DCAS Chapter History

The Daviess County Audubon Society

An Oral History

Information for this written record was taken from interviews with Mildred "Millie" Powell, A.L. "Bert" Powell, Joe Ford, and Frank Abrams. These people are founders of the society who are still active in the club.

As the twig is bent, the tree's inclined:

A history of the Daviess County Audubon Society would not be complete unless early life experiences of the founders are included. Joe Ford remembers his first attempt at setting up his own personal natural history museum. Joe was 6 years old and took over his older sister's doll house for displaying his collection of birds' nests, butterflies, rocks, and such bits and pieces of nature that fascinated him. Joe's desire was to share with others all the beauty and wonder that had previously filled his pockets, his bedroom, and his heart. Joe credits his mother, a well educated woman, for lovingly teaching him the correct names of wildflowers, bugs, trees, birds and such and for starting him down a life path that he still follows today.

As a child growing up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bert Powell was befriended by an adult bird watcher that took neighborhood kids with him as he looked for birds. This man's love of birding was infectious. BertBert Powell collected "soda cards", soda card birds; premiums placed in boxes of baking soda with pictures of birds. His family had never known a child to show such interest in birds; he drove them crazy with his talk at every meal about, "Birds, birds, birds! Breakfast, dinner and supper all you talk about is birds." The family coffers were not adequate for the purchase of binoculars; Bert was a young adult before he had his own pair. He managed to study birds by reading voraciously and designing his own field studies. He worked with a small group of friends to dig 6 feet back into a mud bank using wooden boards to protect the entryway to a Belted Kingfisher's nest. After Bert and his friends found the nest and studied its contents, they carefully reconstructed the mud bank. During the next weeks, they watched from a distance as the Kingfishers entered, exited and fledged their chicks.

Millie Powell studied Ornithology at Memphis State Teachers' College. Her strongest early interest was in wildflowers. On a street corner in Memphis where she had just missed a bus, a young man struck up a conversation to pass the time as they waited 15 minutes for the next bus. As they talked, she learned that the young man, Bert Powell, lived on the same street as she did. When they both got transfers to another bus, their conversation continued and they realized they were both headed for a museum called The Pink Palace where musicals, amateur plays, and clubs met. When they arrived at the museum, they realized they were both going to a bird club meeting. The program that night used telescopes to watch a meteor shower. Two young people who both collected soda card birds, the very same cards, had a serendipitous meeting all because of a bird club meeting. Bert and Millie chose Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" as part of the music at their wedding in 1947, a sentimental remembrance of a meteoric meeting.

The Club began with a Classified Ad.

The Powell's moved to Owensboro in 1950 for Bert's work with what became known as Texas Gas. In the Spring of 1951, Bert went to the local newspaper to talk with a lady reporter about his interest in nature. Joe Ford and Bert Powell have different memories about the first gathering of "the bird club". Joe remembers seeing newspaper ad that Bert placed about a hike. Joe believes that he and Bert were the only attendees at the club's first event.

Bert remembers that the reporter lady thought his idea was worthy of a write-up. The newspaper printed an invitation saying that Bert would lead a hike on a Saturday around Carpenter's Lake. The group met on the grounds of the Daviess County High School, then located on the banks of the Ohio River at the eastern edge of the city in a refurbished plantation home. Bert remembers that 40 people came, most of them from Henderson, Kentucky where they belonged to an Audubon Club that was the first organized in the state.

Joe Ford invited Bert to his home following that Saturday hike to show him his personal natural history museum housed in his garage. Bert was intrigued by Joe's lifelong hobby and that afternoon began a friendship that led to Bert's being a board member of the Owensboro Science Museum when it moved to it's first public home in 1966, a former African American church on Sycamore Street.

In the years between 1951 and 1964 Bert and Joe shepherded a loose and informal group of people who shared an interest in nature and birds. From 1964 to 1967, a local chapter of The Kentucky Ornithological Society, KOS, was organized. The "bird club" had about 22 members. Elinor and L.E. Wilson, two lifelong Daviess County educators, were members. Don Boarman was the club's first President. Lee Nelson of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department was also an active member until his death in the late 90's.

3 years after the KOS chapter was formed, Bert noticed that John Frances, the original director of The Audubon Society for the states of Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, was in Owensboro. Bert went to see Mr. Frances and out of that meeting the Daviess County chapter of The National Audubon Society was formed. The Society's first meeting was held on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1967, at the Owensboro Science Museum on Sycamore Street. Frank Abrams was elected the club's first President. The club has met through the years at the R.E.A. building on Allen Street, in schools, at The Owensboro Area Museum on College Drive, at the Kentucky Technical College, and today at First Christian Church at 7th and Daviess Street.

In addition to being a local chapter of a national organization, DCAS is included in The Kentucky Audubon Council. The Council meets at least twice each year, Spring in March, and Fall in October. Each Kentucky chapter, and one affiliated bird club in Frankfort, Kentucky that is not a local chapter of the National Audubon Society, make up The Kentucky Audubon Council. For conducting Council business, chapters have voting rights based on the number of members in each chapter. DCAS has had three of its members serve the Council as President: Joyce Porter, Marilee Thompson, and G. Wm. "Bill" Little.

KOS and DCAS join forces

Frank Abrams says that within a short time, (Bert remembers three years) it was realized that KOS and Daviess County Audubon Society had similar interests and that it would be simpler to share programs and events. For a while, the two clubs operated as separate entities, sharing common members, and coordinating programs, meeting together, but maintaining separate treasuries, by-laws, and such. The KOS being a state rather than a national organization met less frequently and had a narrower focus, birds only, than the National Audubon Society.

The National Audubon Society was formed around 1900 when the bird populations in the South along the Gulf Coast of Florida and Texas were being decimated for their plumage to be used on women's hats. The National Audubon Society has continued for 100 plus years with a wide range of environmental causes encompassing the entire web of nature as its mission and with education as its principal activity.

For 20 years Bert served the Society as newsletter editor. He clipped items of interest from newspapers and magazines for inclusion in the newsletter. He saved quotes from books he read; he included poetry in most of the issues; news releases from National Audubon were written-up; and he tried to use seasonal material relevant to each month as the newsletter's feature article. Bert and Millie addressed the newsletters by hand at their kitchen table and mailed over 100 of each issue.

Neither Joe, nor Bert, nor Millie have served the club as officers. Each of them has found other ways to serve that suited their interests. Joe has led countless field trips; Millie has baked cookies; Bert has shot hundreds of rolls of film. Along with Elinor Wilson, the three founders were honored by the club on Valentine's Day in 1997, the 30th Anniversary of the club, by being asked to serve as Lifetime Honorary Members of the Board of Directors. Their experience, knowledge, and dedication is a very important part of the organization's operations, planning and activities in 2001.

The club has been through peaks and valleys of membership numbers and attendance at meetings. There have been times when attendance was a paltry 5 or 6 people. Today attendance averages 25 people. The largest membership rolls resulted in the late 1960's from nature artist, Ray Harm's gift of a signed print of the Eastern Screech Owl to any person who joined The Audubon Society. Kentucky became the state with more members of the Audubon Society than any other in America. The Daviess County Audubon Society grew to between 250 and 280 members which filled Gabes Restaurant on Triplett at 18th Street the night that Ray Harm signed prints. Only a few of the people who joined in order to get a print have remained with the organization.

The greatest changes noted by the founders of DCAS are in the numbers of animals such as Crayfish in the Panther Creek bottoms from an estimated 1000 per acre when farming practices were not mechanical to 10 or none per acre today. Bert and Joe recall going to the Daviess County Airport grounds in the 1950's to count Short-eared Owls which were then abundant. Today no Short-eared Owls can be found in the county. Bert has seen the hobby of bird feeding grow from almost nobody in the 50's to what has today passed gardening as the number one hobby in America.

Bert recalls that Attorney Wallace Thacker assisted the club in incorporating many years ago. It is possible that the incorporation lapsed when fees and filings were not maintained with the Kentucky Attorney General's office. Records at the National Audubon Society did not show our chapter as being incorporated and thus we could not operate as a 501 ( C ) 3, nonprofit organization. Therefore, in 1998, Attorney Jacqueline Kingsolver was asked to prepare incorporation papers for the society. Ms. Kingsolver did the work pro bono. The Internal Revenue Service granted us nonprofit status in March of 1999. From that date, donations to the society are tax deductible.

In 1997 Vice-President G. Wm. "Bill" Little followed the recommendation from the Estes Park Colorado meeting of The National Audubon Society that all chapters establish a web site to enhance the dissemination of information and to improve chapters' outreach. Julian Wilson, son of Elinor Wilson and the late L.E. Wilson, oversaw the design and operation of our chapter's web site and served as Webmaster for 2 years. Markus Nishimori assisted with the site's design and set-up. DCAS was the first Audubon chapter in Kentucky to have a web site.

In March of 2000, the DCAS web site, which was hosted by The National Audubon Society, was invaded, "hacked", and disabled. In the weeks following the incident of cyber vandalism, The National Audubon Society realized that it would be necessary to discontinue hosting local chapter sites. In August 2000, the DCAS web site was moved to Western Kentucky University's Biodiversity Department as our host. The web site was redesigned and put into operation by Eric Williams and Rob Rold, both who donated their time, in excess of 200 hours, and materials.  The DCAS site is now hosted by a private company.

- Brenda Little, DCAS Newsletter Editor

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Daviess County Audubon Society