Friends of Touch of Nature

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


Attention area businesses!

Touch of Nature is excited to partner with Keller’s Crossing for a fundraising golf scramble to support Camp Little Giant, our annual camp for children and adults with disabilities, along with out Veteran Adventures Program, which is designed to help ease the transition from military life to civilian life. Funds raised will be used to purchase Adaptive Paddling equipment to expand our program offerings for people with disabilities.

There are two ways you can assist us with our goal.

Become a flag sponsor.

  • Your logo will be displayed on a hole flag at Keller’s Crossing (see sample).
  • Flags will fly from the flagsticks on each green for the entire month of June.
  • Your flag will be seen by 150-200 golfers per day. 
  • At the conclusion of the promotion, you will own your flag to be displayed at your home or office should you choose to do so.
  • The cost for each flag is $500.

Purchase a digital ad which will be displayed on Keller’s Crossing’s app  .

  • The ad is used to establish tee times and other activities, thus it will be seen my many
  • The cost of the digital ad is only $100.

Your generosity will help us purchase the necessary equipment to help make our adaptive paddling program a success and help us further our mission in providing experiential learning, environmental stewardship, health and wellness, equity, inclusion and diversity.  

Please contact JD Tanner, Director: Touch of Nature at 618-453-3942 or at with questions.

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.  

 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. 

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.