Islander hailed as a quiet force for nature

Yvonne Kuperberg takes in the view during one of her monthly walks along Vashon’s western shore.  - Rayna Holtz photo
Yvonne Kuperberg takes in the view during one of her monthly walks along Vashon’s western shore.
— image credit: Rayna Holtz photo

Each month, Yvonne Kuperberg puts on her walking shoes and treks miles down the Vashon coast with a walking partner, observing birds and taking note of the local conditions, which she reports to the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Volunteering as a citizen scientist is one of many ways Kuperberg, 83, gives back to the community she’s lived in for 30 years. The retiree with a strong handshake and a kind smile has had a hand in several influential organizations and efforts: From her time as president of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust to her current appointment to the Groundwater Protection Committee, Kuperberg has striven to preserve Vashon’s environment and its unique fabric of community.

“She has an enormous commitment to the Island,” said Emma Amiad, an Island real estate agent who was the Vashon land trust’s first president. “She’s just incredibly capable and a good decision-maker.”

Kuperberg said she’d “proudly wear the badge” of environmentalist. Her friends say she’s among the best.

“She’s one of the model environmentalists I know, because she not only talks the talk, ... but she really walks the walk in her own life. She will print stuff on scratch paper, reuse envelopes, minimize her driving,” said Marcy Summers, director of the environmental nonprofit Alliance for Tompotika Conservation, of which Kuperberg is a part. “She knows her earth and she works to protect it. She’s got a global vision as well and sees our local issues in an international context.”

“I would call her queen of the environmentalists,” added naturalist and librarian Rayna Holtz.

Kuperberg, a mother of three, lives alone in the woods in a cozy, cabin-like home decorated with pictures of her family.

She may not be the noisiest or most boisterous of the bunch, but she is a quiet force who knows what’s right and works to achieve it, said Rebecca Wittman, a member of the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association board.

Kuperberg is a fellow board member there, and has recently taken the reins of the museum docent program, coordinating volunteers to staff the small museum three afternoons a week. The program was practically nonexistent when the museum expanded its hours last year from two per week to nine, Kuperberg said.

“I’m spending an awful lot of time making sure things are covered there, and if they aren’t, I go,” she said.

The docent program now boasts a roster of 15 to 18 people, she added.

An office manager at Vashon’s Island Spring tofu factory for 20 years, Kuperberg retired 10 years ago, but hasn’t taken a break from local activism. She was married to longtime environmentalist Joel Kuperberg, who headed the Trust for Public Land, for decades before his death five years ago, and has picked up her pace of local involvement in the years since.

Friends note that in all Kuperberg has accomplished, she’s done it not for accolades or approval, but for the good of the cause for which she’s working.

“She doesn’t wave the flag over herself, but when it comes to moving the ship forward, she’s very much there to power things,” Wittman said.

Four years ago, Kuperberg helped craft the now-approved forest management plan for Island Center Forest — a task that required much collaboration and compromise from the many groups interested in the forest and its use.

“We had to look at those sometimes conflicting issues” like hunting, tree cutting and environmental preservation, she said. “My role, as in most things, was to get people to come together.”

Kuperberg is an active member of Vashon’s unit of the League of Women Voters and Vashon Audubon. She is also treasurer of the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo), an Island-based nonprofit working to preserve native species in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

“She is a pure gem,” said AlTo’s Summers of Kuperberg. “It’s easy to forget how much she does because she does it all without fanfare.”

As a member of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council executive board from 2002 to 2004 — and part of its town plan committee and natural resources and land use committee — Kuperberg is no stranger to local politics, where she’s often been “the voice of the environment,” said Holtz, who walks with Kuperberg on monthly data-collecting beach walks.

“If there are subjects that involve effects to the environment, she’ll be there and speak up,” Holtz said.

And as the Vashon land trust’s second president, Kuperberg worked in the early 1990s to protect Vashon land from development and strengthen the fledgling nonprofit.

“It was time for somebody to come in who was steady and sure and thoughtful and intelligent, and she is all of those,” Amiad said of Kuperberg, who served as the land trust’s president in 1993.

While she was president, Kuperberg helped structure the young organization, urging the creation of committees to deal with different issues so the land trust board wasn’t responsible for every decision, she said.

Kuperberg also was the first author of the land trust’s newsletter, The Bog Frog Gazette, named after the first property the land trust acquired, Whispering Firs Bog, said Holtz. It was a casual publication where Kuperberg’s “down-to-earth” sense of humor shone, she said.

Kuperberg, a friendly, truthful woman who lives in a home reminiscent of a treehouse in the Shinglemill watershed, is “a wonderful friend,” Holtz added.

“I can’t think of anyone who has a stronger commitment to all the things she does,” said Ellen Kritzman, who is part of Vashon’s unit of the League of Women Voters. “She’s a fairly quiet person, but she has a whole bunch of energy and caring, not only for people but for community and environment.”

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