One of a Kind
Blackacre Conservancy Executive Director Dale Josey Looks Back On a Unique Career
Writer / Tyrel Kessinger
Since 2013 Dale Josey, Executive Director for the Blackacre State Nature Preserve, has run his command from a mostly austere, yet remarkably cozy office alcove attached to the original one-room house of the family that lived on the land in the mid-18th century. A multitude of windows supply him with a view of the surrounding land, a constant vista of the beautiful preserve he’s responsible for overseeing. Several framed magazine interviews and articles about the man hanging from the walls, a testament to his success and accomplishments. It’s clear that being the executive director at Blackacre is a large feather in Josey’s cap, but it’s certainly far from his only one.
Josey was born in North Carolina but grew up in Schenectady, New York, a place, Josey says, that shares topographical similarities with Kentucky, known for its dairy industry and a tremendous amount of snow. From there, he went on to the University of Michigan to study law.
“That was a great experience,” Josey says. “The thing I discovered when I was there was that they were teaching the ‘essence’ of law. They were teaching you how to be proficient as an advocate. But they weren’t teaching you at that time how to market your practice. So, rather than getting a degree and practicing law, I went a different way. The idea, by divine inspiration, I submit, came to me: how do you market a lawyer? Nobody was teaching that, no one knew how to do that. So that, eventually, launched me on a 15-year career.”
Although there were dues to pay first. Not long after college, he found himself with a wife and young daughter and in need of a job.
“I had a family to feed,” he says. “So I go into this retail store one day and find the manager and ask him for a job. I started my spiel: University of Michigan graduate, top of my class, I can do this, I can do that. He says, ‘come here, I want to show you something. You see these windows over here? What you need to do is get a bucket and a squeegee and then you just wipe it clean.’ I said, ok, maybe you didn’t hear me. I’m coming out of one of the premier universities of the world. Gerald Ford, the president of the United States, was one my lecturers and I actually engaged with him in one of my classes. ‘Ok,’ he says and he looks at me. ‘So you take this squeegee, you take this sponge…’ He didn’t care!’”
Fortunately, not long after Josey’s adventures in window cleaning began he realized he needed to do some good old-fashioned soul-searching.
“I was mad at myself, mad at the world. I had to get it together,” he says. He asked himself what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go. Television was the answer and he soon found himself outside a Lexington KET station, clueless as to his next step but brave enough to take the leap anyway.
“I walked into the studio and I said to the guy, ‘hey, I want to work here,’” he recalls. “I couldn’t lie though. I had no experience.”
Via a merciless tenacity, Josey secured an opportunity to demonstrate his skills with a studio camera, ultimately saved by the proverbial bell when the interviewer was called away.
“I had a minute and a half with that camera, and I prayed to God to show me how to use this thing.” He laughs, warmly reliving the skin of his teeth gamble. “I looked at the buttons and figured it can’t be too hard. I got this.” The quick-thinking Josey passed the station manager’s interview, landed the gig, and started that very night. His foot was now firmly in the door, exactly where he’d planned for it to be.
After eight years at KET, Josey migrated jobs once again, this time utilizing his marketing skills at a Louisville law firm. It was there that he met and befriended, David Tandy, a 4th District Metro Councilman and man who would set Josey on his path Blackacre.
“Have you ever had any buddies in your life that say things like: ‘one day we’re gonna scale the Great Wall of China, do you wanna do it?’” Joey says, grinning. “You say sure because it’s never gonna happen. Sure, because it’s your buddy. So, two, three years later [after meeting Tandy], there’s a knock on my door and it’s David. He says: ‘Dale, today’s the day.’ For what, I asked him. He said: ‘I’m going to run for mayor and you said you’d be with me three years ago.’ And I’m thinking, ‘yeah, I said that but are you really going to do it?’”
After talking to his wife and praying about it, Josey did indeed decide to follow through on his earlier, if somewhat nebulous promise, to join Tandy’s mayoral campaign team. And even though Tandy lost to Greg Fischer, Josey has zero regrets about sticking to his word. “It was the best, most intense 18 months of my life,” he says.
“But in politics, you come in second, you’re unemployed,” Josey says of this first-hand, hard-earned knowledge. “On Monday, before election night, people were saying ‘Dale, you’re a great guy, I’d love to have you come work for me if this doesn’t work out. I want a guy like you.’ And, I believed them. But we lost. So on Wednesday, I called. It was like crickets. No one was talking to me. I was pushed back and absolutely about to fall, but it’s that fundamental belief in your god, in your destiny, belief in yourself. You push back and apply yourself. You don’t give up.
Which brings us to the present, back to the cozy alcove of his office. Josey came to his executive director role after years of topsy-turvy management at Blackacre, a position he admits can be quite tricky to maneuver through with the regulatory restrictions attached to the management and upkeep of a state-run facility. Still, things needed fixing.
“One day, at a board meeting, someone said, ‘we need someone who can fix this. We need a Dale Josey. He’s a fixer,’” Josey says.
The remark still tickles him.
“So I asked the board: what’s a Dale Josey? Because, apparently, in the industrial classification of jobs there’s plumbers, electricians, carpenters and Dale Josey.”
The wind of change Josey has brought to Blackacre for the past five years has been quite impressive. Numbers are up across the board in visitors, events and fundraising thanks to his savvy marketing strategies. To name just some of Josey’s endeavors at Blackacre there’s the new butterfly garden and greenhouse. He began a writer in residency program in partnership with Sarabande Books, secured filming for several national television shows and four major films (one with Jon Voight). He started a summer camp program, founded Country Christmas and opened the preserve’s doors to the very lucrative business of the wedding industry. It’s all a much-needed breath of fresh air for Blackacre.
While some have expressed concern over the past few years that Josey’s management style has possibly put some negative environmental pressure on Blackacre, Josey vehemently disagrees, his optimistic pragmatism rivaled only by his love for conservationism and environmentalism.
“I am a passionate environmentalist and conservationist,” he says. “I understand trees have to be taken down but I’m the kind of guy if you take down one tree you plant two trees back. Teddy Roosevelt said, ‘plant a tree today so someone else can enjoy the shade tomorrow.’And I adhere to that, I believe that.”