POWNAL -- After three decades spent working to ensure the growth of the Trustees of Reservations, former chair Syd Smithers is the latest recipient of their Life Trustee Award.
Smithers has been involved with the nonprofit -- one of Massachusetts' largest land conservation organizations -- since becoming a member in 1981. He was presented the award during the annual meeting held in Boston.
"My wife and I lived in Windsor, Mass., and our next door neighbor was the Notchview reservation -- a winter cross-country ski facility," said Smithers of how he initially became involved.
"We became interested in who owned the land," he said, of the more than 3,000-acre property which is part of the Hoosac Range, an extension of Vermont's Green Mountains.
A partner at Pittsfield's Cain Hibbard & Myers law firm, and editor of Crocker's Notes on Common Forms, a real estate law treatise, Smithers was elected as a corporate trustee in 1983, and served on the board of directors from 1987 to 2003, when he was elected chair.
Serving for six years in the leadership role, Smithers is most proud of two things: The completion of a capital campaign, which raised more than $90 million in revenue and land value, and the implementation of new by-laws.
"That was the largest accomplishment in terms of ensuring the future of the organization during my tenure," said Smithers, of the Landscapes and Landmarks campaign which added 10 new reservations to the Trustees landholdings.
Of the second notable change made during his affiliation with the nonprofit, Smithers spoke highly of changes he said were made "to ensure the perpetual existence of the organization."
"What's special about our organization is that we're not just preserving the land, we're really making it so that people can enjoy and utilize it also," he said.
An enthusiastic snowshoer and skier, Smithers enjoys family trips to Trustee-held land on the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, as well as Bartholomew's Cobble in Sheffield, Mass., and Bryant Homestead, in Cummington, Mass.
While not surprised to receive the award -- all other prior chairmen have been made life-trustees -- Smithers said he was pleased and grateful all the same. "It was a lot more time and perseverance that it was skill," said the awardee, who often traveled to Boston for meetings, sometimes making several trips in one week.
Of the few who understand the commitment that Smithers invested throughout his time on the board is current Board Chair David Croll, who has served in Smithers' former position since he stepped down in 2009.
"He really made a sacrifice to do this," said Croll. "He wanted to do it, he loved doing it, but I don't think most people realize what it can take."
Of the more than 110 properties added to the Trustees' holdings in and around Massachusetts and northern Connecticut during Smithers' involvement, more than 15 were located in the Berkshires.
"We had not had a board chair from the Berkshires in recent memory," said Croll, noting that in addition to being a "really great guy," Smithers' knowledge of real estate law and conservation practices was essential to their growth.
Funded equally by donations, memberships, and revenue from properties, some of which charge admission or hold special events, TTOR also receives income from a large $130 million endowment.
"Syd was a key player in the impressive, almost-doubling of our holdings in Berkshire County," said Croll, himself a venture capitalist with roots in conservation.
In addition to streamlining and improving the functionality of the governance structure by helping to rewrite the by-laws, Smithers also facilitated the return of historic Native American documents including bibles found at the Mission House in Stockbridge, Mass., to their rightful owners, according to Croll.
"I begged him to stay on [the board] but he felt it was time to go," said Croll, of the man he has known and worked with for more than 15 years. "We were so lucky to have him."
Among Smithers' many other community service-oriented activities, he is a delegate of the Berkshire County Regional Planning Commission and a member of the board of trustees of Hoosac School.
With more than 100,000 current members, TTOR is in the process of re-energizing many of its historic properties to include greater programming and history components, especially for children.
Smithers and his wife Mundi moved to Pownal 10 years ago, and previously donated the 93-acre Smithers Woodland Preserve in Windsor, Mass., to the Trustees in 1993. The couple have two grown children, both of North Adams, Mass., and will celebrate their 45-year wedding anniversary next month.
For more information, visit www.thetrustees.org.
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