Olivia Irvine Dodge founded the Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul to preserve the natural landscape she cherished and provide an opportunity for people to learn about the environment.
A new facility at the nature center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, ensures that visitors also have an opportunity to learn about her.
The Olivia Irvine Dodge Library and History Center opens its doors to the public Oct. 12. The education center for adults in a renovated farm house on the nature center property off Charlton Street will give people a glimpse of Dodge Nature Center’s history and Olivia Irvine Dodge’s life.
It’s a fitting spot, Tom Dodge said, to preserve his mother’s legacy.
“It was a place of great memories for my mother. She loved the farm site,” he said. “But we came up with a library and a history center because those are words that describe her perfectly.”
Olivia Irvine Dodge, a philanthropist and environmentalist, died in 2009. Dodge and her sister donated their family home on Summit Avenue to the state in 1965. It is now the governor’s residence.
She established the Thomas Irvine Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul two years later. The 460-acre private nonprofit environmental organization has walking trails, hosts community events and offers programs for children, including a preschool focused on environmental education.
It draws more than 1 million visitors annually, said Tom Dodge, a Delta pilot and a nature center board member.
“This is a place that stayed true to my mother’s vision and mission statement,” he said.
The new facility will complement the nature center’s work with children, giving adults a place to learn and relax on the grounds.
The library offers books — many of them about nature — from Olivia Irvine Dodge’s private collection and volumes donated by family and friends, plus newsletters and DVDs about the nature center’s history.
Dave Napier, the buildings and grounds director at Dodge Nature Center and a West St. Paul City Council member, said people feared the rich history would be lost. “Staff have pieced all of the archives to show how the Dodge Nature Center has evolved,” Napier said. “It will not be lost. It’s there forever.”
There’s a classroom for adult education programs, equipped with 30 iPads and large garage doors that give it an outdoor feel. Other amenities include a conference room that can be rented for meetings, a patio with a stage and an outdoor movie screen.
West St. Paul Mayor Jenny Halverson said the nature center is a treasured space.
“We are honored to have the newly renovated Olivia Irvine Dodge Library and History Center call West St. Paul home,” Halverson said.