NANCY SATHER Staff and Trustee

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Biography – Staff/Personnel
Nancy Sather, Staff and Trustee

NANCY SATHER, Community School Teacher 1966 – 1969
EE Teacher 1969 – 1970s
Board Member 1974 – 2002

TAGS: Nancy Sather, PMSS teacher, PMSS board member, Environmental Education, Hindman Settlement School, vocational education, Mary Rogers, botanists, ecology, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage Program and Biological Survey, teachers of natural sciences

Environmental education class – St. Francis School

Nancy Sather was instrumental in establishing and promoting the School’s Environmental Education (EE) program at Pine Mountain Settlement School. She also served as a Community School teacher, an EE teacher and a PMSS Board Member.

NANCY SATHER: Her Education

Ms. Sather was born in 1943 and grew up in Fosston, Minnesota, where she attended Fosston High School. In 1965, she graduated from Beloit (Wisconsin) College with majors in biology and philosophy.

Her desire to broaden her knowledge and skills continued as she immersed herself in a variety of subjects throughout her life. She studied elementary education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, then majored in paleoecology, plant community ecology and limnology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She also attended the Creative Writing Program at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and studied weaving and printmaking at the Penland (North Carolina) School of Crafts.

NANCY SATHER: At Pine Mountain

In February 1966, soon after her graduation from Beloit University, Ms. Sather first came to Pine Mountain Settlement School as a Hindman Settlement School staff member sent to shadow Milly Mahoney’s Little School, an educational program for pre-school children. Subsequently, she served as a third and fourth-grade teacher for three years in the Harlan County public schools during the Pine Mountain community school era. 

With a new Harlan County consolidated elementary school ten miles away, Pine Mountain Settlement School had found it necessary to change from a community school to a new educational program. In the spring of 1969, Sayers joined the Pine Mountain Settlement School staff, working with Mary Rogers, a self-taught expert in ecology, to promote and develop the Environmental Education (EE) program. The first EE activities were held during a Community School celebration of the first Earth Day in April 1970. 

Nancy Sather taught in that program from spring 1969 through the following school year of 1969-1970. She returned as an intermittent summer volunteer EE staff member for at least two summers and a January Term team teacher for two years. 

The PMSS Educational Education program continues its essential work to this day, inspiring the area’s young people and adults to fully recognize the value and beauty of their surroundings.

It was in the EE Program that Nancy found her true calling at the School, work that reflected her love of the natural environment. In her 1993 article titled “Environmental Education Program Comes of Age,” published in the Spring 1993 issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, she wrote:

1993 is the 21st year of Pine Mountain’s Environmental Education program! Like the Boarding School of the 30’s and 40’s, the EE program is founded on the educational philosophy of student experiential involvement. From its conception as a vision at the time of the first Earth Day through its infancy in 1972 concurrent with the last days of the Community School to its maturity today, this program has never ascribed to any of the canned curricula available for adoption.

The Pine Mountain program reflects the perspective and indeed the life of its founder, Mary Rogers. To this program Mary has brought her worldwide perspective, her sense of the importance of history and place, her respect for the natural order of the Creation.

… Pine Mountain, and especially Mary Rogers, has touched me to my very core, has deepened my sense of wonder about the natural world, and has caused me to daily evaluate my stewardship of the earth.

I first went to Pine Mountain as an intern 17 years ago. My memories remain vivid and strong, they haven’t faded into the distance as other memories seem to. I never could seem to find the detail, wealth and wonder in a rock, a seed, or a flower that Mary can see and illuminate so beautifully with her reverent descriptions and exclamations! No other place or experience in my life has affected me as deeply and profoundly as Pine Mountain.

In the spirit of Pine Mountain,
Nancy Sather

Spring 1993 issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, page 2. [PMSS_notes_1993_apr_0021.jpg]

An April 1976 issue of Notes reported on the volunteer work that Nancy performed in the interest of furthering the cause of the EE Program:

“The January term, which ran for three and a half weeks, had a different topic. It attracted students from many states, many disciplines. Again a generous Board member, Nancy Sather, gave her time to work out details of curriculum and carry a considerable share of the teaching load. Its topic was background for environmental education. It was accredited by Berea College, yet all agreed that what they had learned ‘in love for the land and each other and in deeper understanding’ far outweighed any letter grade.”

Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, April 1976, page 4. [PMSS_notes_1976_apr_041.jpg]

In 1974, Sayers was elected to the Board of Trustees to complete Rebecca Caudill Ayars’ term. She remained on the board until Nancy Adams began as director in January 2002. Sayers left the board after Adams’ first board meeting because she “had confidence the Board and School were in good hands…[and] because the demands of 2 jobs and cost of a kid in college contributed to my decision to leave early.”  

NANCY SATHER: After Pine Mountain

In 1984, Nancy Sather began work as a botanist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Heritage Program and Biological Survey. The DNR is a government organization that works with citizens to conserve and manage Minnesota’s natural resources in such a way that outdoor recreation and commercial uses allow for a sustainable quality of life. She left DNR in 2016 after 32 years with the organization.

During part of her time with DNR, from 2001 until 2013, Nancy Sather was also teaching natural sciences as a member of the Community Faculty at the Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

During her retirement, Nancy has continued her interest in and commitment to sharing her joy of nature with others. Always on the lookout for nature-inspired projects, her recent correspondence to the School called for help in locating “gum balls.” Not the gumballs one finds packaged for the sweet-tooth of Halloween but a more beautiful gum ball … found in nature and crafted to catch the eye of wreath-makers and nature-lovers.

If you have access to the beautiful ball-shaped fruits from sweet gum trees that are still rather fresh-looking, could someone please send me a box of them? ...They don’t grow here and I can never have too many as I use them in my holiday wreaths. But the driving need for them is so 5-year-old E…. and her 2 socially distanced friends can use them to make animals for tree seed critter zoos … and if you happen to have anything else that suggests being part of animals we can always use things like spicebush berries or buckeyes. I had a great crop of buckeyes last Friday, went out on the prairie to do some rare plant surveys and discovered yesterday that the squirrels harvested all but two buckeye balls over the weekend! (I have a good stash of pine and spruce cones, maple and basswood fruits for ears and wings and milkweed fuzz for tails). I’m happy to reimburse postage costs.  

Nancy Sather, personal correspondence

Nancy Putnam Sather married Karl Peder Knutsen on December 16, 1978, in Hennepin, Minnesota. They had two children, Peder Gabriel Allen Lewis Sather-Knutsen and Afton Clarke-Sather (who was named after Pine Mountain EE teacher Afton Garrison.)


Nancy Sather

Alt. Title

Mrs. Nancy Sather ; Nancy Putnam Sather ;



Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Nancy Sather ; Mrs. Nancy Sather ; Nancy Putnam Sather ; EE Staff ; PMSS teacher ; PMSS board member ; Environmental Education ; Hindman Settlement School ; vocational education ; Mary Rogers ; botanists ; ecology ; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ; Natural Heritage Program and Biological Survey ; teacher of natural sciences ;

Subject LCSH

Sather, Nancy, — 1943 – 
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.


2020-05-14 AAE


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet.


Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Biography – Staff’/Personnel

Coverage Temporal

1943 – 

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Beloit, WI ; Knoxville, TN ; Minneapolis, MN ; St. Paul, MN ; Penland, NC ; Berea, KY ; 


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Nancy Sather ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Nancy Sather ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2020-09-00 aae; 2020-09-22 hhw;



“Minnesota Marriage Index, 1958-2001,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 May 2020), Karl P Knutsen and Nancy P Sather, 16 Dec 1978; from “Minnesota, Marriage Collection, 1958-2001,” citing Hennepin, Minnesota, United States, State File number, Minnesota Center for Health Statistics, Office of the State Registrar, St. Paul. Internet resource.

“Minnesota Birth Index, 1935-2002,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 May 2020), Nancy Putnam Sather in entry for Peder Gabriel Allen Lewis Sather-Knutsen, 31 Dec 1979; from “Minnesota Birth Index, 1935-2002,” citing Hennepin, Minnesota, United States, Minnesota Department of Health, Minneapolis. Internet resource.

“Nancy Sather” and “Sather, Nancy.”Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

Selected Bibliography

Sather, Nancy. “Appalachian Heritage: A Celebration of the Vernacular.” Article in Appalachian Heritage 27(4):7-8 · January 1999. Internet resource.

Sather, Nancy. “Commercial Harvest of Native Plants Consideration for Biodiversity Conservation.” Presentation n at the workshop Nontimber Forest Products and Implications for Forest Managers in Cloquet, MN, September 13, 2000. Internet resource.

Sather, Nancy. “Naming the Plants.” Article in Appalachian Heritage 27(3):71-71, January 1999. Internet resource.

Return to BIOGRAPHY – A-Z
See Also ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION (EE) Guide 1972 – present