About Us

The Oaken Acres’ Board of Directors and I feel it is very important that there be one place solely devoted to wildlife. That place has been Oaken Acres for the past 30 years. That place will continue to be Oaken Acres.

Since 1984, Oaken Acres has cared for almost 12,000 wild animals. Whether injured or orphaned, every one of them has received the best care we can provide. We intend to rehab an outbuilding on our farm into a more complete treatment center. We’ll need lots of building supplies and equipment to improve our facility and our release rates.

Please make a donation to our project today (here).

Thank you, Kathy Stelford

About Us     { Board }


Founder and President

Kathy moved from the suburbs of Chicago and founded Oaken Acres Wildlife Center in 1984. Since then she has cared for over 11,000 injured or orphaned wild animals on her 33-acre farm in rural Sycamore, Illinois. In 1999, she became the founding president of TAILS Humane Society in DeKalb. She is longstanding member of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, retired from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at Northern Illinois University after serving for 18 years, and has served on numerous not-for-profit boards in DeKalb County.

Stelford spends part of her year in Iowa since her husband’s employer John Deere transferred him there in 2009. She is serving on the Steering Committee for the Iowa Wildlife Center in northern Iowa, a grassroots organization raising money to build a multi-million dollar facility for wildlife.

She lives at Oaken Acres during “baby season” with her extremely patient (and commuting) husband Mark, three mutts Buddy, Tanzi and Misty, two stray cats Shemp and Cali, and a host of wildlife that varies by the day.

Vice President and Treasurer

Upon meeting my future wife Kathy in 1999, I started volunteering at Oaken Acres. Kathy and I met while she was the naturalist at Russell Woods Forest Preserve and I was a summer intern, helping with the children’s summer camp environmental education program. My work at Oaken Acres centered mostly around cage building and repair and stewardship of the wildlife habitat on the farm.

I earned a BS in Geography, an MS in Geography, and a PhD in Geology from Northern Illinois University. From 1999-2003 I was an Associate Director of the DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation District. My volunteer efforts for animals, in addition to Oaken Acres and TAILS Humane Society, have found me on the Building Committee for the Iowa Wildlife Center in north central Iowa.

Since 2013 I have been the General Manager of Premier Crop Systems out of Des Moines, Iowa, focusing on data analysis to increase crop yield. I live with Kathy and the same cadre of pets and wildlife, splitting my time between our farm and my job in Iowa.


Kay Johnson has worked with many different species of animals throughout her life. She was a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator for 15 years specializing in wild birds. She founded the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn in 2001 and retired from active rehabbing in 2003. Kay lives in Batavia with several birds, a cat, and a dog.


Connie grew up in the Chicago suburbs. After graduating from college in 1970, she spent several years in Wickenburg, Arizona working with horses on a dude ranch. She then had the opportunity to move to South Africa where she worked for an animal travel agency. Upon returning to the USA in the mid-1970’s, she was hired as the Brookfield Zoo’s first ever dolphin rider and trained Olga, the walrus. In 1978 she became owner/operator of the Lake Forest Boarding Kennel and worked part-time as a Humane Investigator for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Since 1983 she has been working with wildlife rehabilitation, specializing in migratory waterfowl. Connie lives in Lake Forest with her husband, three children, 12 cats, three dogs and one very bossy parrot.
{ Staff }
Animal Care Director

Like most wildlife rehabilitators, I had a love of animals from a very young age. I loved bird watching, hiking in the woods, and watching any wildlife show I could find on TV. I’m still that person that always plays with the dog at the party! My brain was a sponge for learning about nature and all animals amongst my suburban setting. Although my parents always encouraged me to follow my dreams, they always thought I would outgrow my love of animals, but I didn’t.

I went away to college and loved every minute of it. I thoroughly enjoyed all of my classes (ok, almost all of them!) and received my degree from Purdue University in Wildlife Science. During a winter break in college, I volunteered at Willowbrook Wildlife Center, a wildlife rehabilitation facility near my house. I was looking to get a little bit of hands on experience and didn’t really know what to expect. I loved every minute of it. I’ll never forget the first raptor I handled…a rough legged hawk named Moshie, who was being treated for sores on his feet. I not only enjoyed handling the wildlife, but I really didn’t mind cleaning of the cages either! It was just part of the job and I did it with a smile!

The following summer I worked as a seasonal animal keeper at Brookfield Zoo. Although I enjoyed the zoo and learned so much while I was there, I realized that my real passion was with native wildlife and helping those critters that were truly in need of medical care. I missed the “chaos” of wildlife rehabilitation, the wide variety of animals to care for, and the wonderful feeling of releasing wildlife back into the wild to give them a second chance.

So, back to Willowbrook I went the next summer! I worked as a seasonal animal keeper and then as a seasonal educator, teaching kids about nature and wildlife. Following graduation, a full-time animal keeper position opened up and I jumped at the chance to fulfill my dreams. I worked at Willowbrook for 20 years, eventually becoming the Wildlife Specialist and overseeing all of the animal care and 100+ volunteers. It was a very rewarding job and I enjoyed all the challenges that came with it.

During my time at Willowbrook I became very involved in state and national wildlife rehabilitation organizations. I was a board member for the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association for 12 years and eventually became president. I enjoy teaching others about caring for wildlife and sharing my experiences. Because of this love of teaching, I also teach a class at the College of DuPage called, “Caring for Wildlife in Captivity,” focusing on the care of wildlife in a zoo and wildlife rehabilitation setting. I really wish a class like this was offered when I was first starting out!

Eventually it was time to leave the workforce and stay home with my kids. Their crazy schedules were too much for 2 working parents! I started my own pet sitting business as well as an eBay business to pay the bills. Although both of those businesses are still flourishing, my love of wildlife rehabilitation never left me and I now find myself returning to wildlife rehabilitation with my long time friend, Kathy.

I‘m excited to start this next chapter in my life at Oaken Acres. I can actually say I missed baby season for a few years and am ready to get back into caring for critters! I hope to meet many of you on my days that I am working. Being around people that love caring for wildlife is truly a blessing!

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to continue my passion!

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