New year, new faces: Friends of the Apostle Islands adds three to its board of directors

New Friends of the Apostle Islands board member photos

January 8, 2024

Fresh off the inspiring success of its Access for All capital campaign, Friends of the Apostle Islands recently announced the addition of three new members to its distinguished Board of Directors: Janet Bewley, Greg Lais, and Mary O’Brien.

“New challenges require new viewpoints and voices,” says Jeff Rennicke, Executive Director of Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “Each of the new board members will bring a fresh perspective and new energy to our organization.”

Janet Bewley, Friends board member

Janet Bewley

Janet Bewley understands northern Wisconsin. From acting as an original cast member of the Big Top Chautauqua to her work as the Dean of Students at Northland College, Bewley brings a wide range of experience and a life-long love of the Northwoods to her position on the board. “Complex issues require the ability to see multiple points of view,” Bewley says. “I see myself as a person who can bring that to my role on this board at a critical time in the organization’s history.” Bewley was elected in 2014 to represent Wisconsin’s 25th Senate District after serving two terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly and recently retired as the Senate Minority Leader.

“The Apostle Islands are a magnificent natural and public resource and require careful stewardship,” Bewley says. “We must find balance to protect the Lakeshore while making it accessible to all.”

Greg Lais, Friends board member

Greg Lais

It is that same issue of accessibility that brings Greg Lais to seek a seat on the organization’s Board of Directors. Lais, from Minneapolis, was the founder and long-time Executive Director of Wilderness Inquiry, one of the world’s leading accessible outdoor adventure organizations. Recently retired, Lais served as the Honorary Chairperson of an Advisory Committee helping to raise over $325,000 in support of the accessibility projects of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a part of the largest capital campaign ever undertaken by Friends.

“In the late 1980’s I took my first kayak trip to the Apostle Islands and realized what a beautiful place it is and what an accessible resource it could be,” Lais says. “Kayaking is something most people with disabilities can participate in.” Over the next forty plus years, Lais introduced literally thousands of people to the joys of the outdoors in places across the country and close to home. “The chance to increase opportunities for people with mobility impairments to enjoy this special place is why I jumped at the chance to support Friends of the Apostle Islands and join their efforts.”

Mary O'Brien, Friends board member

Mary O’Brien

The roots of the third new member of the board, Mary O’Brien, go way back. “In 1857 my great, great grandfather left Ireland to become a teacher at Madeline Island’s Catholic school,” O’Brien says. “Since then, many branches of the O’Brien family have put roots down on the island.”

“My first memories of exploring Madeline are from the seat on the back of my mom’s bike,” she says. “Then, with my father sailing. Now, I take every opportunity to get further out into the islands whenever I can.”

Currently serving as the Director of Development at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, O’Brien has years of experience in fundraising and communications for such organizations as Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, Landmark Conservancy, the Apostle Islands and Chequamegon Bay Community Funds, and Northland College. With that experience, she hopes to connect people to the projects of Friends of the Apostle Islands. “Fundraising can be intimidating,” she says, “but it doesn’t need to be. I love helping to demystify the process for folks. It is just about connecting people with projects that are meaningful to them and important to the areas they love.”

Founded in 2002, Friends of the Apostle Islands is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote an appreciation for and preservation of the natural environment and cultural heritage of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “We are a community of sailors, paddlers, hikers, business leaders, beachcombers, lighthouse watchers, and more,” says Jeff Rennicke, Executive Director. “What brings us together is a love for and desire to support the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.”

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