Helen Carner Fenske was an environmental activist, community leader, and state commissioner. Former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean described her as a “warrior” for the environment. The local Recorder Community Newspapers called her “a lioness of the environmental movement.” The New Jersey Conservation Foundation stated that “it’s not exaggerating to say that New Jersey would look vastly different today if not for her legacy.”
A proposed jetport that threatened to transform the Chatham area and destroy the environmentally sensitive Great Swamp galvanized Mrs. Fenske into action. In just three years, she led a successful campaign that preserved the required 3,000 acres to establish New Jersey’s first national wildlife refuge. She influenced the creation of New Jersey’s Green Acres program, its first wetlands preservation law, and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which she served as acting commissioner and assistant commissioner for natural resources. Active in the preservation of Sunfish Pond along the Appalachian Trail and in creating Patriot’s Path and the Hudson River Walkway, she founded the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and played a key role in creating the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, the Great Swamp Watershed Association, the Morris Land Conservancy, and the Crossroads of the American Revolution. She continued to pursue her interests in community service and the environment in New Hampshire. She received many awards, including an honorary degree from Drew University.
The Helen C. Fenske Internship was established at Drew University in 2007 by Arthur G. Fenske P’74, P’78, Susan Fenske McDonough C’78, Mark Fenske, friends and colleagues in memory of Helen C. Fenske. Since 2008 it has been awarded to Drew students pursuing an internship in environmental studies, sustainability, or public policy pertaining to these issues. Past recipients of the internship award have worked at the Morris Land Conservancy aiding in land preservation analysis and policy research and at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation on an interactive map of preserved land.