Honoring Our Past
Chester Cook was 17 years old when he first met Albert Fuller in 1935. Poor eyesight prevented Fuller from driving, and so he hired Chester to take him on his planned field trips.
In those days, Fuller, Curator of Botany at the Milwaukee Public Museum, was spending a great deal of time traveling between Milwaukee and Door County, studying the rare flora which flourished on a parcel of land in Baileys Harbor. The two spent many hours walking together, Chester carrying Fuller’s camera and equipment as the botanist inventoried the rare wildflowers.
Chester was with him when Fuller discovered that the county had plans to develop a trailer park on this wondrous parcel of land. And he was with him as Fuller, often accompanied by Jens Jensen, tirelessly advocated for its preservation, giving countless presentations to residents of Baileys Harbor and the surrounding area, including Anna McArdle, Emma Toft, Olivia Traven, William Sieker and George Sieker. In 1937, these citizens and others formed The Ridges Sanctuary to protect the original 40 acres.
The founding of The Ridges had a profound effect on both mentor and student. Buoyed by his grassroots success in preserving the Sanctuary, Fuller used it as a model for many other conservation efforts throughout his 60-year career. In one of his most far-reaching initiatives, Fuller worked with Aldo Leopold, botanist Norman Fassett and plant ecologist John Curtis, to create the State Board for the Preservation of Scientific Areas. That board became the State Natural Areas Program which today encompasses 653 sites and more than 358,000 acres of land and water, protecting more than 90% of the plants and 75% of the animals on Wisconsin’s list of endangered and threatened species.
The experience changed Chester Cook, as well. Working with Fuller gave him a sense of purpose and taught him the value of diligence and hard work, qualities which he said served him well the rest of his life. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Cook married, moved to California and became a successful businessman. He never forgot the opportunity Fuller gave him and the lessons he learned at his side. Fuller, he said, taught him that it is possible to change one’s circumstances, to make a difference and to leave the world a better place. Over 75 years later, his desire to honor his friend and mentor resulted in his lead gift of $1 million for the construction of The Ridges new interpretive center. In honor of their relationship, the spirit of possibility it represents and in accordance with Chester Cook’s wishes, the building will be named the Cook-Albert Fuller Center.