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A Life and Legacy: Au Sable Prepares for Departure of Dave Mahan, Associate Executive Director

Feb 05, 2016

Thirty years. Thirty years of service, influence, leadership and stewardship. Three decades of Au Sable’s history have been indelibly marked, and blessed, by the work of Dr. David C. Mahan, Associate Executive Director of the Institute since 1985.

Inspired by a childhood spent exploring the outdoors of rural mid-Michigan, and blessed with the luck of the Irish through his ethnic background, Dave Mahan received his graduate training in stream ecology, earning an M.S. and Ph.D. in that field from Michigan State University. Prior to coming to Au Sable, Dave served on the faculty of Western Michigan University and as Land Steward for the Michigan Field Office of The Nature Conservancy. His passion for God’s creation, God’s people, and higher education led Dave through the doors of Au Sable in 1985, where he became and has continued to be a source of great blessing and leadership as Au Sable’s Associate Executive Director.

Throughout his years at the Institute, staff, students, and faculty have been blessed by Dave’s presence. Testimonies affirming his invaluable guidance, professional mentorship, and genuine friendship are not hard to find among the hundreds of lives transformed by Dave’s influence.


"I met Dave when he was first hired and I was a Calvin student doing a January term at Au Sable. I remember that his signature trait was the ability to communicate joy in his work - a joy that as I got to know him I learned stems from the personal joy he takes in his outdoor recreation and his commitment to Christian environmental stewardship and to education. As an enthusiastic outdoors person, I wanted that and in that sense Dave was a model to emulate. We reconnected roughly 20 years later when I was asked to teach at Au Sable and the joy that Dave personified was still there despite, as I learned later, some very difficult personal and professional circumstances. Dave so much set the tone for Au Sable as I knew it, a joyful sense of purpose and of service. He has a ready laugh and a dopey but disarming sense of humor and it carries his commitment to students and his commitment to stewardship. He greets me as "brother" when I see him now and I cherish it.”  

 – Dr. Tim Van Deelen, Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison


“Dave has a way of seeing potential in people and places. When I met Dave, I was a sophomore at Bethel University and knew I wanted to do something in the aquatic sciences, but wasn’t sure how to leverage a liberal arts education to do that. Dave and I had numerous conversations about how to get where I wanted to go professionally, and he entrusted me with a research project that would set my trajectory to become the aquatic biologist I am today. I was not the best student, but he saw potential and passion and nurtured that. I think that the same could be said of Dave’s relationship with Au Sable. He has always seen the potential it has and worked to nurture and protect it. My time at Au Sable was extremely formative professionally and personally, due in large part to Dave’s mentorship and friendship.” 

– Nathan Sather former student, Stream Invertebrate Biologist, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

“David Mahan [like George Washington] is a name we will not forget.  Both George and David nurtured organizations through youth and adulthood so that they would be able to carry on successfully.  Fortunately, I have been able to know Dave through these many years.  His friendship has made my life richer.  His leadership and guidance to hundreds of young people is a legacy which is enviable.  Thankfully Dave is still with us [though George we can only read about].  We expect Dave to continue to be available for consultation and periodic visits [while we can only look at George's picture]. Thank you David for being such a large part of so many of our lives.”  

–Dr. Harold Snyder Founder of the Au Sable Institute

Throughout his career at the Au Sable Institute, Dr. Mahan has worn many hats while acting as the Associate Executive Director. Teaching courses, beginning and coordinating the Institute’s Undergraduate Research Program, recruiting students, creating the Sustaining Partners initiative, spearheading development programs, and managing various aspects of the office and staff has filled Dave’s days and years at Au Sable. Published author of many academic papers and co-author of Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship, Dr. Mahan’s influence is deeply embedded throughout the Christian environmental movement.


"Dave's signature strength over these 30 years at Au Sable is his unwavering determination to always do good to and for everyone. I have never known another individual whom I could trust so thoroughly and so constantly in this regard, whose actions and advice were, I knew, always intended to be in my best interest. Dave has done this with everyone, and that is why Au Sable has so many friends in the world today."

-Dr. Fred Van Dyke Executive Director of Au Sable Institute


            Although the Au Sable Institute will dearly miss Dave as he transitions into his retirement, his legacy here leaves the Institute supported and blessed. 

A hearty congratulations to you, Dave, as you begin a new chapter in your life!

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
-Numbers 6:24-26


May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand. 
-traditional Irish blessing