2003 Reunion in Pelican Island NWR, Florida

Over 200 Fish and Wildlife Service retirees and family and friends met in Melbourne, Florida, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System.  The March 14 celebration in Sebastian, Florida, centered on the events recognizing Pelican Island NWR, the first unit and the beginning of today’s 540-unit System.  Retirees attended a time capsule ceremony and the official commemorative celebration with Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Service Director Steve Williams and numerous Florida state and local dignitaries. The gathering provided retirees the opportunity to renew old friendships highlighted by a social icebreaker and a banquet that were also attended by numerous current Service personnel supporting the celebration activities.

The foregoing paragraph would be the typical ‘commercial’ news version describing 3 days of events that retirees participated in but lacks the strong feelings of emotion, enjoyment, exhilaration, pride, patriotism, and strong friendships that this reunion generated.   Let me try it this way!
Dear Fellow Retirees:
It is difficult for me to describe to you who weren’t able to attend the latest reunion of Fish and Wildlife Service retirees just what a memorable first class event it turned out to be.  Let me share these thoughts and observations with you.

  • The dedication of the time capsule was at the Indian River Mall in Vero Beach. Special seating was available for retirees for a program of patriotic songs and with comments by Director Steve Williams for the unveiling of the time capsule exhibit.  Items, all from the NWR System, included everything from wildflower seeds from the upper Midwest to musk ox hair and other NWR artifacts  --  all with a significant connection to a National Wildlife Refuge.  Teddy Roosevelt read the original proclamation that set aside Pelican Island, there was a special appearance by Challenger, an un-releasable bald eagle, and the march of the Orlando Peabody ducks down a red carpet.
  • It was a hot sunny day for the Pelican Island 100th birthday celebration at Riverside Park in Sebastian.  Again, special VIP seating was available for retirees and was accompanied by plenty of bottled cold water and snacks by the refuge Friends group.  Secretary Norton was greeted by a plane pulling a banner, ‘Don’t
    Drill in Arctic Refuge.’  Each retiree received a first day of issue commemorative postage stamp and stamp pin featuring, what else, a beautiful brown pelican.  Master of ceremonies was Jack Hanna.  The stirring Voices of Liberty from Walt Disney World assisted in the celebration.
  • Uniforms.  Uniforms everywhere.  Dress FWS uniforms.  A backdrop of 150 Service personnel from all over the U.S. was on stage with the Secretary and the many dignitaries.  And they looked good!  Each of the many Service exhibits were manned by uniform Service personnel.  You would have to have been from another planet not to know this was a 100% Fish & Wildlife Service event.  The word pride comes to mind.
  • The Secretary took time in her remarks to note the large contingent of Service career personnel attending the celebration and paid tribute to them for their stewardship to this Nation’s natural resources.  She also was aware that a number of FWS retirees were in the audience and in presenting a ‘thank you’ for our careers with the Service asked us to please stand.  When fully half of the seated VIP area stood, there was a gasp from the folks outside the fence craning their necks to take in the ceremony and comments like ‘my goodness.’
  • The retirees visited the boardwalk leading to an observation deck overlooking Pelican Island.  The boardwalk was built by Service staff from Refuges across the System.  Each plank of the boardwalk is engraved with the name of a National Wildlife Refuge, the blue goose logo, and the date of its inclusion in the NWR System.  The planks are arranged in chronological order with the first plank being Pelican Island at the observation deck. In the morning ceremony, the Secretary nailed in a plank at the opposite end of the boardwalk representing the newest NWR into the System.
  • For many whose careers spanned many years stationed at a number of NWR’s, walking the boardwalk conjured up memories of times past and was an emotional event.  Former Director Greenwalt who was part of the ceremony with the Secretary and all the handlers and schedule keepers, folks with clipboards, and things on their hips that go ‘beep’, revisited the boardwalk the next day with wife Judy, son & daughter-in-law and grandson Patrick where the full spirit of the emotional moment could surface in peaceful private.
  • Retirees were treated royally, being included in every event with special transportation and seating.  The events were well organized and planned, the Service and NWR System did not take the ‘cheap charlie’ approach and it showed, coming off like the really big deal it was.  In return, the retirees included and invited active Service personnel to its social icebreaker and banquet  --  and they accepted.
  • The icebreaker was held on the hotel deck on a beautiful, warm, moonlit Spring evening just feet from the Atlantic Ocean.  Except for being a little dark, the turnout of nearly 400 folks made it impossible to find and say ‘Hi’ to everyone, but it was nonetheless, a most enjoyable social evening, and true to the promise, did not run out of beer.
  • How would you like to serve 228 for dinner?  The banquet did and it came off well.  As part of the Service family, Steve & Sue Parry who retired to California’s Napa Valley and started their own winery, provided a bottle of their wine for each table.  “The Service gave me a lot,” said Steve, “and this is my way to give a little back.”  M.C Denny Holland gave a touching salute recognizing the key role of wives in the completion of Service careers.  Keynote speaker Lynn Greenwalt gave an outstanding and spirited address recounting “100 years of National Wildlife Refuges.”
  • Book signings. Registration included copies of the Smithsonian book of National Wildlife Refuges by Eric Dolin with photographs by John & Karen Hollingsworth and a book of Pulitzer prize winner J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling’s conservation and wildlife cartoons.  Both Ms. Hollingsworth and Kip Koss (grandson of Ding) came early and stayed late to accommodate every request to sign their books.
  • Door prizes included bottles of wine from the Parry’s Napa Valley winery as well as wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, two pair of the special ‘Pelican’ model binoculars donated by Eagle Optics, and a variety of beautiful artistic and hand crafted creations generously donated by retired Service folks.
  • Every registrant received a loaded goody bag that included the coffee table book of photographs by John & Karen Hollingsworth, a book of Ding Darling’s conservation cartoons, a beautiful insulated coffee mug with the Service & NWR ‘Century of Conservation’ logo and a lapel pin with the same logo, a NWR calendar published by Caterpillar, a bill cap with metal Service logo, a bag of items from Disney World, and many more favors.
  • To complete the weekend, Sunday morning was reserved for the special memories of those friends and former colleagues who have passed on.  The remembrances came in the forms of emotional reminiscences to humorous incidents.

Overall fellow retirees, this was an event to be cherished and remembered.  What wonderful gatherings the past two reunions have offered.  The opportunity to meet with old friends and colleagues was the exciting social highlight as was the theme to have fun.

 [In this writer’s opinion, this retiree gathering hit a home run with its support of the Service’s Centennial event.  Judy and I also made a re-visit to the boardwalk and guess who we met doing the same thing?  Director Steve Williams and his family!  We had a nice chat on the boardwalk on a beautiful Florida Sunday morning and the Director has indicated he will make the next reunion.]
~   Jerry

See the list of Registered Retirees and Guests at the 2003 Reunion

If you have photos or remembrances of this reunion, please contact us at web@FWSRetirees.org