- Kate Munning
Remembering Board Chair Nancy Conger
A note from David Epstein, President of The Land Conservancy
Many passionate, kind and generous people volunteer to help The Land Conservancy make our state a better place each year. It is the extraordinary commitment of these many dedicated members, supporters and donors that continually allow us so many noteworthy accomplishments. Among this remarkable and elite company, one person – Nancy Conger –has always stood out.
Nancy began helping The Land Conservancy before we formally met her, before she even knew exactly who we were. One of the first things I did when I began working for The Land Conservancy 25 years ago, was to research foundations which could support our work. The internet had yet to become the rich resource that it is today, so I had to actually purchase a book with a foundation list. My research led me to a small foundation that I had never heard of – the Baker Street Trust. They seemed like a good fit, so I sent them a letter listing our goals and dreams, since we really didn’t have any accomplishments to speak of at the time. Amazingly, we received a check and a touching note wishing us luck. This was the first foundation gift The Land Conservancy ever received, and it was signed by Nancy Conger.
Eight years later The Land Conservancy began a campaign to purchase a spectacular cliff-top property in Rockaway overlooking glacial Green Pond. We engaged the local community to raise private dollars to match the funds we raised from Green Acres and the Morris County Park Commission. Among the first donors and most ardent advocates to approach us were Nancy Conger and her husband, Bill.
Several years later, The Land Conservancy began planning to construct a new office to house our growing operations. Somehow Nancy heard about this and she and Bill came down to meet with us and made a very generous contribution. Six months later, after the Recession changed our plans, Nancy and Bill were just as enthusiastic when we asked to re-redirect their gift toward the development of a geothermal heating system for the existing office instead.
Nancy started her career on Wall Street as a stockbroker in a rough and tumble era that was dominated by men. This did not matter to Nancy, as she was going to excel regardless of the circumstances. She went on to found the investment firm Red Hook Management with Bill and she served as its president.
Nancy’s philanthropy never took a back seat as she was constantly thinking of new ideas to help others. When her parents were ready to move out of their home adjacent to Ursinus College, Nancy convinced them to donate their house to the college. When her alma mater, Wheaton College in Massachusetts, needed help finding a new president, they turned to Nancy to chair the search committee. Because she was so capable and could never bring herself to say no to a good cause, she was later asked to chair the college’s capital campaign and finally became board chair. As a way to honor Nancy’s many contributions, the college recently named the green adjacent to their new dorm “Conger Commons.”
In 2013 we persuaded Nancy to join The Land Conservancy’s board of trustees. She described herself as a “governance geek” and, fortunately for us, insisted upon Chairing our moribund governance committee. Nancy soon had the committee meeting regularly, finding outstanding new trustees and engaging them in our work. In 2017 we collectively asked Nancy to become board chair. After she agreed, she said to me that “you should be careful what you wish for” because she had many ideas. Well, she asked me to develop a succession plan and met with every trustee individually. She developed a trustee survey and used the answers she found to reorganize our board meetings with less reporting and more engagement. She attended every committee meeting and asked each trustee how they would like to become more engaged in our work. It was a whirlwind, it was exhausting, and it was exactly what we needed.
Nancy chaired our March 27 board meeting, but clearly wasn’t feeling well. She called me a few days later to tell me that she had been diagnosed with cancer but that she would “soon be going on the offensive.” I joked with her that she had been on the offensive the entire time I had known her. In late May The Land Conservancy named its West Brook Preserve for Nancy who, as she always has, played a key role in preserving this magnificent property.
Nancy passed away on Saturday after a brief but remarkably brave battle. Nancy used to joke with me that she never met anybody who had to guess where she stood. She had a big personality, she was smart, outspoken and had an endless streak of compassion. Although
virtually none of the trustees knew Nancy when she joined our board, her work as a leader, mentor and role model inspired the deep allegiance of each of every one of our trustees and staff. She succeeded in making The Land Conservancy a better organization and making me and every person around her better. Nancy was our hero and simply left us all in awe. She will be deeply missed by all of us who were fortunate enough to know her.