Board of Directors

President Ellen Trout Bennett

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Ellen brings experience as a middle school science teacher where she taught earth and environmental sciences. In addition, she directed partnership programs on a statewide and regional level, bringing together secondary and post-secondary faculty in the sciences to strengthen teaching and learning, as well as working directly with first-generation college students to encourage and facilitate post-secondary study. Committed to both understanding and protecting our environment, as well as community engagement, Ellen has served on the boards of the Cope Environmental Center, the United Way, and as chair of the Wayne County Foundation board in Indiana. Here in Maine she is a member of the Maine School Science Volunteers, and an outreach and stewardship committee of a local parish.  Ellen has served as CREA’s secretary and vice president, and is very active in events planning and CREA’s Executive Committee.

Treasurer Chris Taylor

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Chris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from Southampton College, is a long-time resident of Topsham, has worked in many fields including accounting and sales, and is 25-year Bowdoin College official.  His work at Bowdoin has allowed him to bring energy efficiency and sustainability to an area that affects the entire campus. He has held volunteer positions on the board of other community and professional organizations and is eager to help CREA move forward.  Chris and his wife enjoy outdoor photography and have a deep appreciation for nature. In addition to Chris’ duties as treasurer he is a key member of a new committee formed to update and maintain CREA’s website.

Secretary Ann Gardner

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Ann’s BS in environmental biology from Nasson College led her to a lifelong commitment to the environment.  She recently retired from the Environmental Protection Agency where she served 30 years as a paralegal.  A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, she has worked at environmental education centers, summer camps and currently is most content when on woodland trails or in her kayak with her camera and her ID guides.   She views living next to the Cathance River Preserve as a gift.   Since moving to Maine a few years ago, she has been involved behind the scenes at CREA using her technical know-how and strong research skills, and now is on the Board as secretary.


Mel Christensen Fletcher

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Mel is a former student Board member, past and present CREA camp educator, and teaches science at the high school level at Harpswell Coastal Academy. She is a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington with a degree in Secondary Education Earth and Space Science and a minor in English.  Most recently, she worked in Special Education at Westbrook Middle School and advised WMS’s drama program for 5th-8th graders.  She serves as chair of CREA’s Programs Committee.

Rick Dedek

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Rick is the principal at Woodside Elementary School in Topsham. He promotes the value of science education with an emphasis on local, outdoor opportunities for students.  He believes helping all children engage in a hands-on, lifelong relationship with the environment is part of our community’s responsibility for public education. He is active in helping to strengthen partnerships between CREA and public educators for student learning and environmental appreciation. Rick attended Wheaton College in Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Southern Maine where he received his bachelor’s degree in English, and Masters of Science in Special Education.  Rick and his wife Sara live in Topsham with their three children, Piper, Finn, and Imogen who hike the CREA trails regularly are enthusiastic CREA campers, and can often be found pond skimming and checking under rocks and logs. Rick and family enjoy sports, fishing, boating, reading, and travel.

Lisa Durrell

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Lisa received her BA in French from Mount Holyoke College and her MEd from Tufts University. She spent over 30 years teaching elementary math and science, and led numerous teacher workshops.  After retirement she was a field teacher for Massachusetts Audubon where she built and enriched curricula.  She has held many positions, including director, at summer camps, and continues to teach swimming. A gifted teacher who enjoys sharing her knowledge and love of nature with people of all ages, Lisa has been very active volunteering with CREA and leading walks on the Preserve.  She has many interests, including quilting, and enjoys living next to the Heath Trail at Highland Green.

David Keffer

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Dave and his wife, Jan, moved into The Highlands Retirement Community from Cape Cod, MA during July, 2016, and reside in its Town Hall Village.  They have two children and five grandchildren split between Portland, ME and Chicago.  His educational background is Amherst College, BA, Economics 1960, and Univ. of PA Wharton School, MBA, Accounting 1962.  His career included time as a CPA with Price Waterhouse (now PWC) in New York City, healthcare CFO with CIGNA Healthcare, and Director of a mutual fund administrative services start-up enterprise on Wall Street, expanding to Portland, ME.  He has always enjoyed sports, skiing, hiking, and the outdoor life, having spent a brief period in the Forest Service west of Missoula, MT.  “Hiking in new environments always gives us a better appreciation of the natural local geology and vegetation,” he claims.  They are enthusiastic supporters of the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust and CREA. 

Jane Littlefield

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Jane grew up in Brunswick, received a BS in Home Economics from the University of Maine at Orono. She spent many years as an Army wife and mother while her four children were growing up. She received her Masters in Early Childhood Education from the University of Southern California. She worked for the US Army in the Children and Youth Services program, directing centers and training staff in providing quality child care for soldiers and civilian employees. In retirement, she is furthering her education at Bowdoin in environmental studies and resides in Topsham on the banks of the Androscoggin.

Erik Nelson

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Erik is a professor of economics at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. He teaches courses in environmental economics, land economics, and microeconomics. His research work focuses on the economics of ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, climate change, and agriculture. Erik received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Boston College and his Ph.D. in applied economics from the University of Minnesota. He lives in Bath with his wife Lisa and son Oscar. Erik and Oscar love to play baseball and hockey together at the public parks and rinks in Bath and Brunswick. While Erik and Lisa like to take hikes in the woods of Maine Oscar is still learning the joys of a good hike.

Julia Pols

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Julia is our student representative from Brunswick High School.

Carla Rensenbrink

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Carla came to Topsham in 1965 with her husband, John, and their three children. She taught elementary school in Freeport for many years before deciding to attend graduate school. She received her doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and then taught prospective teachers at the University of New Hampshire. After retiring from teaching, Carla has renewed and expanded longtime interests in the out of doors and in land conservation. She is a director of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and a founding member of the Topsham Conservation Commission and of CREA.

John Shattuck

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John Shattuck has been the Economic & Community Development Director for the Town of Topsham since 2008.  In this role, he works to retain and recruit high quality businesses and jobs to Topsham, as well as supporting the enhancement of community cultural and recreational amenities, including the preservation of natural areas and rural open space.  John also serves on the board and executive committee of the Midcoast Economic Development District (MCEDD) an organization he led for many years as president, advocating for regional cooperation to increase efficiency and impact of municipal planning and economic development. John is a lifelong hiker and a former Registered Maine Guide who values the restorative power of our natural environment.

Emily Smith

Emily is our student representative from Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, where she is a member of the Class of 2019.

Janvier Smith

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Jan earned a bachelor of science degree in biology from Duke University, and an M.A. from the Naval Postgraduate School. A former summer field ecology researcher and seasonal National Park Service ranger-naturalist, he served 22 years in the naval aviation, and first came to the area in 1982. Retiring from the Navy in 1994 after a number of diverse assignments including command of a recruiting district and service on the faculty of one of the Navy’s graduate schools, he and his family returned to Topsham. He owned an insurance and financial services agency for 13 years, and helped launch CREA’s long-standing relationship with the State Farm Companies Foundation. Since retiring from that role, he has held management and state government regulatory positions in the insurance and financial services field, and serves as a volunteer financial counselor for military retirees and other veterans. He has served as CREA’s treasurer, finance committee member, co-chair of the transition committee, as a member of the development committee, and is the immediate past president of CREA.

Ron Strand

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Ron has been very active volunteer for CREA taking substantial responsibility for the Ecology Center maintenance and local trails on on the Preserve. Since joining the CREA Board in 2017 he has continued his stewardship of the Ecology Center and trails and plays a major role in encouraging and supervising other volunteers. Ron holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering and an M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Ron has previously served on town conservation committees, and on various water and environmental commissions. His employment has been as an engineer for planning, design and construction of environmental and water pollution controls. Ron’s engineering expertise and enthusiastic participation in CREA has been essential to the management of our physical assets.

Executive Director Wendy Van Damme

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Wendy Van Damme began her role with CREA in October 2017 after spending more than 12 years overseas directing programs with the Peace Corps. Most recently she was the Country Director in Lesotho for 4 years, and before that she served as a senior staff member in Peru, Guatemala, and Bolivia. Wendy started her work with and for volunteers when she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala 1986-89. She has a BA in philosophy and Spanish from Middlebury College and has done graduate work in adult education at USM and gender studies at the Universidad Mayor de San Simon, in Bolivia. Wendy has worked as an English teacher in Senegal, a French teacher at Mt. Ararat Middle School, and a School Board Representative for the town of Harpswell. Connecting with nature has been an important motivation throughout Wendy’s life and work, and upon her return to Maine she is delighted to promote nature-based learning on the Cathance River Preserve.


John Rensenbrink

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Professor Emeritus of Government, Bowdoin College. Resident of Topsham since 1965. Helped organize Topsham’s Future in 1999 and took a lead in the negotiations with John Wasileski that resulted in the establishment of the Cathance River Preserve and the subsequent formation of the Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA). He initiated the Environmental Education Project for Bowdoin students in Brunswick/Topsham Area Schools. He is co-founder of the U.S. Green Party and the Maine Green Party; former President (2005-2007) of the Society for Universal Dialogue; and author of three books, including Against All Odds: the Green Transformation of American Politics (1999).

John Wasileski

CREA and Highland Green were locally founded by Maine resident John Wasileski. A respected Maine businessperson who studied in environmental science at McGill University, John has a reputation as a visionary who has exhibited an extraordinary commitment to preserve and protect the environment. His commitment to residents, his employees and to local cultural and charitable organizations helped him earn the Maine Governor’s Award for Business Excellence.

Advisory Council

Dana Cary, Retired (Topsham) Louisa Edgerton, Business Manager (Bath) Jim Howard, CEO, Priority Real Estate Group (Topsham) Barry Mills, President Emeritus, Bowdoin College; Former Chancellor, UMass Boston (Harpswell) John Rensenbrink, Professor Emeritus of Government, Bowdoin College (Topsham) Jan Smith, Retired Naval Officer and financial services business owner (Topsham) Barbara Snapp, Retired Educator (Brunswick) John Wasileski, Owner, Highland Green in Topsham, Oceanview in Falmouth (Lyman)