Tribute To Bob
by Dick Sherry
Moments Shared with
by Tom Clark
Obituary from Tulsa
Tributes to Bob
Photos of Bob
Tribute to Bob by Dick
Remarks by Dick Sherry
at the Celebration of Bob's Life, Sept. 20, 2004
I am Dick Sherry. I am an
original Board Member of the organization that worked with the Park
Board and Park Dept. to create a nature center in Mohawk Park.
In looking back, it is
really a miracle that Oxley Nature Center exists. So many good things
had to happen in a relatively short time, and one of the very best
things that happened was when Bob Jennings accepted the position of
Naturalist/Director in August of 1977. We liked Bob from the time we met
him at the interview, and his quiet confidence gave us confidence that
he was the right person to direct our fledgling nature center.
If it “takes a village to
raise a child”, I believe it took a Bob to raise the Nature Center. If
our organization was the “biological parents” of the Center, Bob became
its Nanny, Godfather, Guardian, Mentor and Personal Trainer all rolled
So much was accomplished
in the 25 years Bob was the Oxley Director. But I want to focus on the
first 3 and a half years. It was a MAGICAL time of HOPE, ANTICIPATION
and PROGRESS. I would like to take you back to the Spring of 1977. We
had the Master Plan from the National Audubon Society that had been
approved by all the City governing bodies, and the generous donations of
John and Mary Oxley and numerous other donors were in the bank, but the
City did not have the funding for the Naturalist’s position. At that
time the Junior League of Tulsa became a crutial partner in the Nature
Center project. They agreed to fund most of the Naturalist’s salary for
2 years, to organize the volunteer guide program and to establish a
nature center newsletter. This paved the way for the hiring of the
Naturalist , and Bob’s first day was September 15, 1977.
Over the last few days, I
have looked at many photographs and reread the old newspaper and
magazine articles that were written about Bob and the Nature Center in
the late 70’s, and I feel like we owe Kelly an apology. If there were
nights when Bob came home worn-out and a little cranky, it was probably
our fault. We were asking him to do so many things at once!
We had been advised by the
National Audubon Society planners and staff members at other nature
centers that we should not begin construction on the capital
improvements or the design of the buildings until the Naturalist was on
board. So when Bob started, it was like we were giving an artist a 700+
acre blank canvas to work with, and Bob produced a masterpiece.
He was working with the
Junior League as they organized the Volunteer program. He developed the
training material for the volunteers, as well as conducted the training
sessions. He also developed the educational program for the schools that
would be visiting the Center, and when visitors started coming out in
the Spring of 1978, he was leading many of the groups.
At the same time, he was
getting immersed in the actual development of the site. Trail layout and
construction was in full swing, and he spent hours with our architect,
Steve Olsen, who was donating his time to design the Shelter, the Front
Gate and finally the Interpretive Building. In those 3 and a half years,
miles of Trails were constructed, the Boardwalk at the Marsh was built
along with a new Bridge across Coal Creek, and both the Shelter and the
Interpretive Building were completed. The educational programs were so
popular that schools were reserving time nearly a year in advance.
His great common sense and
practicality were tremendous assets. He called me one afternoon to talk
about obtaining railroad ties for the borders on the trails. He had
called a number of sources and we were surprised at the high prices they
were asking. Then he said he had noticed that the rail line just south
of Mohawk Park was being rebuilt, so he contacted the person in charge
and explained our need for the ties. Bob was told that if he would
gather them up and haul them off, he could have them – and that is
exactly what he did!
He later learned that the
Community College facility at Apache & Harvard was going to expand, and
that an area of native prairie plants would be lost in the process. With
the permission of the college, and the aid of some volunteers and summer
workers, seeds were collected from many of these plants and were then
used to establish the native prairie area north of the Interpretive
When it came time to add
some full time help for Bob, we were again blessed with the quality of
the people who wanted to work with and for Bob. His ability to pick good
people continued throughout his time as Director. These people have been
exceptional, and as dedicated and unselfish with their time and talents
Bob was an amazing man! A
rare combination of skills and knowledge. Photographer, Philosopher,
Scientist, Storyteller, Construction Foreman, Teacher, Manager and
Friend. But to me his most amazing talent was his ability to express in
writing the simple and beautiful way he perceived Nature.
When I told our oldest
daughter that Bob had passed away, she reminded me of a time when she
was about 5 or 6 years old. Bob was at our house, and Beth had an ear
ache and wasn’t feeling well. So Bob cranked up his pipe and blew the
warm smoke into her ear. I don’t know if it cured the ear ache, but it
left a lasting memory with her, and she is now 30.
Bob gave us all a lot of
good memories, and I hope that when we visit Oxley or Redbud Valley in
the future, we will take a moment and say “Thank You” to this very good
man. He was a blessing in the lives of all of us who knew him and got to
work with him, and he was a blessing to the Community as well.
Rest in Peace, Bob, with
the Assurance that you will always have our Gratitude and Appreciation.
Moments Shared With Bob
by Tom Clark
Remarks by Tom Clark
at the Celebration of Bob's Life, Sept. 20, 2004
It was on my first trip
with Bob, Wally and Jim, actually the first time the four of us went
birding together. January, 2002, and we were down in the tip of South
Texas, around Harlingen and McAllen. Our first morning found us getting
out of the rental van at Benson-Rio Grande park. Bob and Wally were
standing around, Bob puffing slowly on his pipe as was his wont upon
getting ready to head out on the trail. I heard some unknown birds
calling from a dense stand of small trees. I asked Wally and Bob if they
knew what they were. Bob shrugged and suggested I go see if I could spot
them. So I eased on up to the trees, trying to locate the mystery birds.
Closer and closer. Some more movement and sounds, but they were still
invisible. Bob and Wally were just standing a ways off, checking out the
distance with their binoculars, chatting, etc., but basically Bob was
watching in his bemused way as I would creep up to try and spot these
things. Finally I saw the birds--Green Jays! Large, spectacular,
brilliantly colored in greens, yellow and black. My first lifer of the
trip! --Later I would realize we would practically be shooing them away
like sparrows, they were so common. Now he could have told me all this,
but that would have spoiled it for me, wouldn't it? Bob would never just
tell you what something was, he gently guided you into figuring it out
for yourself, whether you were a new volunteer naturalist trainee or
someone he was grooming to be a birding buddy. Even if he had seen a
particular bird a hundred times, he reveled in your joy of first time
discovery and relived his own through ours. Funny how some people, just
like some birds, stand out in your mind.
Bob was what some folks
might call lethargic; others, just easy going or contemplative. But boy,
could he move when he wanted to! We had been on the hunt for a couple of
days at Santa Ana NWR for the one new life bird Bob was confident he
could get on this trip, a Tropical Parula warbler. We had been thwarted
up to this point, with other folks saying they had just seen it "just 10
minutes ago", but we never could find it. Supposedly hanging out in a
foraging group with some chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. Finally I
spotted the group come into the tall trees, and the warbler was with
them. A call out to Bob "Here it is, the Parula!", followed by his shout
to "Keep your eyes on it!!", followed by the sound of his jingling as he
hustled up the road to where we stood. Funny how he still had that set
of keys, even out and away from Oxley. He was so happy, so satisfied, to
see that bird. Even though it meant he had to buy the celebratory "new
life bird" round of beer that night. Sometimes I would suspect that was
why they invited me along, as most of the birds down there or up in
Canada were life birds for me. It got to where it was much easier for
Bob to rack up new Life Beers instead of Life Birds, which makes sense
if you think about, 'cause there are new brews coming out all the time,
but I haven't heard of any new birds being made. I think he enjoyed some
of those rarer beers almost as much as the birds. But he was neither
bird nor beer snob, with a mass market cream ale playing as important a
role as a Cohlmia Warbler the first time he saw or tried it in order to
get counted on his lists, those oh so important lists. A poor brew might
be proclaimed mere slug bait, but the highest accolade he could give a
worthy beer was the admonition never, ever to put a glass of it on your
head, because your tongue would beat your brains out trying to get to
Another big bird moment
was at Anzalduas Park where there was this tiny, brilliant orangey
flash, flitting to the top of a post more than a football field away.
"Holy shit! It's gotta be a Vermilion Flycatcher!" I had dreamed of
seeing one of those for years, and just couldn't contain my excitement.
Bob got a real kick out of that, chuckling at me as Jim and Wally got
the scopes out. I got embarrassed then, but Bob said he, too, could
remember the first times he spotted a particularly desired bird. So what
special bird is he enjoying now? Labrador Duck? Carolina Parakeet? Some
of you are running down names of your own, aren't you? A dodo, perhaps?
Ah, a good one, for sure, but not one Bob would put on his list, and you
know he was pretty particular about his lists. Because the rules of
Bob's list mandate that it has to be seen in North America, on the north
side of that imaginary line down the middle of the Rio Grande. Strange?
Yes, but that was the rule. A striking Ivory-billed Woodpecker? A
secretive Bachman's Warbler? Or the wonder of Passenger Pigeons in their
vanished millions? . . . . Yeah, that's the one.
Tulsa Work Obituary
Robert Jennings' rites set; was
retired Oxley director
from Tulsa World, 9/19/2004
helped form the center and was instrumental in preserving Mohawk Park
land. Robert G. "Bob" Jennings, a retired director of Oxley Nature
Center, died Wednesday. He was 64.
A celebration of his life
is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Monday at Floral Haven Funeral Home Chapel
in Broken Arrow.
Jennings was born Oct. 25,
1939, in Muleshoe, Texas, to Velma and Gardner Jennings.
He graduated from
Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., and served in the Navy. He
later graduated with a master's degree in biology from the University of
Missouri in Kansas City.
Jennings went on to direct
the Lakeside Nature Center, a part of the Kansas City, Mo. Parks and
Recreation Department. He started an outdoor education program there.
On Sept. 15, 1977,
Jennings became the first director of Oxley Nature Center, which he
helped plan and build. For the next 25 years, he led Tulsans
in preserving a portion of
Mohawk Park, where the nature center is located. The center is
nationally renowned for its interpretive programs.
In addition to his
position at Oxley, Jennings also wrote "From the Stump," a column in the
Oxley Nature Center Newsletter. His friends collected many of his
columns and published them in a book with the same title.
co-authored a Midwest bird guide scheduled for release in the spring of
Throughout his career,
Jennings received many awards for his leadership as a naturalist and
He retired as director of
Oxley Nature Center in 2002.
In 2004, he was named a
Fellow of the National Association for Interpretation, the
organization's highest honor.
Among his hobbies were
collecting, birdwatching, genealogy, music, reading and beer-tasting. He
had observed 668 birds and tasted 842 beers in his lifetime. He also
enjoyed traveling to historical and bird-watching sites with his wife.
He is survived by his
wife, Kathryn Lynn "Kelly" Jennings, of the home.
Friends may make memorial
contributions to the National Association for Interpretation in Fort
Collins, Colo., or the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center Association.
Tributes to Bob
I was tripping down memory
lane with some other members of a folk music forum to which I belong
this evening. Someone started a thread for people who had worked as park
rangers and interpreters. I got to tripping down memory lane a bit, and
decided to do a Google search for the Oxley Nature center. I was
saddened to see that Bob had passed away, but warmed a bit by your
request for reminiscences about him.
I was one of the first
three employees of the Oxley Nature center, with Bob being one of the
three. The other employee, Neil, and I were the center's first two
seasonal naturalists. Back when I worked there, we had to use one of the
offices in one of the Tulsa Park maintenance buildings because there was
no interpretive center yet. And we taught classes in one of the Tulsa
Park's pavilions in the absence of an interpretive building. We didn't
mind that one little bit. In fact, it was wonderful.
Bob taught me about
Newcombs Wildflower Guide. I am forever grateful to him for that. But
the thing I am most grateful for is that he took a chance on me and gave
me the job. Then, being, himself, only newly arrived in Oklahoma from
Missouri, Bob turned me and Neil loose into the park to find out for him
what was out there. That's exactly what he said, too. He said our job
was to find out for him what was in the park.
I loved working for Bob,
and exploring all of the new (for all three of us) kinds of life and
other things that were out there. One of my favorite memories was when
Bob was driving Neil and I somewhere, and he slammed on the brakes and
started backing up fast. Then he stopped the car and got out. We
followed him out, and saw that he was watching some birds that were
floating on a pond.
Neil and I both agreed
that the best kind of boss is the kind that will stop the car in the
middle of the work day just to look at birds.
Because the job was
seasonal, I ended up taking a job as a zookeeper at the zoo there in the
park, and about a year later came back to the east coast to live. But my
summer working at the Oxley Nature Center with Bob Jennings as my boss
was definitely one of the best working experiences I've ever had.
Anyway, thanks for the
opportunity to reminisce.
Carol Dale (formerly Carol Cunningham)
P.S. I was the one who
spotted and collected (with some help from Neil) the specimen of the
swamp rose mallow that you, hopefully, still have in your collection
there at the center. Because of his professional status, Bob was given
credit though (and I don't mind that at all). But I still feel a little
flush of pride that I was the first person in the history of the state
of Oklahoma (according to what Bob told me, anyway) to officially
collect and identify a specimen of a swamp rose mallow. Unfortunately,
the grounds crew of the golf course mowed the plant down the following
week. It was on the bank of the creek that formed the border between the
golf course and the park, and Neil and I annoyed more than a few golfers
in our efforts to collect that
Last week (Nov. 22,
2004)we held our annual National Interpreters' Workshop in Grand Rapids,
Michigan. Bob was on many peoples' minds. His name was spoken often over
the week. A photo of him and a memory book was placed out where folks
could record memories and messages. During the award ceremony, our NAI
president Evie Kirkwood spoke highly of Bob in presenting him,
posthumously, with the NAI highest award, The Fellow Award. Likewise,
Lisa Brochu in her accepting remarks for Bob's award, spoke most
eloquently of Bob's work with NAI and his passion for the profession. It
was most moving. Bob had tremendous impact on the organization and the
profession as well he did on the Center there.
You may know that before
he died, Bob donated to NAI several guitars, several of his birding
vests, and a pair of binoculars and requested that they be auctioned at
our annual scholarship auction to raise money for this important program
about which he felt so strongly. His good friend and our executive
director, Tim Merriman, did the honors of auctioning the instruments and
vests and each time spoke of Bob and his contributions over the years.
The items brought tears, cheers, and a lot of money!
Bob will be missed, but
remembered most fondly. He and I served on the national board together
many years ago. I remember one instance when were doing strategic
planning. The task was to come up with a mission statement. The
facilitator gave some examples of other organizations' statements, such
as The American Society for the Prevention of Blindness, whose mission
is simply "to prevent blindness..." After a seemingly incredibly long
period of time of discussing this matter and bantering back and forth on
our mission statement of our organization for interpreters and
interpretation, and tweaking it time and time again, Bob was standing in
the back of the room, vest on, itching to move on. He finally said, "you
know, I like the mission statement that was given when we first started
this discussion..." The room fell silent as all eyes fell on Bob. Then
he said, "to prevent blindness." The whole room cracked up! It was
classic Bob. Taking a tense moment and interjecting just the perfect
amount of dry humor for a needed break and get us back to reality. He
was one of a kind. Yes, he is missed, but his legacy lives on.
Interpreter, Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana
I am a member of a guitar
forum that Bob was also a member of.I just learned of his passing,and
wanted to send my condolences to his family.Everyone on the forum
respected Bob(Yoda) for his gentle wit and warm humor.He posted once a
year or so ago that he wished he had a tape of a musical performance.I
happened to have one,so I sent him a copy.He wanted to pay me,and when I
told him it was not at all necessary,he offered to make me some custom
tapes of music he apparently surmised I was interested in from the
forum.I again declined,but I wish now I had accepted his gracious
offer.Again,I'm very sorry to hear of his passing--he touched a lot of
people who never even met him.
I came to know Bob through
the online Acoustic Guitar Forum, formerly the Taylor Guitar Forum.
There "Yoda," as he was called, always had a twinkle in his posts, as if
he knew something funny that was going on that we didn't. His clever wit
and unique way of expressing himself endeared him to many Forum members
from around the world who never actually met him in person.
He could be serious, of
course, and was quite passionate about his birds, acoustic guitars and a
few other subjects. But even when that passion led to disagreement, he
remained a thoughtful, well spoken friend and gentlemen.
His absence from the Forum
was already missed before we heard the news of his passing, but when we
heard we felt his loss more deeply. However, in a strange kind of way
for people who have never met face to face, the now nearly 7,000 members
of the AGF are better, more knowledgeable and caring people for his
having become a warm, inspiring, all too brief part of our lives.
I join "Yoda's" many
efriends in raising our computer mouses (mice? - Bob would know!) in
tribute and memory of a great man!
Acoustic Guitar Forum Moderator
What a sad day this will
be, we have lost one of the finest and most passionate members of our
profession. I will mourn the premature loss of a friend who had so much
still to share, but I will not spend the day in mourning. Instead I will
think of all of the times shared with Bob while birding and on the NAI
Board and I will celebrate and honor the life of a man who truly knew
what success in life meant. Bob was a true mentor, he touched the lives
of countless interpreters, and through the powerful legacy he has left
behind he will continue to guide and inspire me, and so many others, for
years to come. The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson seem so appropriate to
Bob's life: To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent
people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest
critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know
even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have
I know of few others that
succeeded in life better than Bob Jennings.
Chief Naturalist, Wild Birds Unlimited, Carmel, IN
In this part of the world
when a giant cedar crashes to the forest floor it is carved into a totem
that honors all those ancestors that have come before. Those ancestors
are the mentors and teachers and wise ones that stand by us, unseen, in
our daily lives, and that help all of us through those tough spots in
life. When I think of Bob I think of him as an ancestor, a wise one, and
a teacher, and now, he is looking down on all of us, from an elevated
and appropriate place in our hearts and minds. As he looks down on all
of us, we know he is smiling. We look up and wish him well in his role
as heaven's naturalist.
Faith Duncan and all of
NAI Region 10
Bob touched lives all over
this great country. Not just the Lower 48 and Alaska, but all the way
out to the Far, Far West in remote Hawaii. The NAI members from this end
of the USA appreciate all he has done for the profession. Hawaiians
believe that departed souls travel westward seeking Ao Aumakua (realm of
the ancestors). Next time I see a white tropicbird flying against the
azure Hawaiian sky, I'll think of Bob on a journey to join his
ancestors. Mahalo (thank you), Bob--your generous work will always be
remembered. Aloha from Hawaii.
Ray Tabata, Hawaii
Chair, I and T Section, NAI
I want to thank the Tulsa
World for the fitting tribute to the many accomplishments of Bob
Jennings, founding Director of the Oxley Nature Center, who passed away
on Sept. 15th. I first met Bob in 1980. He volunteered to accompany my
Ecology students on a tour of the Oxley area. Over the years we
co-taught my classes on these field trips and expanded to a second trip
to Red Bud Valley preserve. My students were delighted by Bob's
excitement and eagerness to share his love of discovering the beauty of
the natural Creation surrounding us. I often willingly took a back seat
to teaching and let Bob share because he always had a special ability to
draw out of the students a curiosity that made the learning experience
memorable. I will miss Bob and plan to continue his legacy as best as I
can in the years to come. Thanks Bob! In sincere appreciation and
John Korstad, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology and Honors Program Director
Oral Roberts University
I was one of the first
full-time state park naturalists as was Donna Hamilton Horton. I was
lurking around Eufaula from 1979-1990. We all had our struggles,
challenges, and, other, with our nature centers, the politics and other
aspects of state government. Hang with me I am getting to my main
tribute point.... "Bob", I always looked up to. He was always a good
listener and was not bashful about responding to requests for advice
which I absorbed. He was like, "Uncle Bob" in respect to our
professional relationship. He was respected by many. I was compelled to
write something about him as the memories flooded me. Ah yes, I noticed
Reese is a bit thinner on top and graying and Donna has lost her long
hair.... Although I have my hair, I am a grey duck myself. Best to all
that serve under that woodpecker in Tulsa. I still have an Oxley bird
pin tucked away and every time I see a Red-Headed Woodpecker, I think of
"Bob" and back in the days. God Bless.
aka Randy Ledford
Photos of Bob
Bob with his "Stump" at his Parks Dept. Retirement Party
More Photos from
Bob Jennings Retirement Party
Bob in early Spring, 2002, with a friend and his pen pal from Japan.
Chloe Oney, Bob and Ramona Jackson at the front desk
Craig Kirkwood and Bob birding in AZ - snagging some life bird in 2000.
A 2000 NAI birding trip that Bob lead - and you can tell by everyone's
smiles that we all got lots of life birds. In classic Bob fashion, he is
in the back.
Bob and the Tulsa Audubon gang at Alice Hensy's birthday in 1995.
Bob in 1981 at Redbud Valley
Bob with the current and former staff members at his 2002 retirement
Ed Pembelton sent Bob a copy of "A Sand County Almanac" signed by three
of the Leopold family.
Bob was presented with a special painting by Byron Ball.
Byron Ball, Bob and Dick Sherry
More Photos from the
Board Party for Bob's Retirement