January 14, 2023
We just wanted to honor a local ecosystem restoration and preservation hero, John “Obie” Oberhausen, who recently passed and who we had the honor of working with over the last two years.
Obie had spent the last twenty years dedicated to preserving our native grown Cholla. Together with Joe Newman, they founded the Cactus Rescue Project in Santa Fe in 2002.
Here is an excerpt from an article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican yesterday:
Dedicated’ Navy veteran had passion for saving endangered cactus by Claudia L. Silva, Jan 13, 2023
Oberhausen served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years and hiked the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail after retiring from the military. He later became a massage therapist who offered to give foot massages to patients who were receiving chemotherapy at the Cancer Foundation for New Mexico.
But he was likely best known for the work he did to save the Santa Fe cholla, an endangered cactus with light-orange blossoms, found near Santa Fe and Chimayó. Along with Newman, Oberhausen co-founded the Cactus Rescue Project when the pair realized the native plant’s population had been dwindling.
“We would go hiking in the wilderness area, and he saw the cactus blooming, and he was just amazed at it,” recalled Oberhausen’s wife, Nancy Lehrhaupt.
“ ‘This can’t be on the endangered list — like, we’re going to save it,’ ” he told her.
The Cactus Rescue Project promoted cactus as a landscaping alternatives for the drought-stricken area.
“I think what is so impressive about Obie, Joe Newman and the Cactus Rescue Project is that they were citizen scientists with no botanical experience who believed that individual citizens could make a difference,” Lehrhaupt said.
Newman said the men realized part of the problem was that cacti like the Santa Fe cholla had a bad reputation at the time.
“People just didn’t like it,” Newman said. “In Eldorado, people were all too anxious to tear it out of their yards and throw it away.”
Newman said Oberhausen’s dedication helped change that perspective with his outreach. Both men started learning about the cactus and were able to propagate it at home using clippings from wild plants. As the project grew, Oberhausen was able to round up volunteers to help plant and maintain various community cactus gardens across Santa Fe County.
More about Obie and Joe's work: