Robert and Eileen Straub pose or a photo on their property with their dog.

TRI-LAKES – “I remember whispering to him, ‘Don’t worry, your trees will be protected forever, dad.’”

Those were among the last words that Kim Owen said to her father Robert C. Straub, of Columbia City, before he passed away in December 2015. Straub owned an 88-acre plot of former farmland on the east side of Round Lake, part of the Tri-Lakes, that will now be forever preserved as a woods and nature area, permanently protected from development through the nonprofit company Wood Land Lakes.

“My father had always been a very conservation minded person whose desire was to return the farmland back to nature,” Owen said.

The plot of land had been in their family for several generations.

“My father bought the farm in the mid 1930’s, I roamed it since then” Straub wrote in a note before he died. “I inherited it in 1980.”

As a child, Straub fell in love with the land.

“He came every summer to the farm and helped the hired hand,” Owen said. “Spent a lot of time hunting arrow heads.”

Straub planted many new trees on the property in 1996, and spent most of the remainder of his life protecting and nurturing them. Even up to his death, he accepted his charge.

“The night before I took him to the hospital for the last time, he took his utility trail vehicle through the woods and checked all the trees,” Owen said. “He felt like he was given this land as an opportunity to return it to nature and make it a home for the wildlife and the flowers.”

When her father voiced his desire to preserve the land forever, he and Owen began investigating how to make it happen. They ended up settling upon Wood Land Lakes.

“Wood Land Lakes seemed to offer him the best opportunity to not only protect the land from development but for the family to retain ownership of the property with the deed reading that certain areas were protected,” she said.

On top of that, “they seemed to understand his passion to protect it.”

It became apparent that Straub’s time was coming to an end, so Owen worked closely with Wood Land Lakes to get the paperwork compelted as fast as possible. Through their diligent work, she was able to ensure him before he died that the process would go through.

“He was unable to sign the actual documents, but his signature is on all the land through the beautiful property and beautiful trees,” she said.

During his life, Straub and his wife Eileen enjoyed the property.

“In the spring when the flowers would come out, he would always bring my mother a bouquet,” Owen said. “They would take trail rides and admire whatever was growing out there at the time.”

According to their website, Wood Land Lakes was “established in 1994 to address natural resource needs in DeKalb, Elkhart, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben and Whitley Counties in northeast Indiana… Our passion is working with owners of operating farms to create conservation easments which will preserve their farmland, while allowing the landowner to maintain a profitable farming operation in an ever-changing agriculture industry.”

A Celebration of Life Service will be held for Robert and Eileen Straub on July 2, 2017 beginning at 2 PM at 5654 N 350 E Columbia City. Service is at the Straub Farm located on the East Shore of Round Lake. Following will be a time of sharing memories and stories. A picnic style meal will follow.