A Woman with a Mission: The Unstoppable Barbara Glaser

As co-founding director of Great Camp Sagamore, Barbara helped design the many learning adventures that Road Scholars still enjoy today. 

ABOVE: Great Camp Sagamore

 

 When Barbara Linell Glaser became the co-founding director of Great Camp Sagamore in the Adirondack Mountains of New York at the age of 27, she was fulfilling a dream of starting a living and learning center. With a Doctorate in family and community education, Barbara already had an interest in adult education, but her experience at Sagamore gave her a passion for alternative education — creating educational experiences in unusual environments.

Barbara says that one of the things that she loves the most about Sagamore is that the sky over the Camp is the darkest place in the state of New York. “At Sagamore, we offer a chance to see the night sky, experience silence, the scent of balsam and the call of the loon. Having all four of those things is pretty magical.”

When you cross over the bridge to Sagamore, you enter a place where very special experiences are possible. There it is possible for people to have very meaningful encounters with the natural world and with each other.

 

A Civic Leader

Barbara’s experience at the Camp over the decades ignited in her new passions that would guide her down a path of civic engagement and leadership over the next 40 years.

Barbara worked for decades to preserve Great Camp Sagamore and its sister Camp, Uncas, as National Historic Landmarks for generations of Road Scholars and other visitors to enjoy in the future. This experience ignited her passion for preservation and conservation. “I have a deep affinity to the North,” says Barbara. “I love a land with seasons, wild spaces, fresh water lakes and pine forests, and I want to make sure that such places continue to exist.”

Locally, Barbara has started a company dedicated to preserving historic buildings for adaptive reuse. She won a New York State award for her adaptive reuse of an historic school for use by not-for-profit organizations and young entrepreneurs and rescued a small farm from becoming an overdeveloped subdivision by breaking it up into a few smaller parcels protected for use as small-farm operations, thereby preserving the agricultural landscape. And the Open Space Project that she founded in Saratoga Springs 20 years ago championed the creation of trails and other open spaces for recreational use.

Regionally, Barbara served on the Adirondack Council Board of Directors for 25 years and still serves as the secretary of the Adirondack Land Trust. She describes the park as “a great experiment in how human communities can live within the wilderness in a mutually beneficial way.”

A native of Minnesota, Barbara says she loves the Adirondacks because the region reminds her of home. “It felt like Minnesota with mountains, and I fell in love with the landscape,” she says. “When you’re driving north and you see the sign that says ‘Entering Adirondack Park,’ it just makes my heart sing.”

Today, at the age of 67, Barbara runs the Nordlys Foundation, which funds a variety of conservation, education and community development projects. She serves on the board of Pitney Meadows Community Farm, and convenes a Women’s Global Giving Circle — a group of 30 women who meet four times a year to research and help fund international development programs. Barbara says that the group was inspired by the book: “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn which purports that the most effective thing we can do for global development is invest in women. “We wanted to be a group of women who support women globally. By doing it together, we collectively make a bigger difference.”

Her Proudest Project

One of the projects that Barbara is the most proud of is her role in founding the hospice program in her community. When Barbara was 19, her father died of a brain tumor at a time when there was no hospice care available to him. And when Barbara sees a need in her community, she finds a solution. So she spent the next 40 years working to support the development of hospice services in her region — chairing task forces, chairing the Community Hospice Board of Directors, and helping to establish the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Sahara Africa.

“I’m very glad that the experience of my father’s dying has now culminated in the growth and presence of hospice, not only in my life, but in the communities that I’m a part of,” says Barbara. She is grateful that her mother and stepfather both had meaningful hospice experiences years later.

Her daughter also continues that legacy, as an advisor to a newly formed pediatric hospice in Minnesota.

Lighting the Torches of Others

Barbara says that she gets her leadership qualities from her parents, who were active civic leaders in in Minneapolis Minnesota. “But I’m equally comfortable being a supportive follower,” says Barbara. “That’s important to me, too.”

She has founded countless initiatives and organizations — too many to mention here — but Barbara is never afraid to let others take the lead. “I’m very proud of having helped start organizations that are now vital, strong and independent of me as a founder.”

She finds it very important to support the next generation of leaders. “We are in a very difficult time in this country and in this world, and I think it’s important that we support and create the space and opportunity for next generation leadership to emerge,

She takes great pride in seeing her god daughter and several other young professionals who came to love Great Camp Sagamore as children now grow up and become members of the Board of Directors. “It gives me enormous delight to watch Sagamore become the priority commitment of another generation.”

Her foundation, the Nordlys Foundation — Nordlys means Northern Lights in Norwegian— works to establish paid internships to provide opportunities for the next generation and to inspire their commitment to the Adirondacks, the environment, the hospice, the arts, their communities and the global community.

Barbara shared one of her favorite quotes that really communicates her feelings about empowering new leaders:

At my age … people often ask me if I’m passing the torch. I explain that I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much, and I’m using it to light the torches of others. Because only if each of us has a torch will there be enough light. –Gloria Steinem

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