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Dedicated volunteers donate countless hours, years at ‘Ding’

By Staff | Mar 2, 2016

Frank Fallert has been a J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge volunteer for 30 years, contributing 7,500 hours. MEGHAN MCCOY

More than 14,000 hours have been donated at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge by two dedicated volunteers over a 30 year time span.

An annual Volunteer Awards Luncheon was hosted by J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, Friends of the Refuge, Feb. 19, at the Sanibel Community House for those that have dedicated countless hours and years to helping the refuge run smoothly.

Two of those volunteers, Frank Fallert, who has donated 6,500 hours over 30 years, and Marilyn Kloosterman, who has donated 8,000 hours, were among the volunteers honored.

According to the refuge staff, 280 volunteers worked 49,990 hours during fiscal year 2015, providing a labor savings of $945,639, or almost 20 full-time staff members.

Although Fallert knew he had volunteered for 30 years, receiving an award for 6,500 hours was a surprise.

Marilyn Kloosterman has donated 8,000 hours to J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge over the years. MEGHAN MCCOY

Fallert, who retired from his St. Louis accounting career in 1985 after 34 years, began volunteering at “Ding” shortly after moving to Sanibel in November 1986.

“I had been here before,” he said of Sanibel. “I moved to the area right after I retired.”

Since Fallert spent a great deal of time working with computers while he was an accountant, he continued to share his expertise while volunteering.

“I knew computers and helped with the computers,” he said.

When he first began volunteering 30 years ago, Fallert recalled working in the bookstore located in another building at “Ding.” He said the old space was considerable smaller than the new Nature Store within the Education Center.

“There was a lot of the same stuff in the old building, but it was very tiny,” Fallert said.

He has been on the bookstore committee, was the membership chairman, and volunteered within the accounting department over the years.

“I like working with the people and talking with the people,” Fallert said of why he has volunteered for so many years. “I will volunteer until they kick me out.”

Now Fallert volunteers one afternoon a week helping bag merchandise at the Nature Store and talking to customers.

Kloosterman said she began volunteering at the refuge in January 1987 after moving to the island from Michigan on July 1, 1986. She said she gave herself six months to settle in before she and a friend took a volunteering training course.

“I always loved nature and birds,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons we moved down here.”

In 1987, Kloosterman began working in the office helping the treasurer with the books. She said the refuge at that time also received their first computer. In the afternoons she spent time entering inventory, which was previously hand-written, into the computer.

From there she worked in the bookstore, which at that time consisted of a few shelves in the old building.

When the treasurer retired, Kloosterman took over the position for several years until a part-time employee was hired.

For three years she dedicated her time to being the president of the society where she was very involved in building the new building.

“It’s a wonderful group to work for. Such dedicated and fun people,” Kloosterman said.

The long-time volunteer also spent time roving on the trail with a spotting scope talking to people and telling them what they are seeing.

“That was a fun time,” she said.

Kloosterman shared an experience that stuck with her over the years, spotting an alligator on the Indigo Trail. She said she was using an electric car heading back to the center when an alligator was sunning across the trail. After calling for help, she was asked to remain by the alligator to keep visitors away from it, which lasted for 20 minutes.

The alligator finally moved when her help slammed a piece of cardboard down on the trail near the alligator, causing it to jump and walk away.

Now, Kloosterman spends three hours a week at the refuge volunteering her time.

“I’m 92. I’ll keep going as long as I can,” Kloosterman said about volunteering at “Ding.”

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.