The Nitty-Gritty Stuff

A picture of Shar Barendrecht

The Monday after the Sunday of her graduation party, Shar Barendrecht Te Beest (’86) left for AuSable Institute, in Michigan, a study center where dozens of Dordt students have spent grand summer months listening to morning lectures, then moving out to study land and water in a gorgeous natural setting. AuSable’s mission is “to inspire and educate students to serve, protect, and restore God’s earth.” With Shar Barendrecht Te Beest, AuSable did just that.

While interning there, she determined graduate school really had to be in her future, so she went on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study with UW’s Dr. Cal DeWitt, a much-revered leader among many Reformed environmentalists and at AuSable.

But mapping out her life’s paths in the wake of her grad school acceptance would be like charting the course of an untended dinghy across Madison’s Lake Mendota. For some time, she sailed between differing jobs at the university and with the state, jobs like determining the efficacy of Wisconsin’s dams, working with state-wide wetlands, even writing a wetland guidebook. She mastered a number of environmental jobs that were often funded by grants that, as advertised, eventually ran out of the other green stuff.

More than a few guardian angels—good friends—came along just when funding was about to end. They’d hold up blank applications to suggest this or that position opening. Through it all, she kept accumulating both environmental experience and a solid reputation among her co-workers. When one of them suggested she apply for a state job in waste management, she balked—she hadn’t had a class in organic chemistry, after all. But she took the required exam and got the job that has become home for her for the last 31 years.

Today, Shar Barendrecht Te Beest is the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Materials Specialist. What that title translates into is supervision of and coordination with every other state agency involved in properly managing and disposing of the hazardous waste generated by the state of Wisconsin.

How did she get there? Barendrecht Te Beest was the very first graduate of environmental studies at Dordt, a brand-new program in 1987. She credits her education, saying it was “well-rounded, requiring me to take classes in statistics, public speaking, creative writing, soils, political science and economics that have played as much of a role in my career as field ecology, limnology, entomology and botany.”

But she gives credit where credit is due, to her grandmother, “watching the birds and chipmunks feeding outside the window, walking around the yard and looking for nests, butterflies, and wildflowers.” As a child, she learned by example.

“She taught me the names of the birds and showed me which seeds the birds would eat,” recalls Barendrecht Te Beest. “She answered my questions when I found a star-nosed mole drowned in a roadside ditch during the spring thaw. She introduced me to mysteries that sparked my curiosity and helped me figure out how to find the answers on my own.”

Today, or any workday, she’s likely dealing with a request to review and summarize a joint state Senate/Assembly bill on above-ground storage tanks, and a Department of Natural Resources draft publication on management of contaminated soil during construction. Then again, maybe she’s reviewing a chapter in an agency manual that deals with the design study reports. Later today, she’ll get a call about a construction emergency, an underground storage tank, or contaminated soil where builders didn’t expect it.

For fun, she and her husband, Howard Te Beest (’87) recently headed west to the Genoa National Wildlife Refuge in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where they celebrated their 30th anniversary by tagging a couple hundred fingerling sturgeon.

It’s all nitty-gritty stuff, not necessarily pretty or neat and clean. It may not have been the way she dreamed of her work when she was back at Dordt or even AuSable, but it’s the same work, the same environment, the same creation of the Creator-King.