Father’s Day meant a pilgrimage to a few places special to my Dad, who died last year. His handprints are all over this town, but I chose a couple places with personal meaning:
1. Holliday Park, down by the river. Because he used to take the grandkids out into the water with a seine to see what they could catch. Also, he kayaked that river many a time. (Once with me. I was not in the best shape then, and he ended up tying a rope to my kayak and towing me into the wind, all the way back to our put-in place.)
2. Holliday Park Nature Center. Just to visit his brick.
3. A pocket park where he and I picked juneberries. Sweet memory. I picked yesterday in his honor.
In truth, Dad is ghosting about the edges of nearly every blog post I write. I see him in the anonymous man in the Keystone Pipeline protest photo—he used to wear that kind of cap, and he marched for important causes. I see him in Keith Johnson, sharing his passion for the natural world.
And I see him in David Forsell, facing death too soon, knowing that what counts is giving back.
A few months before he died, he received the Hoosier Environmental Council ‘s Land Steward of the Year award for his volunteer work (though “work” is a misnomer—he often said, “I’m just having fun.”) A sampling of his fun:
- He started a multi-year restoration project to return Indiana State Museum’s Turner Gardens to Indiana native prairie (still going on now).
- At Cold Spring School, he was “chief gardener” and caretaker of the greenhouse, introducing grade schoolers to the marvels of the garden.
- He took student groups on rafting trips, and led them on tours of natural places.
- He spearheaded Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s Letha’s Youth Outdoors Fund, funding field trips to get schoolchildren out into nature.
Now and then my mail brings evidence of his impact, and it always makes me happy and sad. Two examples:
From Friends of Cold Spring School: The fifth-graders have adopted the prairie he led students in planting around “Mr. Donovan’s Greenhouse.”
From Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society: At Dad’s urging, a Gary-area nonprofit working with urban youth applied for funds to visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore—a wild place largely unexplored by these kids (who live less than a mile away!). The funding allowed 40 young people to experience the beauty of this national park.
I remember when he met these folks and encouraged them to seek funding. It was at the Hoosier Environmental Council luncheon where he received the award. He was quite frail by then, but still networking, still advocating for kids and nature. It didn’t matter that the title of INPAWS “Youth Outreach chair” had long since passed to someone else.
That’s my Dad to a T. Sure do miss him.
Addendum: I forgot to include this recent piece published in the Boiler Journal, describing a day soon after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.