In her nearly a quarter of a century with JCPRD, Senior Park Naturalist Molly Postlewait has gone by many names.
Some call her Miss Molly, others know her as Muddy Molly. She is also sometimes called The Snow Queen, the Queen Fairy, Mrs. Parker, Gigi, and Dee Dee the Decomposer. She’s even gone by “Jimmy” on occasion!
Many of these names relate to characters she portrays in some of the more than 200 programs she presents annually (that’s more than 5,000 programs over her JCPRD career). If it’s all a little confusing, one thing that’s clear is that Postlewait has made a big impact for nature education in her job, which is based at the Ernie Miller Nature Center. Postlewait is retiring on April 16.
“When I started 24 years ago, I felt so lucky and I was hopeful it would be a longtime job,” she said. “I knew I had landed in a very special place and I am glad it has lasted. I have stayed here so long because of the people and parks. The chance to be creative and work in a team of talented people has kept me excited all these years. I had experience with caving and challenge courses, with yoga, and early childhood education, and storytelling. I did not have the traditional education of most naturalists. It was my good fortunate that I could bring these skills to this position and I was given the freedom to develop programs that people enjoy. My supervisors have allowed me the opportunity to explore different program possibilities and be a little out there with my ideas. I hope that one of my contributions is mentoring and encouraging others to take chances and risks and try new things. Lots of my ideas have bombed but those experiences have helped me to help others.”
“During her career with JCPRD, Molly has personally developed over 50 programs,” said Outdoor Education Manager Bill McGowan. “She has a passion for writing scripts that weave together nature and history. These include preschool, school outreach programs, school field trips, scout programs, teambuilding experiences, adult programs, special events, and camps. Molly is best known for her wonderful storytelling and the many colorful and engaging characters she portrays in her programs. Her boundless enthusiasm, creativity, and hard work is contagious and results in countless memories for her program participants.”
Here's a small sampling of the original programs Postlewait has created: Campfire Thrills & Chills; Whimsical Woods; Fall, Frights, and Folklore; Green at Heart Yoga; Lamp of Freedom; Animal Scene Investigation; and summer camps like Amazing Adventures, Blast from the Past, and June Bug Favorites.
“Molly has a way of getting participants out of their comfort zone and gently coaching them through adventures of a lifetime,” added Outdoor Education Specialist Andrea Joslin. “She has helped countless people experience newfound adventure and create memories they will hold on to forever. She has also made storytelling a very important aspect of the JCPRD Outdoor Education program and has shown how it is a significant way to connect people to history and the natural world. Molly will always be known for her stories - her boundless enthusiasm can capture the attention of any audience member and inspire her coworkers and other professionals. “
Postlewait may be the “teacher” for her programs, but she has also been the student, she said.
“I have learned so much here” she exclaimed. The staff is nothing short of amazing. I enjoy working with the park police (who present interpretive programs in addition to their law enforcement duties). I truly could not have survived without these incredible people. I have grown comfortable with handling a variety of animals. I have developed a love of kayaking. I have gained a more heighted sense of awareness of the natural world, and the importance of it for the wellbeing of humans.
She recalls a story that shows just how important what she does has been to her audience members.
“At one of the first fairy festivals, a little boy asked me to come see his fairy house,” Postlewait said. “Of course, I am dressed as Violet the woodland fairy. He showed me his creation built from bark upon a bed of green moss. I praised his efforts and chatted with his mom. She told me he had a traumatic brain injury and the doctor recommended as therapy for him to be outside and create things. That just made my heart sing; the work we do here is so important!”
She is also proud of an annual summer camp segment she leads which is affectionately known as the “Trail of Doom.”
“This is an off-the-trail tromp through the park where we go through stinging nettles, gooseberry briars, and lots of mud and muck,” she said. “I tell the kids this is an optional activity, and they don’t have to do it; but if they come, there is no whining or complaining and they have to help each other. It is a camp tradition and the kids love bragging that they survived the ‘Trail of Doom.’ I like for them to see that they can be miserable and complete a challenge. Good lessons for us all!”
Postlewait said growing up in southern Missouri’s Ozarks was a great training ground for her job at EMNC.
“I used to just wander about looking at nature,” she said. “I grew on a working dairy farm so cows and farm livestock was what I knew. Handling snakes was a new challenge! I have also had the wonderful opportunity to network with folks from all around the world through the NAI (National Association for Interpretation). I am so grateful for the opportunity to travel and meet fellow park and living history professionals.”
“Molly is a mentor to many other interpreters around the country and is highly regarded in the profession,” Joslin added. “She has won many well-deserved awards and has shared her talents through workshops and training, both nationally and internationally. Molly has inspired many interpreters with her true passion to test the boundaries of the profession by creating educational, meaningful, and fun connections to nature, history, and the outdoors.”
Among the many, many awards Postlewait has garnered are the Fellow/Life Time Achievement Award, and the Master Front-Line Interpreter Award, both from NAI Region VI. She has been JCPRD’s Employee of the Year for her division twice, won at least two quarterly awards, and has been voted the Best Workshop Presentation at NAI regional conventions three times. She has also written articles in JCPRD and regional publications, and has made nature-themed audio recordings with names like “Whisper on the Wind.”
Postlewait’s retirement plans are many, and in some cases, even more adventurous that her work life has been.
“First, I am going on a road trip by myself to visit some people and places that were instrumental in my career,” she said. “My husband and I will go to the four corners area of the west to see Zion and Arches (national parks) and I hope to hike the Grand Canyon. I hiked there in college and I want to do it again. I plan to spend some time in Alaska and Colorado. I will be a grandmother for the first time in July, so that’s exciting. Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro is a lifelong goal that I hope to accomplish in the fall.”
Her other plans include biking Missouri’s KATY Trail, leading World Groove Classes, and presenting storytelling workshops.
“Molly’s legacy at JCPRD will live on through her programs, the people she has mentored, and the hundreds of thousands of people she has moved and inspired through her stories and programs,” McGowan said.