Looking back while moving forward

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OWAA celebrates its 90th birthday next year. With such a big birthday looming (celebration preparations are in the works now), and as my year serving as your president winds down, it’s only natural to look back not only over the last year, but also over OWAA’s history. I’ve come to appreciate how OWAA has stayed true to its mission throughout nearly a century of substantial changes in the field of outdoor communications, yet it modernized time and again to stay relevant. OWAA is not just a survivor. It’s an industry leader, and remains the “voice of the outdoors,” because of you and me, its members.
OWAA was founded in 1927 at a time when bootleggers supplied whiskey and journalists who delved into outdoor topics probably drank too much of it. There were no standards in our craft, no ethics and few real jobs as outdoor content providers. That year, at the Izaak Walton League of America’s fifth annual convention, 18 writers founded OWAA for “the purpose of bettering of our profession, to give more stability and standing to the same, and to eliminate untruths from stories of the outdoors.” Morris Ackerman, who wrote the first ever outdoor column for the Cleveland Leader and then served as the first outdoor editor of the Cleveland Daily News, led the group. Outdoor columns and outdoor editors didn’t exist before Ackerman. His efforts and those of his peers created the field in which you and I now earn our livelihoods.
Today, OWAA has about 700 members plus 200 supporter groups. Some of us still produce outdoor prose for newspapers, but as these opportunities have become fewer and as singular media outlets have turned into multi-media companies, we’ve become broadcasters, photographers, magazine and Internet content providers, videographers and filmmakers, artists and authors. We now cover a cross-section of outdoor activities, destinations and gear, as well as conservation stories.
Times have changed, and so has OWAA, which is why it’s still a vibrant organization. As your president for the last year, I hope I have contributed to OWAA’s ability to stay current in positive ways. As time and technology march forward, its OWAA’s ability to change and help its members do the same that will keep it viable. You should take advantage of all your OWAA membership offers, starting with the annual conference.
This year we’ll gather in Billings, Montana, July 16-19. This year’s conference is a life-list location for many. My husband, Jack Ballard, a native Montanan, is local chair. He has cherry-picked some of the best outdoor experiences in the Treasure State for your pre- and post-conference trips, and our second vice president Phil Bloom has put together an outstanding program. You can read about what we’re offering by visiting https://owaa.org/2016conference/agenda/.
I’m looking forward to welcoming you to Montana and guarantee you’ll leave with at least one new career-enhancing skill, a few story ideas, a number of new contacts and many fond memories.
Shortly after I see you in Billings, I will pass the gavel to Brett Prettyman. As I look back over the last year, I’m proudest OWAA has accomplished the following under my watch:

  • Our financials are in the black thanks to our executive director Tom Sadler’s adroit management of our funds with the help of our treasurer Ty Stockton.
  • Development chair Rich Patterson master-minded a plan for ongoing giving to our endowment, helped us take advantage of a generous matching gift and laid the groundwork for the Bob Smith Fund in honor of OWAA’s first legal counsel and in celebration of OWAA’s 90th anniversary. You can donate by visiting https://owaa.org/store/donation/.
  • We made a huge improvement in OWAA’s member recruiting materials thanks to Tom Keer. You can find the new brochures at https://owaa.org/file/individual-membership-brochure-2016.pdf.
  • We completed a member survey shepherded by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry to help headquarters and the board better understand your conference preferences.
  • We steered through a nationally explosive situation between OWAA member Don Thomas and OWAA supporter Ducks Unlimited.
  • We hosted OWAA’s first three webinars covering Adobe Lightroom, how to make money as a nature photographer and on capturing and using audio from the field.
  • We saved you annual permitting fees on federal lands, thanks largely to Mark Freeman’s expertise and watchdogging. Freeman worked with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and then with the Congressional committee that drafted the language in the Sportsmen’s Bill on the parts of the bill that pertains to editorial work on lands managed by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.
  • We introduced a searchable on-line member directory, spearheaded by Ashley Chadwick and Jessica Seitz, to make it easier for us to find each other, whether member editors are looking for writers or new members are looking for mentors, or just for members to stay in touch.
  • With the help of our legal counsel, Bill Powell, we protected our magazine’s trademark while avoiding potentially costly legal fees, a situation kept quiet until now due to its sensitive nature, but of substantial angst while it was in progress to me and the executive committee.

I leave my year as president with both regret and relief. Regret because there’s much more to accomplish. A year is too short. Relief because leading OWAA can be all consuming at times. I often found myself putting OWAA ahead of my day job as a freelance writer and photographer. It didn’t help pay the bills, but rewarded me in many invaluable ways, including the chance to work with so many bright, enthusiastic board and committee members. Thank you for allowing me to lead OWAA. Time for me to spend more time outdoors!  ♦
— OWAA President Lisa Ballard, densmore1@aol.com

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