An unexpected bequest from Robert E. Pence of Fort Wayne will enable the ACRES Land Trust to maintain its 5,700 acres forever.

The organization’s executive director, Jason Kissel,  announced the news in a statement Wednesday.

Pence was a native of Wells County and a 1957 graduate of Bluffton High School. He died Dec. 8, 2012, at the age of 73.

“In talking with his friends and family, we discovered his love of nature came from growing up in a rural community,” ACRES Community Outreach Manager Lettie Haver said Wednesday.

“Mr. Pence’s unrestricted $1 million gift allows ACRES to reach a milestone level of financial sustainability  — an endowment exceeding $3 million,” Kissel said in his statement. “This provides the financial stability necessary for ACRES to preserve land forever.”

After serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1962 to 1966, he was a toolmaker for General Electric in Fort Wayne for 21 years. He was also a computer technician for Lincoln Life, retiring after seven years.

An avid photographer, his photographs of the restored interior rotunda and murals of the 1902 Allen County Courthouse, a National Historic Landmark, won the 2005 Indiana Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Month Photo Contest.

He was a longtime resident of Fort Wayne’s historic West Central neighborhood. According to the news release from ACRES, he had a great passion for urban photography and also enjoyed collecting antique J.I. Case tractors. Pence also enjoyed gardening, bicycling, hiking, canoeing and just being outdoors.

“His bequest to ACRES is brilliant. A perfect fit,” said Jon Allmandinger, a West Central neighbor, who remembers Pence as genuinely caring about community development and preserving land.

“Bob was a country boy transplanted to the city,” Allmandinger said. “We hiked the woodlot on his family farm and he pointed out Dutchman’s breeches and the trillium. He valued and respected the land as a steward of agriculture as well as having an innate curiosity and appreciation for nature.”

Angie O’Neill, an ACRES board member, remembers talking about the nonprofit with her West Central neighbor.

“He was an avid bicyclist back before it was in style, and he would bike to work. He was kind and quiet, and we watched over each other’s houses when we were gone,”she shared.

Haver told the News-Banner that since the gift was unrestricted, the organization could have used it in any manner it chose.

“We could have purchased some equipment, added staff or purchased new property,” she said. “But that would be short term; we wanted to use this for the long term.”

“ACRES needs to continue to build its endowment to keep pace with the growth of our nature preserves,” said Kissel. “Our ambitious strategic plan for 7,500 acres protected by 2017 will continue a legacy of acquiring new preserves, managing the properties, raising funds, providing trails and sharing our story — forever.”

ACRES maintains two preserves in Wells County — the Anna Brand Hammer Nature Preserve, on Wells County Road 800N, just west of Meridian Road, and Acres Along the Wabash, on Ind. 116 just northwest of Murray.

ACRES Land Trust is dedicated to preserving significant natural areas in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. The preserves feature natural areas for hiking, photography, free and low-cost educational events, scientific and cultural study, concerts and adventure.
© 2020 Bluffton News-Banner