In the military, a volunteer is sometimes the one hapless soldier left standing alone when all his buddies take a conspiratorial step back. In civilian life, a volunteer may be the one attendee who missed the meeting and in their absence, was assigned all the dirty jobs.

Based on their passion and dedication, it is obvious that none of our volunteers were tricked into service. We didn’t promise them an opportunity to see the world when we really meant the back roads of Illinois. Nor did we tout cutting the grass on the runway as the glories of animal research. Instead they willingly walk knee deep in muddy water, teach classrooms full of eager kids about Whooping cranes or wade through the minutiae of non profit regulations.

It makes you wonder what Whooping cranes did to deserve such a dedicated following. In fact, “tell them Whooping cranes are involved” might be the answer to the question, how do you get someone to show up an hour before sunrise in the middle of nowhere to dress up in a costume (made by volunteer, Mary O’Brien) and carry a puppet. That may be part of the reason our volunteers are lovingly referred to as Craniacs.

Our list of volunteers is too long to mention here but many deserve acknowledgement. Walter Sturgeon has given up his autumns for ten years to help with the migration. He somehow manages to stay below us to retrieve drop-out birds, likely by cajoling his volunteer tracking-van driver into violating local speed limits. Walter is from North Carolina and is on our Board of Directors and that leads me to another six names to our list of volunteers. Dale Richter from Georgia is our chairperson; Doug Aanes from Wisconsin serves as our treasurer; David Sakrison, also from Wisconsin provides writing expertise. Adding to the geographic diversity of this organization, Gordon Perkinson is from Vermont and our attorney/ director, Norman St. Amour lives in Maryland. Colleen Chase is from Florida and as well as serving on our Board, she is an integral migration team member.

Finding someone willing and able to leave home for a few months in the fall with no set completion date is not easy. Most people have lives. Last year I tried recruiting new volunteers by defining a schedule with fixed start and end dates. That way the only unknown was where we might be when it was their turn to join us. Because of the horrible weather, some of those volunteers sat in one location for their entire tour of duty. Rather than the great adventure we had promised, it was more like ice fishing where too many people cram into a small portable house in the freezing cold with nothing much to do except stare at the ground.

Other migration volunteers scarcely had time to rest as we covered 466 miles in 16 days. Clarke Schultz, Steve Schildwachter, Bill Menard, John Gerend and David Nadell helped us through a long and challenging migration. David and Linda Boyd are long-time, migration team members. We were very pleased they could join us for the last two weeks and share in the joy (read: relief) of finally reaching St Marks.

Doug Pellerin also fits into the migration team category as he covered the first two weeks. However, we didn’t move during his tenure so he too was guided by our 2014 migration motto – “Here today and here tomorrow.” Doug also helped with summer training. He regularly drove an hour each way, pre-sunrise, to release the birds. He brought grapes for the chicks and occasionally donuts for the team. Tom Schultz, who lives close by, also helped train the birds. Together Doug and Tom managed the observation blind and along with Rick Vant Hoff, help spread the word through classroom presentations.

There are hundreds of people to thank like Scott Tidmus from Disney’s Animal Kingdom who helps Brooke monitor the birds at St Marks over the winter and Mary and Bob Vethe who coordinate the Crane Festival in Wisconsin each fall.

We have volunteers who build pens or work with the birds. Many have said that seeing the chicks up close is compensation enough for dirty hands and sore muscles. We have another small army of volunteers whose altruism isn’t rewarded by direct contact with the birds they love. Instead, they work behind the scenes on projects equally as important like running our live streaming camera.

Not so lovingly known as the beast, our camera operates a mile from the nearest power source and sends its signal four miles to the closest DSL line. Camera drivers from around the country log into the system to pan, tilt and zoom the camera so they can track early morning training or check on which birds are roosting properly. Along with the camera is a live chat line so viewers can ask questions and understand what they are watching. However, that does not always pan, tilt and zoom the way it should. Nor do the overlapping segues always respond to control inputs. To keep everyone on topic and ensure accurate answers to complex questions, moderators chime in to set the record straight and keep everyone updated on the latest news.

The camera works in real time so drivers and moderators are up early and to bed late. We owe great thanks to people like Lori Verhagen, Terry Johnson, Jenny Gibbs, Colleen Chase, Jo-Anne Bellemer, Rich Smith, Beverly Birks, Ginny Lulow, Peggy Smith (not related to Rich), Jeanne Usted, Ella Moyes, Fred Wasti and Anna Ely.

We also want to thank Bev Paulan who once worked for us but is now a pilot for the Wisconsin DNR. She spends many of her vacation weeks as a volunteer, helping to monitor the birds at St Marks or along our migration route. Her extensive knowledge of their behavior, habitat and range has made her an invaluable airborne tracker – keeping tabs on their location and well being over the summer.

There are many more people including stopover hosts, supporters and well wishers who deserve our unending gratitude. It is heartwarming to know that volunteerism is alive and flourishing. In fact, if you were searching for an exemplary example of altruism in our modern world, you would simply have to look for the nearest Whooping crane.

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  1. Madeline February 15, 2015 10:42 pm

    Joe, thank you for naming names and thank you to all of them. It is a real privilege to follow all you do. Godspeed.

  2. Dorothy Nordness February 13, 2015 8:53 pm

    What an amazing group of folks that tend to all the minutiae of caring for and training those chicks and then teaching them the route to Florida!!! All of you/them deserve a standing ovation.

  3. Dana February 13, 2015 3:04 pm

    Thanks for taking time to call the names (and name the many good works) of the special people who make it all happen.


  4. Mindy February 13, 2015 11:53 am

    Thank you Joe for the overview…….And many, many thanks to all of the numerous, wonderful, dedicated crane lovers who devote minutes, hours, days, weeks and months to the diverse tasks associated with restoring the Eastern migratory flock! You are all amazing folks! And sometimes I know the only reward is the satisfaction of knowing that you helped these birds in some way or perhaps an occasional glance from a bird in a close-up stance looking for the next grape or meal worm. And yes, that would be thanks enough for me too……You all rock!

  5. Dave Sapko February 13, 2015 10:02 am

    It take a village. Thank you to all within the OM village.

  6. Kay February 13, 2015 8:54 am

    Quite a tribute to some very special people!