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Refuge celebrates volunteers with drive-thru awards event

By REFUGE / DDWS - | Apr 2, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller, left, and April Boehnen hand out specially made facemasks to the volunteers.

Once again, COVID-19 precautions meant a new way of appreciating volunteers at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Traditionally, staff presents awards at a luncheon hosted by the refuge and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge. Last year, they made one-on-one presentations.

“This year, Visitor Services Ranger Katy Hosokawa came up with a very creative solution,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said. “We hosted a drive-through appreciation event on a Friday, when Wildlife Drive is closed to the public. We invited the volunteers to drive by 10 stations where they received gifts, awards, and lots of cheering and the enthusiastic gratitude they deserve.”

Refuge and DDWS staff and interns attended the stations. More than 80 volunteers participated with big smiles and compliments about the event.

“Of course, volunteer numbers were down this year because the Visitor & Education Center was closed for many months, and we didn’t want any volunteers risking their health and safety,” Hosokawa said. “But we are mighty proud of our volunteer numbers, regardless.”

She reported that in fiscal year 2020, 327 volunteers worked 23,654 hours at the refuge, representing a labor and benefits savings of more than $640,000. In 2019, 311 volunteers worked 37,397 hours, representing a labor and benefits savings of more than $900,000.

PHOTO PROVIDED Florida Panther NWR Ranger Adrienne Martin, left, and “Ding” Darling Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland present Charles and Lynda Dunham with their 10-year awards.

“As our volunteers are getting their vaccinations, they are coming back to ‘Ding’,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “They’ve been telling us how much they miss us and being at the refuge to help visitors appreciate this amazing island asset.”

The DDWS formed in 1982 specifically to support a volunteer corps after the opening of the refuge’s first visitor center that year. More than 11,000 people visited in the first month after the center opened, overwhelming a staff unaccustomed to dealing with the inquisitive public.

“Volunteers stepped in then to fill in the gaps left by inadequate federal funding, and they continue to do so today as federal funding steadily declines,” Miller said.

The volunteers who won awards for reaching hour and year achievement levels include:


– 30 years: Carroll Branyon, Mary Jo Hobbs and Norm Honest

– 20 years: Jake Jacobson, Sue McIntyre, Kathy Mustachio, Tom Mustachio and Jeanne Tyrer

– 10 years: Pat Appino, Rudolph Chiti, Bonnie Dale, Charles Dunham, Lynda Dunham, Vic Enns, JoAnn Hilliard, William Lupfer, Dan Moeder, Jim Newes, Marvin Richards, Nancy Sebree, Sally Stranahan, Helen Taylor, Jack Wettstein and Patty Wettstein


– 9,500 hours: Doris Hardy

– 6,500 hours: Ed Combs and Jim Sprankle

– 6,000 hours: Jack Wettstein and Patty Wettstein

– 5,000 hours: John McCabe and Latham Morris

– 4,500 hours: Miriam Hursey

– 3,000 hours: Mike Baldwin

– 2,500 hours: Tom Edgar and Greg Scherer

– 2,000 hours: Jim Bennight

– 1,500 hours: Albert Douglas and Sally Stranahan

– 1,000 hours: JoAnn Hilliard

– 500 hours: Sarah Ashton, Katherine Britton, Bob Brooks, Patricia Healey, Lola Songer, Rush Songer and David Trout

– 250 hours: Katie Baker, Donald Breiter, John Brothwell, John Coleman, Bud Dansby, Brenda Epperson, Randy Epperson, Jane Giervic, Sam Huntington, Richard Jones, Sharon Jones, Lola Songer, Rush Songer, Nancy Stilwell and Vince Thomalla

– 150 hour: Kathryn Brintnall, David Craun, Gary Eertmoed, Robin Fidler, Richard Jones, Sharon Jones, Kenneth Lloyd, Gary Miller, Lola Songer, Rush Songer, Trish Sutherland and Gina Wagg