan. He helped produce the greenhouse gas inventory updates, facilitated the Policies and Regulations Green Team and was a member of the Resource Management Green Team. Jerry, until recently, was a long-standing board member of Kansas City Riverfront Heritage Trails; he also serves on the board of directors of Westside Housing Organization and is a member of the Vacant to Vibrant work group of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative. Jerry has participated in Climate Action KC to produce the Climate Action Playbook and the greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
Before the Office of Environmental Quality, he co-founded the Metropolitan Energy Center and later, as a staff member, developed Project Living Proof and was Executive Director of Westside Housing Organization.
Regan Tokos is a Sustainability Analyst with Kansas City, Missouri's Office of Environmental Quality where she works to support progress in measuring and enacting elements from KCMO's Climate Protection & Resiliency Plan. Regan has a Master's in Regional and Community Planning with a minor in Geography from Kansas State University (Go Cats).
Regan's passion for photography, hiking, and being outdoors led her to the Blue River. Then her passion for map making, education, and making the world a better place led her to Heartland Conservation Alliance, where she hopes to help with the preservation and restoration of the Blue River and the surrounding land in any way she can. In her spare time, you can find Regan hiking, climbing, or hanging out with her cats Auri and Elphie.
Roberta has been active in Kansas City are conservation for two decades. As career staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, she helped to start KC WildLands as part of EPAs Regional Ecosystems Priority, and chaired the WildLands executive committee for five years. After witnessing the birth of HCA as an outgrowth of conservation planning convened by Wildlands, Roberta was once again able to use her Community Partnership role to support the beginning of HCA programming and assumption of a leadership role in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership efforts on the Blue River. Since her retirement from EPA in 2017, Roberta has remained an active volunteer with the Outreach and Education committee.