The Legacy of Local Environmentalist Bruce Hannon

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“The rivers are the place where nature still exists.” – Bruce Hannon, 2017 interview for Prairie Rivers Network’s 50th Anniversary.

Bruce Hannon, the founder of Prairie Rivers Network (PRN), passed away on Sunday, February 18, 2024. Bruce’s accomplishments are too numerous to recount in full, but among other things he was a distinguished professor emeritus of geography; an environmental visionary; a community leader; an expert clocksmith; a beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather; and a deeply kind and generous man who never stopped working to make this place better for all who live here.

Bruce dedicated his life to fostering environmental consciousness and protecting Illinois’s natural treasures, including Allerton Park and the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. His passion for advocacy led him to found multiple organizations, including the Committee on Allerton Park (which later became Prairie Rivers Network) and The Land Conservation Foundation. Through his tireless efforts he nurtured a sense of place among the community, instilling in new generations the great responsibility of environmental stewardship. All of us who spend time in and appreciate Illinois’s rivers, woods, prairies, and natural landscapes owe a great debt to Bruce and his wife, Patricia, who passed on in 2022.

Bruce’s legacy is one of enduring inspiration. His teachings, values, and the organizations he founded will continue to guide those who take up his mantle and work at building a society and culture that respects and coexists with the natural world. As we mourn his passing, let us also celebrate a life well lived, that left an indelible mark on the landscape and hearts of those who were fortunate enough to learn from and stand alongside this remarkable man.

Bruce Hannon

In that spirit of celebration, here are excerpts from two remembrances of Bruce written by members of the PRN community.

The moment of decision came one night while standing in the shower. I asked myself, “How did I ever get mixed up with this Hannon guy?” . . . I had spoken truth to power, and power barked back. Bruce said it’s OK. I was about to get married and planning to have children. I thought of the quotation that Bruce put on the letterhead of his Committee on Allerton Park: “This generation will decide if something untrammeled and free remains as testimony for those who follow.” The decision was made—standing in the shower. There was no turning back, no regrets.

Clark Bullard


My bur oak spouts grew from acorns shed by trees around the Harding Band Building, or so Bruce Hannon told me. He collected them, tended them in UI greenhouses over the first winter, and then put them up for adoption (as he termed it) by the hundred. Bruce asked recipients to keep him informed of the progress of his bountiful Quercus progeny. I hope many did so. My communications were regrettably few, mostly reports on three early trees that now reach the canopy. I wish I had given Bruce a fuller accounting. He deserved to know what he was leaving behind.

Eric Freyfogle

The full remembrances can be read at the Prairie Rivers Network website.

Robert Hirschfeld was found in a basket among the bulrushes of Boneyard Creek. He serves as Director of Water Policy at Prairie Rivers Network. He holds a JD from the University of Illinois College of Law and a BA in Religion and Asian Studies from the University of Puget Sound. He played in the local band Common Loon. Maybe still does. He is beloved by sandwich tycoons and the corn aristocracy.

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