Jeanne Gural vividly remembers the first time she was outside enjoying nature.
She was carrying a small box filled with worms as a little girl, stopping along the way to dig holes for her squirmy friends.
Throughout her childhood, Gural always bonded with animals. She rescued and adopted dogs, and started her own dog walk and pet-sitting business after high school.
It seemed as if a career in wildlife conservation was calling to her.
“I honestly thought I was born to work outside and in nature,” Gural said.
Today, the view from Gural’s office in the Nature Center of Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge on Sawmill Road is one of peace and serenity; trees, lakes and dirt trails extend as far as the eye can see. Gural has served as executive director there for nine years.
Her work at the wildlife refuge, as well as other nonprofits in the area, earned Gural recognition as Environmental Advocate of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners of South Jersey. She will be honored at the organization’s Beyond the Glass Ceiling Awards Gala Fundraiser at The Merion in Cinnaminson on Feb. 15.
“I’m very thankful,” Gural, of Medford Lakes, said of the award. “I always tried to be a voice for wildlife and environmental education, and habitat and wildlife conservation.”
After graduating from Pitzer College in California, the Palmyra native worked on wildlife and habitat-focused projects in areas like Venezuela, Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Panama. She also worked for the U.S. Forest Service, served as Ecological Restoration Program Manager for Rutgers University, and as director of preserves for The Nature Conservancy.
She intended to go to graduate school after her trips abroad, but her plans were put on hold after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma at age 42.
“One of the great ironies of my life was that my cancer was environmental in nature,” Gural said.
It took eight months of chemotherapy and another year of recovery, but Gural is now ten years cured. She still dreams of earning her doctorate in wildlife ecology someday.
But in the meantime, Gural has her hands full at the Wildlife Refuge, which cares for injured animals, houses resident wildlife, hosts birthday parties and community events and offers environmental education programs.
One of her primary goals is making science accessible for children, especially young girls.
“Natural science is around us every day. It’s a shared community resource,” Gural said. “Living and working locally can have a global impact.”