Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

by Barb Betcher
These words pop into my head whenever I think about Jerome “Joe” Deden. Modest fellow that he is, Joe would no doubt disclaim any connection between the poet’s words and himself, but I disagree. Joe has created a lasting footprint in southeast Minnesota.

Joe is the founder and director of the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, located at Lanesboro, Minnesota. I knew him as a neighbor boy living a half mile up the road from my house. I’ve followed his career for many years.

As a junior leader, Joe presented well-crafted, informative and very interesting demonstrations on his environmental projects to members of the Hay Creek Avalanchers 4-H Club.

He led the Red Wing High School marching band as its drum major, and confidently emceed the school’s annual talent show, the Winger Whirl. Other activities included president of the student council and co-captain of the school football team. During Joe’s 4-H days in high school, college and beyond, he has always been a leader, an achiever and a visionary.

I’ve been impressed by his accomplishments, which is why I nominated him for the Red Wing High School Wall of Honor many years ago.

The citation accompanying his photo on the wall tells of his graduation from high school in 1970, earning an undergraduate degree in forest resource development at the University of Minnesota and a Master’s from St. Mary’s College. Incorporated in 198O, the Southeast Minnesota Resource Center began in Joe’s garage. What a remarkable ten years of hard work!

With Albert Marshall as its first major donor, the resource center was an effort in economic development with an aim of helping landowners manage their woodlands responsibly and profitably. To this end, the shiitake mushroom research program began, with a focus on cultivation of the shiitake as a cash crop. That research carried on over a period of thirteen years and established Eagle Bluff as the foremost research center of its kind. The program educated adults, but Joe also wanted to educate children.

Deden became determined to bring to Minnesota youth the same opportunity he’d seen enjoyed by young people in Germany when he studied and worked there – the chance to learn, value, appreciate and experience the wonders of our natural environment. That was his vision. In making it happen, he was simply being true to his heritage.


Born and raised on a small farm in Hay Creek Township (the second son of Vince and Adeline Deden), Joe is the fourth generation of a family that has had a great appreciation for the surrounding land. Joe’s grandfather, Charles Hayman, wore many hats – farmer, electrician, self-educated naturalist and homespun philosopher. According to an article in the Republican Eagle, Charles knew “the herbs and flowers, acorns and leaves, their botanical names, and had an herbal remedy for every ailment.” At his death, the newspaper ran the headline, “Charles Hayman; he was our own Thoreau.”

Joe Deden’s veneration for the environment is no doubt due in part to his grandfather’s influence. His dream became a reality when philanthropist Betty King provided funding for construction of the John Schroeder building. The Forestry Resource Center became a day-use facility aimed at putting kindergarten through twelfth grade students in touch with Mother Nature. When more funding came from Blanding Foundation, the resource center took on a new name – Eagle Bluff – and expanded into a residential learning center.

Last year, 12,000 school children from the tri-state area visited Eagle Bluff for stays lasting from three to five days. Ten thousand more adults and children took advantage of weekend and summer programs. For many, scholarship money amounting to $100,000 makes these visits possible.

Today, Eagle Bluff offers a variety of classes for both adults and schoolchildren-adult team building, summer camps, raptor training, a confidence-building high-ropes course, food, farm and garden ecotours, sustainable living, outdoor skills and more. Although shiitake mushroom research ended when the facility became residential, one can learn how to grow and use the mushrooms by taking a course called “Fungus Among Us.”

Take a trip to Lanesboro and see for yourself what this farm boy from Hay Creek Township has created. Joe’s plaque on the Wall of Honor at Red Wing High School states it best: “As founder and director of Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, Joe has created a living legacy for people of this state. Through his vision, energy and determination, what began in Joe Deden’s garage is today a world-class residential facility where children and adults can enjoy the true magic and wonder of experiential environmental education.”

That’s a pretty big and lasting footprint!

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