I was tripping down memory lane with some
other members of a folk music forum to which I belong this evening.
Someone started a thread for people who had worked as park rangers and
interpreters. I got to tripping down memory lane a bit, and decided to
do a Google search for the Oxley Nature center. I was saddened to see
that Bob had passed away, but warmed a bit by your request for
reminiscences about him.
I was one of the first three employees of
the Oxley Nature center, with Bob being one of the three. The other
employee, Neil, and I were the center's first two seasonal naturalists.
Back when I worked there, we had to use one of the offices in one of the
Tulsa Park maintenance buildings because there was no interpretive
center yet. And we taught classes in one of the Tulsa Park's pavilions
in the absence of an interpretive building. We didn't mind that one
little bit. In fact, it was wonderful.
Bob taught me about Newcombs Wildflower
Guide. I am forever grateful to him for that. But the thing I am most
grateful for is that he took a chance on me and gave me the job. Then,
being, himself, only newly arrived in Oklahoma from Missouri, Bob turned
me and Neil loose into the park to find out for him what was out there.
That's exactly what he said, too. He said our job was to find out for
him what was in the park.
I loved working for Bob, and exploring
all of the new (for all three of us) kinds of life and other things that
were out there. One of my favorite memories was when Bob was driving
Neil and I somewhere, and he slammed on the brakes and started backing
up fast. Then he stopped the car and got out. We followed him out, and
saw that he was watching some birds that were floating on a pond.
Neil and I both agreed that the best kind
of boss is the kind that will stop the car in the middle of the work day
just to look at birds.
Because the job was seasonal, I ended up
taking a job as a zookeeper at the zoo there in the park, and about a
year later came back to the east coast to live. But my summer working at
the Oxley Nature Center with Bob Jennings as my boss was definitely one
of the best working experiences I've ever had.
Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to
Carol Dale (formerly Carol Cunningham)
P.S. I was the one who spotted and
collected (with some help from Neil) the specimen of the swamp rose
mallow that you, hopefully, still have in your collection there at the
center. Because of his professional status, Bob was given credit though
(and I don't mind that at all). But I still feel a little flush of pride
that I was the first person in the history of the state of Oklahoma
(according to what Bob told me, anyway) to officially collect and
identify a specimen of a swamp rose mallow. Unfortunately, the grounds
crew of the golf course mowed the plant down the following week. It was
on the bank of the creek that formed the border between the golf course
and the park, and Neil and I annoyed more than a few golfers in our
efforts to collect that
Last week (Nov. 22, 2004)we held our
annual National Interpreters' Workshop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bob
was on many peoples' minds. His name was spoken often over the week. A
photo of him and a memory book was placed out where folks could record
memories and messages. During the award ceremony, our NAI president Evie
Kirkwood spoke highly of Bob in presenting him, posthumously, with the
NAI highest award, The Fellow Award. Likewise, Lisa Brochu in her
accepting remarks for Bob's award, spoke most eloquently of Bob's work
with NAI and his passion for the profession. It was most moving. Bob had
tremendous impact on the organization and the profession as well he did
on the Center there.
You may know that before he died, Bob
donated to NAI several guitars, several of his birding vests, and a pair
of binoculars and requested that they be auctioned at our annual
scholarship auction to raise money for this important program about
which he felt so strongly. His good friend and our executive director,
Tim Merriman, did the honors of auctioning the instruments and vests and
each time spoke of Bob and his contributions over the years. The items
brought tears, cheers, and a lot of money!
Bob will be missed, but remembered most
fondly. He and I served on the national board together many years ago. I
remember one instance when were doing strategic planning. The task was
to come up with a mission statement. The facilitator gave some examples
of other organizations' statements, such as The American Society for the
Prevention of Blindness, whose mission is simply "to prevent
blindness..." After a seemingly incredibly long period of time of
discussing this matter and bantering back and forth on our mission
statement of our organization for interpreters and interpretation, and
tweaking it time and time again, Bob was standing in the back of the
room, vest on, itching to move on. He finally said, "you know, I like
the mission statement that was given when we first started this
discussion..." The room fell silent as all eyes fell on Bob. Then he
said, "to prevent blindness." The whole room cracked up! It was classic
Bob. Taking a tense moment and interjecting just the perfect amount of
dry humor for a needed break and get us back to reality. He was one of a
kind. Yes, he is missed, but his legacy lives on.
Interpreter, Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana
I am a member of a guitar forum that Bob
was also a member of.I just learned of his passing,and wanted to send my
condolences to his family.Everyone on the forum respected Bob(Yoda) for
his gentle wit and warm humor.He posted once a year or so ago that he
wished he had a tape of a musical performance.I happened to have one,so
I sent him a copy.He wanted to pay me,and when I told him it was not at
all necessary,he offered to make me some custom tapes of music he
apparently surmised I was interested in from the forum.I again
declined,but I wish now I had accepted his gracious offer.Again,I'm very
sorry to hear of his passing--he touched a lot of people who never even
I came to know Bob through the online
Acoustic Guitar Forum, formerly the Taylor Guitar Forum. There "Yoda,"
as he was called, always had a twinkle in his posts, as if he knew
something funny that was going on that we didn't. His clever wit and
unique way of expressing himself endeared him to many Forum members from
around the world who never actually met him in person.
He could be serious, of course, and was
quite passionate about his birds, acoustic guitars and a few other
subjects. But even when that passion led to disagreement, he remained a
thoughtful, well spoken friend and gentlemen.
His absence from the Forum was already
missed before we heard the news of his passing, but when we heard we
felt his loss more deeply. However, in a strange kind of way for people
who have never met face to face, the now nearly 7,000 members of the AGF
are better, more knowledgeable and caring people for his having become a
warm, inspiring, all too brief part of our lives.
I join "Yoda's" many efriends in raising
our computer mouses (mice? - Bob would know!) in tribute and memory of a
Acoustic Guitar Forum Moderator
What a sad day this will be, we have lost
one of the finest and most passionate members of our profession. I will
mourn the premature loss of a friend who had so much still to share, but
I will not spend the day in mourning. Instead I will think of all of the
times shared with Bob while birding and on the NAI Board and I will
celebrate and honor the life of a man who truly knew what success in
life meant. Bob was a true mentor, he touched the lives of countless
interpreters, and through the powerful legacy he has left behind he will
continue to guide and inspire me, and so many others, for years to come.
The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson seem so appropriate to Bob's life: To
laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the
affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and
endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the
best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy
child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one
life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.
I know of few others that succeeded in
life better than Bob Jennings.
Chief Naturalist, Wild Birds Unlimited, Carmel, IN
In this part of the world when a giant
cedar crashes to the forest floor it is carved into a totem that honors
all those ancestors that have come before. Those ancestors are the
mentors and teachers and wise ones that stand by us, unseen, in our
daily lives, and that help all of us through those tough spots in life.
When I think of Bob I think of him as an ancestor, a wise one, and a
teacher, and now, he is looking down on all of us, from an elevated and
appropriate place in our hearts and minds. As he looks down on all of
us, we know he is smiling. We look up and wish him well in his role as
Faith Duncan and all of NAI Region 10
Bob touched lives all over this great
country. Not just the Lower 48 and Alaska, but all the way out to the
Far, Far West in remote Hawaii. The NAI members from this end of the USA
appreciate all he has done for the profession. Hawaiians believe that
departed souls travel westward seeking Ao Aumakua (realm of the
ancestors). Next time I see a white tropicbird flying against the azure
Hawaiian sky, I'll think of Bob on a journey to join his ancestors.
Mahalo (thank you), Bob--your generous work will always be remembered.
Aloha from Hawaii.
Ray Tabata, Hawaii Chair, I and T
I want to thank the Tulsa World for the
fitting tribute to the many accomplishments of Bob Jennings, founding
Director of the Oxley Nature Center, who passed away on Sept. 15th. I
first met Bob in 1980. He volunteered to accompany my Ecology students
on a tour of the Oxley area. Over the years we co-taught my classes on
these field trips and expanded to a second trip to Red Bud Valley
preserve. My students were delighted by Bob's excitement and eagerness
to share his love of discovering the beauty of the natural Creation
surrounding us. I often willingly took a back seat to teaching and let
Bob share because he always had a special ability to draw out of the
students a curiosity that made the learning experience memorable. I will
miss Bob and plan to continue his legacy as best as I can in the years
to come. Thanks Bob! In sincere appreciation and respect, John
John Korstad, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology and Honors Program Director
Oral Roberts University
I was one of the first full-time state
park naturalists as was Donna Hamilton Horton. I was lurking around
Eufaula from 1979-1990. We all had our struggles, challenges, and,
other, with our nature centers, the politics and other aspects of state
government. Hang with me I am getting to my main tribute point....
"Bob", I always looked up to. He was always a good listener and was not
bashful about responding to requests for advice which I absorbed. He was
like, "Uncle Bob" in respect to our professional relationship. He was
respected by many. I was compelled to write something about him as the
memories flooded me. Ah yes, I noticed Reese is a bit thinner on top and
graying and Donna has lost her long hair.... Although I have my hair, I
am a grey duck myself. Best to all that serve under that woodpecker in
Tulsa. I still have an Oxley bird pin tucked away and every time I see a
Red-Headed Woodpecker, I think of "Bob" and back in the days. God Bless.
aka Randy Ledford
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