Painting by Sarah Yuster
Remembering Richard P. Buegler
Richard P.”Dick” Buegler, a founder of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and its president for nearly 30 years, a man who dedicated his life to environmental education and natural areas protection on Staten Island, died last Saturday, November 5, at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his wife Toni for some years. He was 88 years old. Our condolences to his dedicated and loving wife, Toni, and to his son David and daughter Susan and their families on this irreparable loss to our close community.
I am humbled to have been asked by Protectors President Cliff Hagen to write a brief remembrance of Dick’s life and work. Dick has been honored by the numerous citations he has received from elected officials over the years and he has well deserved the recognition and praise bestowed on him by respected national environmental organizations. Any park or bluebelt on Staten Island would be a suitable testimony to his tireless efforts at preserving and improving the natural world around us. And, most assuredly, Clay Pits Pond State Park Preserve will stand as a monument to his preservation efforts.
I think that I am among the few people who have known Dick Buegler the longest. Dick has been an influence in my life for 40 years, the majority of my life, ever since he stood up in front of my high school biology class at New Dorp and discussed PCBs, or the Krebs cycle, or the finer points about dissecting a shark. Mr. Buegler, as he was known to me then, instilled in me the fundamental notion that the environment is the product of interdependent systems sublimely in balance, that we are responsible for the environment, and that if we take without giving in return, we risk disturbing that balance to our harm. Later, after I graduated from college, I reconnected with Dick on Greenbelt walks and soon began implementing much of the ideas he taught me, leading me ultimately to join Protectors and serve as Vice President and later as President. Dick’s goal has always been to educate people enough so that ideas translate into action. A better understanding and appreciation for the natural world begets a determination to fight for the preservation of natural areas and the environment.
Dick explained his philosophy about creating a purposeful life and developing an active environmental consciousness in 2004 when he wrote: “Most of us consider walks, tours, hikes and such to be pleasant recreation, but most of you attend those events for more serious reasons than a day out in the fresh air. We are learning to appreciate the natural environment and developing our own environmental ethic. As we see destruction around, natural areas being obliterated and environmental degradation occurring, our presence on walks and activities in the natural environment makes a statement that we care. Yes, we care.
We care about wildlife and plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers, the birds and the insects. We want to leave a heritage of a healthy natural environment for those after us. We are constantly learning how much a part of the natural environment we are. We find out that our own actions add to the earth’s distress. We consume fuel, food, natural products, even the air and water of our planet, and none of us—certainly not Protectors—feel that we are entitled to as much as we want. So we try to drive less, walk and bicycle more, reduce our consumption of excess foods and avoid foods and other natural products that are responsible for the degradation of the communities where they are grown.”
And in another place he summed it up as follows: “As Protectors members, we have a very deep concern for our natural environment, a dedication toward preservation of unprotected natural areas and a willingness to work persistently towards protection of native woodlands, wetlands and previously designated parklands.”
Dick has passed into memory now. And it is incumbent upon each of us, whoever was touched by his generous and patient mentoring, whoever witnessed his effective leadership and ability to shape discourse to serve a greater common good, to remember the man he was and further his life’s work. For Dick is not truly gone if the work he dedicated the better part of his adult life to endures and bears fruit through us, for as long as we remember him.
Dick had tremendous gratitude for you, our Protectors’ members, and he more than once remarked that your dedication and commitment were key factors to our numerous successes. Protectors of Pine Oak Woods is Dick’s legacy and his memorial. May we carry its mission further and with it the name of Richard P. Buegler.
I hear the ringing call he used to gather us together on the trail: “Eye-eh-la! Eye-eh-la!” There he is, just ahead and around the bend, quietly waiting to see if I will spot and identify the rare trailside orchid he has found. Just a second, Dick, I nearly have it, just a second while I consult my Newcomb’s. I see and absorb the simple and pure joy he conveys in that consummate interaction with Nature. How will you remember Dick?