He understood it as the title of a pamphlet – not a summary of his life’s work – but John Kiseda nailed the two when he called the San Carlos Bay Bunche Beach Reserve “as green. as possible”.
Family, friends and co-workers are still grappling with Kiseda’s death in December 2018 and will come together to share hugs and memories on March 20 at Lee County’s Manatee Park, which he helped create. For nearly a quarter of a century, 66-year-old Kiseda worked for the county’s parks and recreation department, making her green vision a reality, until her retirement in 2014 as the sustainability program coordinator and education.
Unmatched force for environmental education in Florida and around the world, Kiseda’s passion lives on throughout the county, in the wild places he loved to share. This sharing has always been done with meticulous integrity, which was sacred to Kiseda, founder of the nonprofit Society for Ethical Ecotourism.
Southwest Florida is full of initiatives he helped champion: fertilizer laws, increased recycling, and accessible green spaces. He has used his soft voice charm and laser focus to enlighten everyone from kindergartens and condominium associations to big developers on the wisdom of environmental stewardship.
Kiseda grew up in Detroit. “He was a city boy – not at all country-style,” said Larry Decker. “I think he got the virus at school when he decided he wanted to study outdoor education.”
The two, who had been in a relationship for 26 years, tied the knot in 2015, as soon as same-sex marriage became legal. “He wanted to do it before someone changed their mind… we thought they would take the right away from us again.”
A keeper of the land in the truest sense of the word, Kiseda was famous for keeping his word – from watering his native plant seedlings with homemade earthworm tea to avoiding animal products. .
“He’s been a vegetarian for 47 years,” Decker said. “He loved animals so much that he didn’t eat them. And he didn’t even wear a leather belt, leather wallet, or leather shoes. He was into it.”
Kiseda’s passion was as contagious as her laughter.
“It was never just a little bit with him. Once he backed something up he was 100%,” Decker said. “He wanted everything to be better… he touched a lot of lives.”
Kiseda has reveled in the planet-centric get-togethers he has organized over the decades. Usually there was music, a speaker and food, and those who attended left nourished in body and soul.
Potlatch is the term that the indigenous people of the northwest coast of this continent use for such gift-giving parties, but it might as well characterize Kiseda’s lifelong efforts.
Here’s what those who knew him had to say about the gifts John Kiseda gave to others and to the planet:
“John came to Lee County just when we needed someone to make us aware of the importance of our unique and vibrant environment in Southwest Florida and how to protect it. and to walk lightly on the Earth… He always presented programs which he created with enthusiasm. and funny. It made you fall in love with the material John was teaching.
“I had the pleasure of not only having the excitement of working with a wonderfully passionate man, but he was also a gracious, fun and generous friend… John made me a better person because he shared his talents and ambitious goals that made me work a little harder and more diligently than I would have done without him.
“’A Time Gone By’ was John’s idea to create a historical timeline for the Lee County coast. The timeline included the Calusa, Spanish, European, and Punta Rassa settlers starting in 1521 with Ponce De Leon bringing cattle to the famous port and ending in 1982 with the Summerlin-Towels house blown to the ground. This program has been presented to the public and volunteers over the years and explained how many of our parks have been named. For me, this project has been one of the best times I’ve had with John. It made me so excited to learn about our region. We visited libraries, talked to locals, and saw sites where this story took place. You couldn’t help but catch his thrill and excitement to find out what the next discovery might be. John is passionate about planet Earth who will be sorely missed by his passion and knowledge. “
– Terry Cain, 2020 Lee County Conservation Land Coordinator
“John Kiseda (was) one of the best people to have graced Lee County and whose work was often overlooked and unrecognized. Personally, I am stunned and heartbroken.”
– Cindy Bear, Programs and Services Coordinator, Randell Research Center at Pineland
“We have been colleagues for over 20 years … A true educator, he created the interpretive guide training programs that still exist (at Manatee Park and Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve). great job of creating authentic and educational experiences for our visitors, of course fulfilling its goal of interactive outdoor classrooms.
John was instrumental in the development of the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism as one of its founding members 20 years ago. He led a talented team that developed the first certification program for eco – travelers to Florida. As a longtime environmental educator, he has traveled the state sharing our mission and raising awareness of the principles of ecotourism. We are very proud of what FL SEE has become and are very grateful for the John’s passion and leadership, for he was truly the driving force behind it. We will continue to work hard on making the FL SEE mission in memory of John a reality. “
– Nancy MacPhee, Lee County Visitor and Convention Center and Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism
Celebration of life
A memorial rally for John Kiseda is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 20 at Manatee Park, 10901 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers.