Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Ruth Rider Erickson by Michael Sacopulos

Ruth Erickson died on January 31, 2011.  Ruth was a founding member of the Wabash Valley Audubon Society and a dedicated birder.  She participated in fifty (50) consecutive Christmas Bird counts.  Her birding extended beyond the Wabash Valley with trips to Alaska, Costa Rica, Trinidad, and seven trips to Africa.

Ruth was born in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in July 1917.  She never knew her father as he died in the great influenza epidemic of 1918.  Ruth's family owned and published the local newspaper in Jackson Hole.  She moved with her husband, Ed, to Terre Haute for Ed's employment with Commercial Solvents.  They had two sons, Neal and Allen.

As a boy, thirty years ago, I can remember sorting through ducks with "Mrs. Erickson" at the Brazil lagoons and attending Christmas count compilation dinners at the Erickson home on Oak Street.  Ruth Erickson was always the final word on bird identity for me.  Even in her later years, I watched Ruth, with her friend Susie Dewey, spend afternoons birding and then go for cocktails and dinner.  I hope that I am able to do the same at that stage in my life.  I am sure that I am joined by many members of the Wabash Valley Audubon Society when I say that Ruth Erickson will be both fondly remembered and greatly missed.

Pearl Eslinger Butterfly Garden


Butterfly Garden

WVAS members join Eslinger family members to dedicate a plaque  at Dobbs Park in memory of Pearl Eslinger, a WVAS member who  loved butterflies.

Standing L-R: Margaret Tamar, Henry Tamar, Jane Chestnut, Mary Beth Eberwein, Kenneth Eslinger Jr., Kneeling: Karen  Henman and James Eslinger.

Pearl M. Eslinger
Pearl M Bolte was born in the early 1920’s in rural Illinois.  Her early childhood was spent on a family farm in west central Illinois located a few miles from the town of Nokomis.  While still a child her parents, Heinrich and Lydia, moved little Pearl, along with three older brothers and an oldest sister into the small town of Harvel, Illinois, a few miles to the west.  Pearl grew up in that small town, graduating from Harvel High School.  Her contacts with nature and the outdoors were frequent, given the size of the community--300 people--and the influence of her adventurous older brothers, one or more of whom she often accompanied on an outdoor escapade.

Pearl was a tall, lithe teenage girl who was the salutatorian of her high school class, as well as a basketball cheerleader.  This latter activity placed her in occasional contact with a new, young biology and history teacher.  He came from the University of Illinois to his first full-time job in Harvel.  His name was Kenneth Eslinger and his major hobby and academic interest was in ornithology.  He had grown up on a farm in eastern Illinois and like Pearl Bolte, loved the out-of-doors and observing wild birds and animals.  Also, like Pearl, Kenneth possessed an almost mystical connection with birds and other living things in the outdoor world.

The couple was married a year after her graduation, and she followed him, first in his career as a high school principal in northern Illinois, and later as a salesman for Jostens.  They settled in Terre Haute, Indiana and raised two sons, Ken Jr., and James, who were born during the 1940’s.  During these years Ken and Pearl further cultivated their skills in identifying and recording observations of birds in the Wabash Valley, as well as on the family farm near Chrisman, Illinois.

During the late 1960’s the couple became active in the local chapter of the Audubon Society.  Ken served two terms as President in the 1970’s.  Pearl later served one term as President of the local chapter.  She also served on the state board of the Indiana Audubon Society.

Over the course of her years as an active member of Audubon, the Eslingers participated in numerous bird counts and social gatherings connected with these events.  Pearl also continued her education at Indiana State University.  Friendships developed and flourished with Dr. Jack Munsee and his wife Betty, along with Dr. Henry Tamar and Margaret, Ed and Ruth Erickson, Dr. James Mason and his wife Amy in the Audubon group, among other active members of the local chapter. 

Ken and Pearl were especially remembered as being of great assistance in helping new members learn the many skills of locating and identifying birds.

The Friendships formed with the Audubon Society members, in combination with regular attendance at meetings resulted in significant activist involvement in the purposes of the Audubon Society and a larger environmentalist program.

 Pearl Eslinger also linked her interest in photography with her interest in wildlife.  Her photographs of birds, of butterflies and moths during the various stages of development, have appeared in several national publications, some quite specialized in entomology, as well as such popular outlets as Outdoor Indiana.  She also delivered many color slide presentations to various adult groups, and to public school children.  These presentations were entertaining as well as informative, and may be viewed retrospectively as a gentle extension of Pearl Eslinger’s political activism on behalf of the larger environmental movement.

After the death of Kenneth in July 2000, Pearl, beset by problems common to the elderly, could only participate and help the Audubon Society in marginal ways, but she retained her love of birds, butterflies and nature in general to the very end.

Pearl Eslinger followed her beloved husband, Kenneth, in death April 27, 2009.  The loss to the community and the environmental movement is substantial.  As we continue, she is strongly missed by her family and surviving friends.

The Wabash Valley Audubon Society has dedicated a butterfly garden at Dobbs Park to the memory of Pearl Eslinger.  Her remaining family members are all extremely proud and appreciative of this dedication. 

James Eslinger and Kenneth Eslinger, Jr.

Sons of Ken and Pearl

Copyright 2018 by the Wabash Valley Audubon Society