John Woollam: Acting Quickly with a Big Heart

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Generous League supporter Dr. John A. Woollam has led the charge to protect old-growth forests, and has inspired others to follow his example.

John and Cyndi Woollam (SECOND FROM LEFT AND CENTER), with their grandson Adam Rustermier (LEFT), daughter Cathy Rustermier, and granddaughter Ahna Rustermier
John and Cyndi Woollam (SECOND FROM LEFT AND CENTER), with their grandson Adam Rustermier (LEFT), daughter Cathy Rustermier, and granddaughter Ahna Rustermier

Dr. John A. Woollam has been a generous and steadfast supporter of Save the Redwoods League for over three decades. His gifts in recent years have helped to protect Peters Creek Old-Growth Forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Mailliard Ranch with its Cathedral Grove of old-growth redwoods in Mendocino County. Most recently, he supported Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve (formerly McApin Ranch) in Sonoma County. This reserve is the largest privately owned old-growth redwood forest and home to the oldest coast redwood south of Mendocino.

John was the lead donor for the League’s purchase of the reserve, which was acquired in 2018.

In describing his inspiration to support the acquisition, John explained, “When I heard about the situation with these redwoods, I had to act—and act quickly with a big heart—to save them. Just think what is at stake: We who live only about a century can save hundreds of trees that have lived thousands of years! For dozens of generations into the future, these awesome trees will continue to grow, and be loved by others.”

Not only has John led the charge to save these old-growth properties, he has inspired others to follow his example by pledging to match their contributions dollar for dollar. At times anonymously and at other times more publicly, his matching gifts have helped the League raise millions of dollars over the years. Recently, he made a pledge to the League’s Redwood Land Fund contingent on League donors stepping up to join him with matching gifts. So far, his commitment has leveraged $3 for every $1 he has given!

A research physicist by training, John has made his mark as both an educator and entrepreneur. He is the George Holmes Distinguished Professor at the University of Nebraska, and the founder of J.A. Woollam Co., a high- technology leader in the development of ellipsometry instruments (devices used to analyze material surfaces). His company recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. John is the recipient of the American Physical Society’s Industrial Applications of Physics Prize, and a National Research Council Fellow.

In addition to his work with the League, John and the J.A. Woollam Foundation have been involved with numerous preservation and restoration projects in the Caribbean and in Michigan, where he and his family created the Woollam Family Nature Preserve on the shores of Lake Michigan.

John’s passion for California’s iconic redwoods was sparked by a visit to the West Coast in the 1970s. As he recalled, “I decided to drive the coast from Southern California all the way up to Northern Washington, and when I got to the Avenue of the Giants [in Humboldt Redwoods State Park], I was stunned. I still remember standing under one of those giant redwoods, just marveling at its size, and the sense of tranquility, the silence all around me. It was solitude without loneliness, and it was wonderful, heartwarming. I travel back to California as often as I can, in large part just to repeat that experience, just to walk through the redwoods.”

In an era when we face the loss of biodiversity and natural habitat at an unprecedented rate worldwide, the irrepressible resilience of the redwoods gives us hope.

Save the Redwoods League is grateful to John and the J.A. Woollam Foundation for his partnership, which has resulted in the protection of over 2,000 acres of old-growth forest throughout the redwood range. Together, we are saving this treasured resource for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

About the author

Tim Whalen serves as the Chief Development Officer and has over 20 years of fundraising leadership experience in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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