Helen C. Black, a fierce advocate for the environment, a nature educator, and leader of successful and wide-ranging conservation efforts both in southern Ohio and in Maine, died at her home in Indian Hill at the age of 94. Mrs. Black was pre-deceased by her husband, Judge Robert L. Black, Jr.
Helen Black grew up on Indian Hill. Her interest in nature and the environment stemmed from Mrs. Louis Brand, who was Helen’s teacher from the second-grade to sixth-grade at the Lotspeich School, now a division of Seven Hills School. After graduating from Vassar College, Helen with her husband made their home in Indian Hill, raised three sons, and committed themselves actively to improving parts of Indian Hill, the Cincinnati community, and Adams County, Ohio. Helen was inspired by Dr. E. Lucy Braun, a prominent botanist, ecologist, and expert on the forests of the eastern United States who was a professor of the University of Cincinnati, and with whom Helen explored the edge of the Appalachian Mountains in Adams County, Ohio.
Helen’s life-work was dedicated to understanding and preserving the environment. Helen’s contributions to conservation and environmental education have been numerous. For years, in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, she volunteered as a nature educator at elementary schools in Indian Hill and the Seven Hills School. In 1981, the Garden Club of America presented her with the Margaret Douglas medal for outstanding service to conservation education. Mrs. Black spent years fostering relationships that have lead to extensive protections of green space both in Ohio and in Maine. In 1967, she was founder of the Little Miami Conservancy, which is dedicated to conserving the natural splendor of the Little Miami River – the river that is at the heart of the watershedthat drains a 1700-square-mile area in eleven southwestern Ohio counties. In 1965 Mrs. Black was a founding member of the Cincinnati Nature Center, now the U.S.’s largest member-supported nature center, which serves Cincinnati as a valuable multi-format educational resource for nature-based learning. For 32 years Helen volunteered at the Nature Center in capacities ranging from trustee to teacher, to trail-guide, to fundraiser. In 2012 she received the Nature Center’s Wood Thrush Award for her significant contributions to conservation. Also in 2012, the Nature Center created the “Helen C. Black Conservation Fund,” which raises funds to be used in the pursuit of the Center’s land acquisition and its creation of conservation easements.
In the late 1960’s, Helen was a founding member of the Redbird Hollow Association, which has developed conservation protections for a rail-trail and 54-acre woodland in the village of Indian Hill that is associated with The Nature Conservancy, and in 1983 was designated an Ohio Natural Landmark. Helen is a past president of Ohio Nature Conservancy, and was a board member of the Ohio Environmental Council, receiving its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. In 1978, Helen was admitted to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame for her work in conservation and nature education. In 1983, jointly with her husband, Helen also received Seven Hill School’s Goodall Award for “distinction in bettering the lives of others.” In 1997 the Greater Cincinnati Foundation awarded its Jacob Davis Volunteer Leadership Award jointly to Helen and Judge Black for their contributions towards to the environment and racial diversity.
Outside of Ohio, Helen served from 1977 to 1983 on the national board of the Nature Conservancy. She spearheaded the acquisition of land and conservation easements for public use in the environs of Rockport, Maine, where she was a summer resident all but two summers of her life.
Helen also played a significant role in the merger that created the Cincinnati Museum Center and served on board of the Lloyd Library and Museum. Her political passions included Planned Parenthood, women's rights, and racial equality.
Helen loved to be outside enjoying nature with friends and family. She valued the natural world and was concerned about air pollution and about natural lands being gobbled up by development. “You can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment,” she said. “People need to realize that long-term solutions are more important than short-term economic profit.” She had early concerns with the overuse of chemicals in the environment. “We see many instances of cancer among our age group and even younger, which may well be attributed to the carcinogens in the air, water and food.”
In her home community, Helen was a member in perpetuity of the Indian Hill Green Areas Advisory Committee, the Rowe Arboretum Advisory Committee, the Green Acres Foundation Board of Trustees, and the Indian Hill Church Buildings & Grounds Committee.
Helen is survived by her three sons, their wives and families: William Black and Jackie Potter of Portland, Maine and their sons, Sam Black and his wife, Zohra Ahmed, of Ithaca, New York, and Dan Black, of Portland, Maine; Stephen and Susan Black of Cincinnati, and their children, Christopher Black; Charlie Black,; and Heidi Black and her husband, Jay Kincaid, who have twin daughters, Elizabeth and Helen, in Cincinnati; and Luther Black and his wife, Christina Wright, of Seattle.
A memorial service for Helen Black will be held at 11:30 am on Tuesday, June 12, at the Indian Hill Church. On Monday evening, June 11, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, the family will receive friends at a reception in the Library of the Indian Hill Church.
Helen’s family would like to thank Janet Krefting, Joe Brinson, Kathy Martin, Kristin Lally, Jane Bennett, Tom Allen, Dave Brafford, Debbie Blevins, Elka Burkhardt, Michelle Pare, Christie Smith, Michelle Griffin, Renee Powell, and Hospice of Cincinnati; and in Maine, Sarah Perkins, Ken Cleaves, Rachel Cullerton, and Ron Howard; for their extensive and loving care of Helen.
In lieu of flowers, Helen’s family asks that donations in Helen Black’s name be sent to the Cincinnati Nature Center, or to the Aldermere Farm program of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.