Friends of Touch of Nature

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Friends of Touch of Nature

What We Do.

The Friends of Touch of Nature is a not-for-profit, unincorporated organization comprised of persons committed to the improvement, development, and enrichment of Touch of Nature Environmental Center. The goals and objectives of the Friends organization is to:

  • Increase the public knowledge of the Center.
  • Conduct fundraising efforts and to seek contributions of equipment and supplies within the Southern Illinois University’s guidelines for fundraising.
  • Foster support for the Center.
  • Support the programming services offered at Touch of Nature. 

Who We Are

Lyle WhiteLyle White

Lyle White has been an outdoor recreation enthusiast most of his life. He retired in 2016 after 27  years with SIUC as a Counselor Education faculty member.  In his final year, Lyle served as Interim  Dean for the College of Education and Human Services.  In 2018, Lyle completed the training to be an Illinois Master Naturalist. Lyle joined the Friends Board in 2017 and was elected President in 2018.

 Paul MelzerPaul Melzer

A native of Lake Zurich, Illinois, Paul earned his undergraduate degree from SIU’s College of  Education and Human Services in 2012.  Prior to his time as a Saluki, Paul served in the United  States Navy where he was stationed onboard the USS Cleveland LPD7 in San Diego, California.  
Paul is a Financial Representative and owner of Paul Melzer-Country Financial in Murphysboro,  Illinois.   Paul is a firm believer in giving back to the Community and University.  In addition to  serving as the Vice President of the Friends of Touch of Nature, Paul serves on the SIU Alumni  Association Board of Directors, Special Olympics Illinois Flag Football Sports Management Team,and the Special Olympics Southern Illinois Indoor Softball and Baseball Fundraiser Committees.  

 Geory KurtzhalsGeory Kurtzhals

Geory moved to the area in 2015 and was immediately enchanted by Touch of Nature. Her  background includes work as an environmental educator, a challenge/adventure education facilitator  and she is currently the sustainability coordinator at SIU Carbondale. Geory traces the roots of her  passion for sustainability to growing up surrounded by the Hoosier National Forest. Geory earned an  MBA in sustainability and social change from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and completed her bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in environmental studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

 Mary FinleyMary Finley, PhD.             

Mary worked three years as a camp counselor at Camp Little Giant in the 1970's,  and continued to  work with special populations in vocational and educational settings through Johnson-Alexander-  Massac-Pulaski County Special Education Services until her retirement.  She enjoys life by traveling,  reading, knitting, kayaking, swimming and skiing.



 Gary ThomasGary I. Thomas, Ph.D.  

Gary was a former camp counselor at Camp Little Giant from 1961-64.   In the summer of 1965, he was the Camp Director for the Kennedy Foundation Day Camps, and during the summer of 1966 was the Camp Director for the Illinois State Cerebral Palsy Day Camps.  During the two summers, he and his team provided camp experiences to children with disabilities in six communities throughout the state of Illinois. 

Gary is a retired educator who spent his entire professional career working with individuals with disabilities as a teacher, psychologist, and special administration educator, including Director of Special Education for Williamson County, Illinois.  He also served as an adjunct professor from 1987-2002 at Southern Illinois University in the Department of education and Educational Psychology.

Gary has been a member of the Friends of Touch of Nature Board since the mid-1980’s serving in various positions including president during a time in the early 1990’s. 


Guy Strong            

Guy is an attorney who taught business law at Southern Illinois University for over 30 years. He is a Southern Illinois native who attended Illinois Wesleyan University and law school at the College of William and Mary. He currently practices law in Chester.  His daughter has attended Touch of Nature's Camp Little Giant several times.  He has served on the Board for many years.

Linda Crandle Brandon   

Linda was a junior camp counselor at Camp Little Giant from 1955-57 at Camp I, and taught archery and canoeing at Camp Little Giant.  Ann Freeberg was one of her campers in her tent (at her father's request).  She attended Indiana University on Dr. Freeberg's advice and majored in Recreation and Outdoor Education.  When the Touch of Nature Friends Board was formed, she became part of the group, again, at Dr. Freeberg's request.

Cathy Outzen Grant        

Cathy is a former camp counselor at Camp Little Giant and an educator.  She and her husband met when they were both working at Touch of Nature, then the SIU Outdoor Laboratory.  He came to work at Camp Little Giant from Mississippi as a special education major.   She has remained friends for over 50 years with five couples who all worked at camp, which remains a special place to them all.  

Bill Bruns:  Bill is the Deputy Director of the SIU Student Center and former President of the Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Western Kentucky (which operates a Camp Ben Frankel summer camp at Touch of Nature).