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.
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 57 of our national parks, and visited 63 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 being outside.
After graduating with a degree in Botany Kristen learned many skills in the natural world and found herself more and more drawn to conservation. Kristen self-led her research during undergrad at Washburn University and assisted in a research study in Costa Rica through Kansas University and University of Costa Rica San Jose. In Costa Rica Kristen had the opportunity to study arthropod biodiversity within the Zingerbarales family. Her undergrad research through Washburn focused on which species of plants established in the understory of invasive Honeysuckle. She compared the plant species that established in the understory of Honeysuckle that was treated by spot spraying with herbicides vs. Honeysuckle that was not spot sprayed with herbicides. This research 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 Nature Sanctuary Director and 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.
Matthew Hart is a Kansas City import from Idaho via Colorado, living in Waldo since 2002. An outdoor enthusiast his entire life, he discovered the Blue River via his mountain biking hobby in 2009 and has spent hundreds of hours biking, hiking, and exploring ever since. He has helped build and maintain single track trail through the KC Urban Core since 2012.
Matt is currently the Chief Information Officer for Arise Virtual Solutions. Prior to Arise, he worked at Avaya Communications and Oracle Corporation. He received his BA in History from The Colorado College. Matt is the author of six technology books and two works of fiction, and the co-author of two children.
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.
Chandler Little Eagle
Chandler Little Eagle was born and raised in the northland of Kansas City, Missouri. In May 2018 she earned her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies with additional minors in sustainability, History and Geography.
Chandler's passion for the outdoors stays beyond extracurricular activities as she participated in environmental activism to protect tribal land belonging to her enrolled tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline in September of 2016. She served one year of federal volunteer service through AmeriCorps as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America.)
Moving forward with her career, she is working to continue her studies to law school with a special interest in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law.
Spencer Martin is a proud Texan but, don’t hold that against him. He currently lives in Kansas City, KS with his wife, son, two dogs and two cats.
Spencer has been an educator for almost his entire career in Africa, Texas and now Kansas. He serves as the Lead Secondary Science Curriculum Instructional Coach for KCKPS, supporting science teachers in the district.
Spencer owns VanLifeKC, where people can rent camper vans and trailers to choose their own adventure in Kansas City and beyond. He also does freelance graphic and web design for his business Spence Creative Design.
In his free time, Spencer loves to camp and hike with family and friends. He enjoys sunflower seeds and a good book to read while taking a break from the trails or in one of his campers.
Scott Schulte has 26 years of experience working to protect natural resources. He served HCA as Board President for six years, from its founding in January 2012 until March of 2018.
Scott is the Senior Environmental Planner for Vireo (formerly Patti Banks Associates) since 2005 where he supports natural resource planning, design, and policy development projects. He has been a Lecturer at the University of Kansas since 2009, first in the Urban Planning Program and at the Edwards Campus since 2015, instructing undergraduates and graduate students in environmental planning and environmental impact assessment. Previously, he served as the Board Vice President and Treasurer of Blue River Watershed Association for two years. Scott has extensive experience in watershed management, natural resources planning and restoration, public policy, community engagement and training.
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 grew up in Nebraska but tells people she's from Kansas City because it's where she spent the first two years of her life. She returned to the city in 2018, and in August 2019 she earned her Master's in Regional and Community Planning with a minor in Geography from Kansas State University (Go Cats).
Regan is a Community Planner with Hoxie Collective where she works to empower communities through data access, resources, mapping, and improved engagement. Her passion for photography and the 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 of the Blue River and the surrounding land any way she can. In her spare time you can find Regan hiking, hanging out with her cat Aurelius, or making soup.
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 and looks forward to her new role as board member.
Currently, Roberta is a Program Manager of outdoor education for Green Works in KC.