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Jane Rita Ellenbogen Stern (1918–1989)

Jane Rita Ellenbogen Stern was a well-known conservationist and environmentalist from Arkansas. She dedicated herself to the preservation of the natural waterways and migratory bird habitats of the state, especially in eastern Arkansas.

Jane Ellenbogen was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on August 2, 1918, to Leonard E. Ellenbogen—owner of a real-estate firm, a clothing store, and a laundry—and Birdie Berger Ellenbogen. She grew up in Little Rock and attended Little Rock public schools. Thereafter, she attended Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock).

In 1940, Ellenbogen married Dr. Howard S. Stern; they had two children. In 1948, the Stern family moved to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), an area where much of Stern’s conservationist activity took place.

Bird-watching first led Stern toward conservation. She had become interested in birds when her son hung up a bird feeder to earn his Boy Scout nature badge. Following her initial intrigue, she began to visit different bird habitats, often finding that the birds, along with their habitats, were disappearing. After this discovery, she began to take an active role in the fight for preservation of natural habitats in Arkansas. In 1963, she became a charter member of the Three Rivers Chapter of the Audubon Society, serving in various offices over the years. She was also one of the key organizers behind the establishment of the Jefferson County Wildlife Association. However, rather than accepting extensive leadership roles, Stern chose to dedicate her time to actively pursuing conservation issues behind the scenes.

Stern is perhaps best known for her work with the virgin Konecny Prairie and Grove near Slovak (Prairie County) after the director of the White River National Wildlife Refuge took her to the prairie on the search for the habitat of the willow flycatcher. In 1969, she began a movement to preserve the area for future generations, and it became Arkansas’s first conservation easement in 1976.

Stern discovered a new plant species, the Mespilus canescens, a shrub closely linked to the rose family. It was accepted by botanists across the nation in 1988, after which its common name, Stern’s medlar, was adopted.

Although most known for her conservation efforts and discoveries in the prairie, Stern was responsible for many preservation movements and successes in other parts of the state. She served as chair of the citizens’ committee of the Pine Bluff Urban Water Management Study, which had been started by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She played an integral role in fighting the building of a dam on the Saline River at Benton (Saline County) and the channelization of Bayou Meto and Bayou Bartholomew—projects the Corps eventually abandoned. After the Memphis District of the Corps proposed the Cache River–Bayou DeView Channelization Project, Stern became a founding member of the Citizens Committee to Save the Cache River Basin. That project was also abandoned. In 1980, Stern was responsible for starting the Clean Lakes Study for Lake Pine Bluff. She fought for the clean-up and preservation of the lake throughout the last decade of her life.

Although Stern chose to take a behind-the-scenes approach to conservation, she was presented with several awards for her efforts; among these were the Water Conservation Award (1971) by the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and the Carl R. Amason Conservation Award (1989) by the Arkansas Native Plant Society. Perhaps the most prestigious award she received was Conservationist of the Year, presented by the Arkansas Wildlife Federation. Stern reluctantly accepted, believing there were others who deserved the award more than she.

On December 16, 1989, Stern died of lung cancer in Pine Bluff. In 1990, the Shugart Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Conservation Award was presented to her posthumously by the Arkansas Audubon Society.

For additional information:
Horton, Terry. “Farewell to a Friend: Arkansas Loses One of Its Most Precious Natural Resources.” Arkansas Game and Fish Magazine 21 (March/April 1990): 30.

Jane E. Stern Papers. Torreyson Library Special Collections. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.

Williams, Nancy A., ed. Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

Kayla Kesterson
University of Central Arkansas

Last Updated 4/9/2010

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