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Citizen of the Week

Rudy Edwards, who recently won a community activist award from the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP, uses the following question to guide his substantial community service: "How can I get this child the best opportunities and link them to something worthwhile?"

Part of the answer means sharing his passion for earth science, as well as wisdom from an experience-rich life, with youth from all over Washington.

The North Bend resident has marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served three years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, traveled around 28 African countries, and fought forest fires all over the western United States. At 18, he and a friend integrated the U.S. Forest Service in his rural Mississippi hometown while working a summer job following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Edwards went on to study biology at Jackson State University, earned a master's degree in soil science from the Tuskegee Institute, and recently retired from a career with the U.S. Forest Service, for which he managed lands from Crystal Mountain to Snoqualmie Pass.

Edwards feels it's his duty to share his life knowledge with youth, and inspire them to success.

"When you become a blessed person with what you have and what you've done, you have to go back and help somebody else."

Edwards teaches students about the various branches of sciences in hopes of turning them on to careers in the field, and pushes them to think about what educational paths they might follow. He also works to develop a respect for the earth in children, and especially enjoys taking urban dwellers out into nature.

"I try to give them that holistic experience. When I have them out in the woods, I'm humming," he said. He points out animals, trees and water systems, and explains how they're all connected to each other and us.

"This is not just some crazy stuff out here. There's a reason for this system, and you need to understand the system. It's more than a recreational thing; it's a life thing."

Edwards' eldest daughter, Natalie, 31, has followed in her father's hiking-boot footsteps; she is a forester for the U.S. Army Corps. His younger daughter, Melanie, 26, used the outdoors skills he taught her as a child to survive and help others during Hurricane Katrina.

Connecting children who "don't even know where an egg comes from" with the natural environment ultimately benefits all of us, he said.

In addition to his hands-on work with children, Edwards has also influenced education through his 18 years on the Snoqualmie Valley School District's board of directors.

Serving as a board director of Washington State School Directors' Association, which represents 297 school districts in the state, enables him to bring a broader perspective to the local school district. As an elected official, Edwards listens carefully to his constituents, many of whom are quite vocal.

"People at church tell me exactly what I'm doing right or wrong," he said, laughing. But he takes his position to heart.

"Being on the school board, representing people's futures and children - that's a real honor. You've got to be serious about representing people."

* Do you know Valley residents who deserve recognition for their good work? Nominate them for Citizen of the Week, an award co-sponsored by the Valley Record and Replicator Graphics. Send your ideas to editor@valleyrecord.com, or call (425) 888-2311.

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