At JN “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, Iowans are family.
Each year, the Hawkeye State sends hundreds, possibly thousands, of visitors to its 6,500-acre refuge named after conservationist and former Des Moines Register Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay Norwood Darling. increase.
The 1,500-mile journey from Des Moines is worth experiencing the natural beauty and wildlife of Southwest Florida’s barrier islands. But the reserve’s “favorite visitor,” or what Bergie Miller, executive director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, calls Iowa, is a whole different place. It may look like
Hurricane Ian cut down the mangroves in late September, knocked down lookouts, and littered the park with debris. Nearly a month later, the shelter is still closed indefinitely as damage assessment and cleanup operations continue.
“I can’t believe what happened here,” said Toni Westland, the reserve’s parks officer.
Westland said Ian’s aftermath was unlike any other storm she’d witnessed in her 20 years as a park ranger in southwest Florida. Winds of 155 mph tore roofs, snapped utility poles in half, and blew away piles of rubble. Storm surges of up to 10 feet then engulfed the island and its surrounding coastal areas into the sea, inundating homes, businesses, wildlife habitat and leaving trails of dead fish.
Despite the devastation, Miller and Westland both have hope for the future. While investigating the shelter, Miller said she saw fragments of life. I jumped on a nearby tree while holding it in my mouth.
“The beauty of wildlife is that it’s resilient,” she said.
At this moment, Miller was convinced that Darling’s vision would persist on Sanibel Island.
What is “Ding” Darling?
Darling was born in 1876 in Michigan to parents Clara Woolson Darling and Mark Warner Darling and moved to Sioux City in 1885 when his father, a pastor, took over a new church. As a boy, Darling dreamed of becoming a doctor. He was also a talented artist who carried a sketchpad and pencil with him wherever he went.
After graduating from the University of Beloit (Wisconsin) in 1900 with a degree in biology, he got a job as a reporter for the Sioux City Journal. Shortly thereafter, he switched to his editorial comics.
In 1906, the same year he married Genevieve Pendleton of Sioux City, Darling began a long association with the Des Moines Register, living in New York City from 1911 to 1913, only leaving New York City to work. was. He preferred to live in Des Moines and worked for the Resistance until his official retirement in 1949.
As an editorial cartoonist, few could match Darling. Two of his 20,000 cartoons produced in his long career, in 1924 and he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943. From 1917, Darling’s comics were distributed by his New York Tribune, and eventually he was published in as many as 150 newspapers.
Darling began by reading half a dozen newspapers “to digest the spirit of the world” each day. He was quick-witted and politically astute. Darling is perhaps best known for his January 7, 1919 cartoon “The Long, Long Trail” at the time of Teddy Roosevelt’s death.
Later, in Des Moines, the Darlings lived with their son, John, and daughter, Mary, in their famous home at 2320 Terrace Drive, but spent the winter in their home on Florida’s Captiva Island.
In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Darling, a passionate conservationist, to run the National Biological Survey, the predecessor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During his tenure, Darling designed the nation’s first federal his duck stamp. To date, this is the only stamp used as a wildlife conservation tool. Known for founding the National Wildlife Conservation System in the United States, Darling helped him raise $20 million for wildlife projects, purchasing 4.5 million acres of land and securing it as a national reserve. I worked to FWS.
“[He] We understand and appreciate the importance of protection,” Miller said.
The highly honored Darling died of heart disease in 1962 and was buried in Sioux City. After his death, the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge near the Darling family on Captiva Island was renamed after him.
An exhibit dedicated to Darling in the refuge’s visitor center survived the September hurricane, but the building suffered extensive damage and had no power or air conditioning. The association’s office space on his ground floor of the building remained completely flooded.
As the shelter recovers, Westland said Darling’s mission of protection and conservation is at the forefront of their efforts.
“I think he’s happy to see his legacy continue. Wildlife is incredibly resilient and we should be able to rebuild,” she said.
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Iowa Red Cross volunteers help in Florida
Before Hurricane Ian hit the southwest coast of Florida in late September, Leslie Shaffer of the Iowa chapter of the American Red Cross and her team of volunteers were already preparing to help. Schaefer was one of her 25 volunteers in Iowa and Nebraska who headed to southwestern Florida to provide shelter and food for those affected. Since then, 53 Iowans have responded to calls for help, and more will come in the coming weeks, she said.
Schaffer helped operate two shelters in the Fort Myers metropolitan area and helped provide shelter and food for over 1,000 people. Many of them lost everything in the storm. In addition to running the shelter and communicating with local authorities, Scheffer also led special missions to ensure the health and safety of the people in the area, including trips to the then-isolated Sanibel Island. supported.
Shaffer is a Red Cross veteran who has been deployed to countless disaster areas in her 17 years of service, including after last year’s Hurricane Ida in Louisiana. But Shaffer, driving with the local fire department on the debris-filled roads of Sanibel, said she saw “absolute devastation” she had never seen before.
“This is definitely the most devastating thing I’ve seen and it wiped out entire areas, entire communities to the point that it will never be the same,” she said.
While in Sanibel, Shaffer said he caught a glimpse of the Darling Wildlife Sanctuary and fondly remembered the original Darling cartoon created as a tribute to the Red Cross that hangs on the wall of his office in Des Moines.
Looking ahead, Shaffer said the area has a long way to go in its recovery and encourages Iowans interested in volunteering to visit redcross.org.
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Looking to the future while preserving the past
Standing in the ruins of the Darling Wildlife Society’s former offices in Sanibel, Westland retains a pile of original cards and drawings of Darling that he sent to friends while on vacation, but is now damp and grubby.
But Westland refuses to dwell on the negative. Instead, I am grateful for all the history that has survived.
Westland said that three months before the storm, many of Darling’s original works and artifacts, such as a drawing desk and glasses, were sent to FSW’s National Conservation Training Center for storage.
“I have worked here for 20 years and I love him and his family,” she said.
Both Miller and Westland say it could take months, or even a year, for the island and shelter to recover and open to the public. Still, they are both determined to make Darling’s vision come true and continue to promote conservation throughout Southwest Florida.
This week, the association will resume “mission-critical work” through its Wildlife on Wheels initiative. This will bring 36-foot mobile trailer classrooms to his five county schools in southwest Florida. Westland said the association plans to promote his annual JN Ding Darling Cartoon Contest, in which elementary school students submit their own cartoons inspired by Darling’s work.
The shelter and its volunteers curate mindfulness and meditation programs for residents of Sanibel, Westland said.
“That’s what Ding wants. We’ll continue our education,” said Westland.
As for the shelter itself, Miller said he is confident it will survive and one day soon be able to welcome visitors from all over the world to enjoy the peaceful natural scenery.
“One day it will again be a wonderful place for people to understand the importance of land and conservation,” she said.
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Information from the USA Today and Des Moines Register archives was used in this article.
Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact her at FBlock@registermedia.com or on her Twitter.@francescablock3.