Marking One-Year Anniversary Of Joe Ibberson Passing
April 25, 2012
Statement by Josh First on the passing of Joe Ibberson: "A year ago, Joe Ibberson passed away. Joe was a leading conservationist and philanthropist in Central Pennsylvania. Using money he gained from buying and selling timber and land over decades, he endowed Penn State's School of Forestry with two positions and tens of millions of dollars, donated hundreds of acres to DCNR, and led the way for many aspiring entrepreneurs and conservationists following in his footsteps.
Spending time with Joe either in the field or in his home was never boring. In his late nineties, Joe was more alert and more analytical than ninety percent of the younger people around him. He was smart, opportunistic, and principled. I learned a lot from Joe, and for the past year I have been thinking about how to eulogize so special a man.
Joe was a bit of a rascal. He was also deeply religious and did not believe in making empty statements; rather, Joe led by example and good deeds in both small and big ways. He was also a crack shot with a deer rifle.
Much of Joe's personal land and timber acquisitions were accomplished during his years as a Department of Environmental Resources (predecessor to DCNR) forester. When he was out in the field in an official capacity, he encountered many private properties and timber stands that he then sought out "after hours." This was his rascally quality. In this way, Joe quietly and persistently tacked hides on the wall over his decades-long career. Too plain spoken to be Pennsylvania's State Forester, he nevertheless rose through the ranks in the Bureau of Forestry, became a division chief, and set high bars for professionalism and gentleness as a manager. He satisfied his leadership abilities by engaging in entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
Joe was tough. I once watched Joe whip a land investor, the man's attorney, and his surveyor, all of whom had tried to sneak off with about a hundred acres of his Beta Tree Farm and the valuable mature timber growing there. Despite being in his nineties, Joe methodically and firmly produced official document after official document, and survey after survey, and overcame the protestations of all three men. Eventually, the attorney and the surveyor valued their own licensed credentials more than their desire to serve such a discredited "investor," and they slipped out of the house, leaving the erstwhile land buyer to fend for himself. That man never did again lay claim to Joe's land and timber, despite the new blazes that his surveyor had placed through the woods in preparation for a big timber sale and land development.
Joe had a heck of a map collection, many of which are one-of-a-kind historic maps of Dauphin County and the surrounding area, going back to the 1700s. We once spent an afternoon together at Kinko's, copying every single one of them into compact disks so that I and my clients here in the area could benefit from his library. Thus far, it has paid off, as it has for a few regional surveyors, I'm sure.
Being a health nut, and literally living on nuts, berries, and grape juice, Joe was a very gracious if unimpressive host. If you got hungry, or your stomach growled in his presence, you weren't going to be eating hot dogs and hamburgers. Rather, Joe would pull out an assortment of dried fruits and nuts, pour you a tall glass of kosher grape juice, and with all of the charged expectations of a Jewish mother, sit back and watched to make sure you ate enough to be satisfied, all the while reminding you of the benefits of natural anti-oxidants.
Joe was principled, and fiercely believed in self-sufficiency. Loaded handguns of all sorts were tucked away in every room throughout his home, and he enjoyed stopping in the midst of an amble from one room to another to pull out a gun from its hiding place, show it to you, comment on its fine qualities and stopping power, and then just as quickly tuck it back into hiding and move on to pick up the survey or map that had been the original subject of discussion and the trip down the hallway. In a twisted way, I long kind of wished that some bad guy would try to break into Joe's home some day, just so I could read how poorly it had gone for the bad guy. Joe would not have given up, that's for sure, and he probably would have shot first and asked questions later.
Joe was a political conservative from the Old School. He was deeply patriotic, religious as I mentioned before, and believed absolutely in America's ideals and promise.
Now that he is gone, there are sure to be questions raised about how to manage the large land holdings he bequeathed to DCNR. I can say that he was both patient for timber to grow to meet its full potential before harvesting it, and he was hopeful that large amounts of natural gas were under his properties. Joe and I talked at length about the potential for natural gas there. He wanted natural gas royalties so he could get more money to buy more land, which in turn he would conserve for the public. That's a true conservationist right there, not a preservationist. And a capitalist!
Joe supported me in my various political efforts, both as a donor and as an advocate writing letters on my behalf. I would like to think that Joe saw a little bit of himself in the young entrepreneur conservationist I have become.
Hopefully, some of Joe will live on in me, both in my material successes, and in my good deeds and the significant conservation legacy I hope to leave behind some day when I, too, drift off into the long sleep that has claimed our good friend and community leader, Joe Ibberson."