Cowley graduate builds successful career working for National Park Service
Having grown up in Arkansas City and attended Cowley College, Wendy Lauritzen has gone on to carve out a highly decorated career working for the National Park Service.
She was recently selected as Superintendent for Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Cottonwood Falls, Kan. Prior to her new position, she served as Superintendent of Washita Battlefield National Historic Site in Cheyenne, Okla.
In her 29 year Federal career, Lauritzen has served in three land management agencies within the Department of the Interior – the NPS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Bureau of Land Management.
She began her interest in wildlife conservation in the fifth grade after reading Joy Adamson’s book “Born Free.” She then befriended a new student in her fifth grade class who had just come from living in Kenya, and with that pivotal friendship Lauritzen decided she wanted to work with wildlife in Africa.
Having just graduated from Arkansas City High School in May 1975, she was a selected to become part of the Student Conservation Association volunteer program where she worked for the three-week trail crew. It was during this assignment in the Rocky Mountains where her desire for a career in the National Park Service evolved and her love for nature solidified.
Leaving the Rocky Mountain assignment, Lauritzen attended Kansas State University in the fall. After a semester at KSU, she returned to Arkansas City and enrolled at Cowley College.
“Cowley allowed me a chance to get the basics out of the way and decide where I was to go afterwards,” Lauritzen said. “It helped me grow up and get a secure foundation. I never felt lost at Cowley like I did at Kansas State.”
While attending Cowley, Lauritzen began her career as a seasonal Park Ranger at Badlands National Park, S.D. After Cowley, she went on to attend Utah State University and graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in range science.
Her first permanent position came in 1983, as a Park Ranger at Independence National Historical Park, Pa. Lauritzen took a Park Ranger position with the FWS in 1984, before returning to the NPS as a Park Ranger at Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas in 1987. Moves to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, Colo., as Park Ranger, and Great Basin National Park, Nev., as a Range Conservationist, preceded Lauritzen relocating north of the Arctic Circle where she served as Management Assistant for the Northwest Alaska Area in 1993. The Northwest Alaska Area consisted of 3 parks and over 10 million acres of land – Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Noatak National Preserve, and Kobuck Valley National Park. She was named Chief of Education and Visitor Services at Pecos National Historical Park, N.M., in 1997, then completed the 1-year U.S.D.A. Graduate School Executive Leadership Program in August 2001.
Lauritzen served as Superintendent at Washita Battlefield National Historic Site since January 2003, where she oversaw the development and construction of a shared administrative building with the USDA Black Kettle National Grasslands and the park’s visitor center that was completed in August 2007.
During her career, Lauritzen has twice represented the United States and NPS in the international arena. A member of the International Ranger Federation, she was selected as a Congressional delegate for both the 1st International Ranger Federation Conference held in Zakopani, Poland, in 1995, and for the 5th World Congress in 2006 in Stirling, Scotland; both trips were at personal expense rather than using tax-payer dollars.
“I have had an opportunity to meet people from around the world,” Lauritzen said. “We all share a common devotion for preserving and protecting the wildlife, natural and cultural resources for generations to come.”
A commissioned law enforcement ranger for 22 years, she retired her commission in 2000. She also has served as an adjunct Professor at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla.
This is the 16th park Lauritzen has worked for. She is looking forward to being closer to her family as her mother, Lois, and sister, Cindy Perrett, live in Arkansas City as does close family member Phairba Morgan.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, established in 1996, protects a nationally significant example of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Of the 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie that once covered the North American continent, less than 4 percent remains, primarily in the Flint Hills, which run north and south through east-central Kansas.
The opportunity to be a part of the management of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve fulfills a lifetime dream for Lauritzen.
“I used to think wouldn’t it be great to be Superintendent at the Tallgrass Prairie,” Lauritzen said. “At the time it was a pipe dream, but I always kept track at what was going on there.”
In her new position, she works with preservation and conservation, education, community outreach, and overseeing projects.
“The most rewarding part is to watch people learn the history,” Lauritzen said. “Also seeing the resources we are protecting. I want to get the public more aware of what’s here, so many people do not appreciate the grasslands.”
After nearly 30 years in this line of work, Lauritzen is still enjoying it as much as when she first began in the profession.
“Even on my worst day, it’s better than some people’s best day,” Lauritzen said.
She looks back at her time at Cowley and feels fortunate for the time spent at the school.
“Cowley gave a foundation for me to move on to what I aspired to do,” Lauritzen said. “I appreciate the caring nature and the one-on-one instruction I received at Cowley.”