The new sign at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center is dedicated in honor of JoAnn Burgess, who passed away earlier this year and was an integral part of the nature center’s inception in 2001.

The new sign at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center is dedicated in honor of JoAnn Burgess, who passed away earlier this year and was an integral part of the nature center’s inception in 2001.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center dedicates sign to honor its namesake

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published November 26, 2018

 State Rep.-elect Douglas Wozniak, Shelby Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis and Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Melanie Davis speak during the sign dedication ceremony at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center Nov. 15.

State Rep.-elect Douglas Wozniak, Shelby Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis and Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Melanie Davis speak during the sign dedication ceremony at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center Nov. 15.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — A new, colorful sign has emerged at the entrance to River Bends Park, where the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center, 4101 River Bends Drive, is located.

The sign is the new information board for the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center, thanks to its founder and namesake.

The nature center hosted a new sign dedication ceremony Nov. 15 to honor the late JoAnn Burgess, who donated the sign.

Jim Gammicchia, a coordinator at the nature center, attended the ceremony and said Burgess had a great love for the nature center and what it has become, and she was very involved in both Utica and Shelby Township.

“JoAnn started the nature center, and when she retired from Utica Community Schools, this was her baby: She envisioned it, she made it, and when it was done, she volunteered here,” Gammicchia said.

“I think that the sign will increase traffic to the parks and our parks system and our nature center in general, and to bring people in to the different areas to let people know about the different events that are going on here, and it will be huge. Lots of traffic out there — like, 11,000 cars go by that intersection. Community relations are a huge asset for the sign,” Gammicchia said.

The purchase of the new sign was made possible by a donation to the nature center from JoAnn Burgess’ trust. The sign was purchased for $27,000.

The sign stands 7 feet tall and is more than 12 feet wide, with a 9- by 2-foot LED electronic display to promote nature center events and programs to the community and passers-by.

Burgess, who passed away June 4, was an integral part of the center’s inception in 2001. She worked as a volunteer for 17 years at the nature center after creating it, and as a nature educator with Wiley Elementary in Utica and Morgan Elementary in Shelby Township. She started the Morgan Nature Center and was a teacher in Utica Community Schools for more than 40 years.

Joe Youngblood, the Shelby Township Parks, Recreation and Maintenance Department director, attended the event and shared his thoughts about the opportunity to work with Burgess and her impact on the programs that she was involved in.

“I was very fortunate that I got to know Jo and got to work with her, and this nature center was built by Jo Burgess — her vision — and I’m so happy that we were able to have the sign in honor of her thanks to her family and the trust,” Youngblood said.

He said she is “greatly missed,” but her legacy lives on.

“She was a volunteer here, and Parks and Rec is one of our departments. I think (the sign) is definitely something that beautifies the area, and people are going to see more programs as they drive by, and I’ve already had people commenting on how wonderful this sign looks. It just makes the whole area look better, it makes the nature center look better, and the park itself. It was a home run that was hit, and thanks to Ruth and Bob, it was their vision having the sign through their aunt Jo,” said Youngblood.

During the dedication ceremony, Burgess’ family and community leaders cut the ribbon for the sign dedication.

The sign was a longtime goal for the nature center.

Douglas Wozniak, who won election to represent the 36th District as a state representative earlier in November, attended the ceremony.

“My daughter grew up in this center, and she attended a lot of classes here while she was going to school, and so I’m pretty familiar with it. The new sign is well overdue. I’m glad we had that ... the gift from JoAnn Burgess allowed us to put that sign in, and it looks great,” Wozniak said.

The employees at the nature center won’t have to leave their building to program information to display on the sign.

The nature center is a nonprofit organization. Gifts or planned giving like Burgess had set up are always welcome.

To join the Friends of the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center or to donate to the center, call (586) 323-2478. There is also a donation bin located inside the nature center.