David Brigham and Joan Brigham

Recorded November 8, 2019 Archived November 9, 2019 40:23 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: cte000185


David Brigham (67) talks with his mother, Joan Eddy Brigham (94), about her role as an interpretive naturalist at the Fenner Nature Center in Lansing, MI.


  • David Brigham
  • Joan Brigham

Recording Locations

Eddy Family Home

Partnership Type



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00:00 Okay, so far so good. I'm Joan Eddy Brigham. I'm 95 the we are in Douglas Michigan. This is my grandmother's home.

00:18 The I'm here with my son date.

00:23 K and my name is David Brigham. I'm see how old am I I'm 60. I'll be 68 this year and we're in Douglas at our a farmhouse and I'm speaking with my mother.

00:45 So I had a couple of things that I was interested in asking you about one of them was how

00:55 In your childhood, how'd how did that help you prepare for being becoming a naturalist I was thinking about.

01:07 I treated a lot to my father who used to take me hunting with him and I'm walks with him and I love to be outside. But my mother also love to be outside and we are picked a few every month of the year outside and she kept us outside. But I I think of it more in terms of my father and I have no idea why so that was in the twenties and thirties.

01:40 Yes, but my grandfather Peyton used to take us in his Marmon, which is the name of an old car and he would take off for a while. He would take five of us cuz my cousin would come along also and he would get us lost in the woods and then we'd have to find a way out and I he he did all kinds of wonderful things like his teeth would disappear and we didn't know where they went. I think he put them in his hand or something, but we've never seen false teeth before he loved baseball.

02:23 And when he had to go to work, he asked me to come to his house and listen to the baseball game so I can tell him what happened when he got home. So I grew to love baseball. I knew all the all the players and all kinds of things and remember them. Well, did you know Babe Ruth her know what that was that was a little before my time. I know of I knew a city job of a fox you're going to have forgotten the name symbol of a lot of and anyway, he had a big influence on me. My other grandfather was in the Civil War until the stories about the Civil War wrote his autobiography and he's the one that had the spent.

03:13 Many ball and used to take it out of his pocket and show it to us and we just thought that was thrilling from what I understand. I've never met him but he wore a hole in his pants pocket because he kept it with him all the time, right but I don't know where it is now. I wish I did something that you went into Environmental Education, but your other sisters and your cousin who is really close to you didn't so much. How come you were more influenced than they were do you have any idea on then? I have no idea. I just always we all loved being outdoors my sister Betsy knew a lot about flowers and all kinds of things Barbie was more.

04:11 I don't know how to explain it. But she was more ladylike. I guess that's the way it would be my sister Joyce love being outside. Also, we all love to be outside. We were outside all the time when we were here in Douglas. We had total freedom we could leave the house and go somewhere nobody ever paid much attention to when we went when we got back because there was nothing to worry about here in the summer in Ann Arbor. That was a little different story why I want to change tax Asher Loop a little bit talking about Fenner Nature Center. And the first thing I want to find out just sort of a throw this Hatchet. What is your first impression?

05:01 That you got when I say Fenner Nature Center.

05:05 I get a view of the building in the grounds. And so that's that's originally when you first started working there. The building was not there.

05:16 No, it was there. When do you when you first start your first? Okay, your first experience at Banner was the building there at that time.

05:30 I think so. Okay. That was a 1963. I was just built and I think it was built in 59 Westmont. How could be I remember going to Fenner and having a beer drive-thru area and that used to go drive all the way over to the log and be able to play on the logs in the swing sets and that's her two things, but you don't remember that hat face with but that was one of the things I remembered it was okay that my my first impression of my thinking about dinner is always Visual and sensory.

06:16 Sounds and Smith translated over into your education educated that was the importance of educating the kids taking them to develop all their senses and appreciate and understand and hopefully eventually take care of the world they live in so how did the opportunity arise that you were able to become employed it at dinner as a family we were always out there from the I swear from the day it was open and we were out there a lot and we were learning and what was fun was that we were learning together all of us learning about trees and plants and

07:03 Everything I'm animals everything and the people that work there the naturalist were very helpful in helping us learn and eventually we've been there so much they had to do something with me and so they hired me part time and when that natural is left, they recommended me for the position. So so I became the interpretive naturalist for the city of Lansing. So then 1970 what it what I'm hearing is that the way we were brought up and learned at Fenner you basically use that model to be able to a guy but you were doing as an interpretive naturalist, it was instinctive because there was no education for I had not had any education for it. I was pretty much instinctive because you guys just taught me so much. Oh we thought you taught me.

08:03 U-Haul Derby that I didn't know anything about being a nationalist or even about being a mother and I learned from all of you. I guess that's life, isn't it? Yeah you and date you and Rick and Annie.

08:24 Okay. Well that sort of thing that was one of my other questions is how how enter affected our family and can you basically went through that that we were all did it together and we learned together and and I mean continues to affect things that have gone on now. I have something from the naturalist there and she had a couple of questions that I wanted to go through as well.

08:56 So she was talking about.

09:01 Individuals with disabilities who really didn't fit the mold in the time of they were talking about in the in the 70s or so and that they were typically assigned to a specialty school and you did things differently. You said that it was him important for them to become involved in things outside and a specific question. I'll just read what I have said anyone who didn't fit the mold was sent to a specialty school like a School for the Blind though those environments certainly provided education. It was Joan who found a way to immerse them in nature education.

09:50 And she repeated that a couple of times. How did she have the inside and forward-thinking to begin breaking apart poor education Praxis practice to involve evolve into what we see today. Do you have a response to that Michigan School for the Blind was in Lansing is and we had the opportunity to meet some wonderful children from there and we developed a program to take them out on the trails and help them understand through the senses that we're functioning for them. Could you tell me a little bit how that relationship started. Did they contact you or did you contact them?

10:42 I don't remember. Well does make any difference you've made the contact somehow but we learned so much from them because we had not we did not have these. Anyway, we learned a lot from them and because of that we felt that we should develop a trail for the sensory impaired for Bluff blind deaf, whatever and so we laid out a trail.

11:18 And it's never been done in Michigan before and it was absolutely wonderful. Not just for the sensory impaired which we all are incidentally but for people who had and all their senses and didn't know how to use them. And the sensory experience is such a wonderful way to learn and so many people are have sensory impairment whether they're labeled or not. One of the hardest things I did at Center was to teach my volunteers and staff to listen. They didn't know how to listen. But anyway, we develop this Avenue to Discovery for blind people which benefited everybody but we also

12:10 When else did we do and what's the other thing you did a lot of different things here. So that was it was neat that I'm hearing you say that there was a lot of sensory that you were concentrating on that and what I've seen through education is that the more senses are that are impacted during an instruction session the better impact it has on the student and the better retention of the material. That's why it's so wonderful to teach outside because you're not surrounded by four walls. You can learn many you can run very well without four walls around you. She did have a couple of other things that she wanted. How did how did you

13:01 Get support for that program the educational program.

13:07 I just did it. Okay. I I had to work with the School for the Blind and and they were very Cooperative course they loved having this special event for their students and we made some really wonderful friends with some of the

13:29 Blind children somebody who volunteered for us eventually and it was just wonderful taught us so much. So did you get support from like the Parks and Rec?

13:44 Not really. All I know now, I'm pretty much did it on my own. I got support from the Lions Club to build the trail.

13:57 And they were very very helpful.

14:03 Okay. Now there were some barriers that you probably encountered back in the 1970s that that many people didn't experience being a woman in a professional feels like that or did you experience some some pushback? Absolutely one of the things that

14:31 That it was

14:34 Probably most difficult for me was that because of the way we grew up. We were very independent and kind of not freethinkers, but willing to think about a lot of other things that maybe other children did none who didn't have that opportunity. So when I was under the jurisdiction of powerful men, that's the way they put it these days.

15:07 I was not exactly am willing responder to rules and I had to learn that that I was a part of something else. I was not a reprobate or anything like that, but I had never had to do that. So I did learn a few questions things. But the one big thing that happened to me is that the former naturalist had a car at his disposal and

15:43 I was able to drive it and when I inherited the job I got in here to that car and the director of the department and hitting his underling came out to see me to tell me that I was married and had a husband and we didn't need another car and so they took my car away from me but they didn't give me any additional salary. So that was my first experience with that kind of thing. I was not happy. But anyway, or you can write well, I love her. I always loved my job. I just thought it was the most wonderful thing to be playing.

16:26 At a job that I feel loved and in the how exciting it always wanted to talk a little bit about dinner Nature Center East call center Arboretum, but it was named after Karl Fenner. Could you tell a little bit about how he is involved in the organization in the development of our Nature Center and Rec. I believe that any went to Lisle, Illinois to visit the Morton Arboretum and was enthralled and wanted to bring it back to Lansing and he was able to

17:16 I'm get the city to buy the land and to set up a park of 120 acres and he actually blind a different kinds of trees there. So it was called an arboretum and he had the vision to do that, which was wonderful and he was a wonderful man. When was that that dinner started to remember the park opened and was dedicated in 59 and but he took him a number of years to set it up and they had employed naturalist to build displays and things prior to that.

18:01 But we found it almost immediately and were just there all the time.

18:10 Okay, I have.

18:15 Some other people that were talking about different things that happened at at Fenner different types of animals that used to have are there any specific animals that you remember that stand out Sam are bald eagle that we got in and I think anyway it was probably six months old when it was found Frozen in the ice and rehabbed and then brought to Fenner and was therefore I think 30 years 30 and it was wonderful teaching opportunity because the first of all children and could see what a bald eagle look like and secondly they could hear it because every time you approached its exhibit it would call.

19:06 Andy is the story of his life what was shot that's what was wrong with it was shot and Frozen in the ice and the so we had an opportunity to talk about caring about their lives and it's also an endangered species. So just had all kinds of opportunities to explain what was going on in our world that time and it was a wonderful opportunity some people objected to it being in an exhibit because it was confined but it was there because it couldn't fly we couldn't take care of itself. So it

19:51 It was saved for educational purposes and it worked everybody loves Sam remember walking along the trails and you're walking in the woods and every once in a while, you would come up to a cage. Like there was a great horned owl cage out in the far reaches of the park and there was a cage where you had the turkeys that were there, but the one I really remember is the Perry seen and how their Antelope and prairie dogs and bison and how the tree dogs are used to keep escaping into the neighbors yards and they didn't appreciate it too much money did not like that, Michigan.

20:38 Wasn't exactly a prairie seen but I guess we may have had bison. Mr. Pain or corrected me. I called them Buffalo and he said they are bison and I learned from him and but I supposedly there were bison here and in Illinois, but we never saw anything there whenever prairie dogs here. So I kind of objected the little to that because they were not native animals. But but they were there and everybody love them. Especially Elvis the Bison you use really big lived for a long time to

21:21 And people didn't used to be able to drive up to that to the Prairie season people drive and park there and watch the bison and Antelope in the prairie dogs, but we had to explain those were not now native to Michigan. One of the things that was mentioned by one of your former coworker was about blue the goose. Could you tell a little bit about blue the goose? I thought maybe you might like to talk about blue the goose. Well, she said there was something specific on that that you might even I can talk a little bit later for this or something you you knew about Blue Lagoon had been there for many years and celibate is far as we knew and we had a number of different kinds of

22:17 Native Wildlife waterfowl on on the on the Pond Woods Pond and they were

22:27 There were great attraction. But the thing I remember most about blue goose you have to tell about okay. Well it's because my wife and I met through her position has a an intern in at dinner and soap we met at Tanner and then we decided we were going to get married at penrhyn we had an in with you because you were able to let us use that venue. So we we've got married Outdoors by the pond and as we were doing our vows and everybody was president was all very solemn occasion this evidently not until about the goose was courting other keys that but you recall to I had my mind elsewhere so you did but made a whole lot of noise while we were doing RC.

23:27 Hi, so that's that's what I recall about it and that's when I recalled you anywhere very noisy in and it was very funny and it was hard to keep a straight face for Jan and you I believe well, I think the settings heard of itself to the humor is a beautiful setting with the rail fence behind you and it was a gorgeous day, even though it had almost snowed the night before

23:57 Turned out to be a beautiful day. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's right. Jen Dirksen who was one of your fellow co-workers mentioned something about a snapper. They had to go to crego. I had not heard about that before. Can you tell a little bit about Tommy had a Canada Goose that was on Aniston and it had young and this giant Snapper was in the pond and it was eating me on so Jen Dirksen got was able to catch the snapping turtle and took it across the road to crego park and removed it from our park so it couldn't eat any more geese.

24:45 That's good. OK. There were a number of personalities that were at dinner a lot of different people. Could you talk a little bit about some of the the people you recall from there? They were wonderful people. We had eventually set up a friends of Fenner organization and people that were devoted to move to up me called the ARB to Fenner and they were once again people that we learn from every seem to learn from everybody and everything which was wonderful because one of one of the things I forgot to mention when you asked about the avenue to Discovery for the blind is that we had a quite a diversity of

25:41 People

25:43 I'm involved It Center in programs that other nature centers didn't seem to have and we had the same diversity in our group of friends of Fenner and they were they were all kinds of wonderful people trying to think food some of the more

26:07 If you caught me hear, okay. Well, I remember Jeff Jackson was a natural as a naturalist and somebody else that was before him. Okay, dicleys was the first one he helped build the exhibits and set up the animals on the trail and raise turkeys. He did all kinds of things and he introduced to all of us two trees. We learned our trees from him then

26:39 The next person was Jeff Jackson who is an entomologist and a herpetologist from whom we learned a lot and a photographer also and he just took you guys under his wing and taught you all kinds of things. The next one was Bob papenfuss who was mammalogist. So we learned a few things from him sorts of disciplines their right? And yes, so we we had an opportunity to learn a lot of things from the past naturalist and everything that's happened at 10 has been built on the backs of all these people which is really wonderful and I would love to see them commemorated in some way.

27:27 The people in in friends of Tanner were all really supportive and who needs apple butter programs, they came and peeled apples and when we did cider they don't make the cider and we made apple butter. They stirred the apple butter and we had hundreds of volunteers. So was it you that you're when you were there, did you start the maple syrup and apple butter, but we started the apple butter program and expanded on them all involved more people had special events and we did cider making also it was in and they they have continued and have become really big events. None Lansing, which is wonderful.

28:27 As well meaning I think waldemar has had something going going on with well certainly maple syrup, but I didn't know that so I'm so you also had other people that help you out Jan Dierks and you've mentioned Bobby Gallup was another one. So, can you tell me a little bit about your interactions with well, this was Michigan State University program, the the program that your wife Jan was in sent interns to Fenner & and Bobby and Jen Dirksen, where are all part of that.

29:18 What's again and lots and lots of those who lived with us for a while wonderful. Wonderful talented people saw it once again?

29:34 Here we are learning continuing to learn from all these wonderful people and then we had a counselor East Lansing High School who sent kids may be needed a little.

29:49 Diversity themselves want to see

29:53 To see

29:55 How the world

29:58 Was running and one of them was.

30:07 Here we go East Lansing high school. Anyway, he was having trouble in school because he was different from other kids and so his counselor send him out to me and he found out there were other people like him which you never realized and it changed his whole life. He finished school and went on to become a just a wonderful fellow economides. Yes, and we became very good friends and

30:39 It was that was a thrilling thing to see they were number of students came out that way in and learned. There was something more to the world in those four walls as an educator. It's always wonderful to see the light bulb go on with people and not how they can take but they have just experienced and expanded into areas that you had no idea that they could go into that's that's pretty pretty interesting that you've been able to do that and you've been able to effect that to have that happen with people. I hope I hope I was able to contribute something a few things. Can you tell something specific with any of these individuals that your interaction with them like friends sample Bobby after the surgery if you're thinking of Bobby's her one thing that you think of when you think of her as her Talent she was a wonderful artist. She was a

31:38 What she could write she could she could do everything and had a wonderful vocabulary in the two of us had a lot of fun with Words, which was great, but she she had wonderful ideas about how things should be done. We changed a lot of our program is things were changing in the 70s a lot and with jander person. She like working with young really young people. Everybody thought we should be working with high school students are junior high school students are 4th graders, and I felt like we should be working with preschool kids. So we set up a preschool program in Jan ran it I'll be there after the City Public Schools. Stop bus in Kids 2

32:30 2 nature centers we lost a good deal of are the people that came there and but we still had this preschool program which went wonderfully and so we figured have the groups that we used to have through that Innovation. And that was really a gender ran that program which was wonderful preschool program there again, whether their new building that they have and then they're going to be doing a preschool program there and those are assertive the Visions from from Outlets Roxbury and maybe the rent redoing of her the

33:23 Renewal of Tanner from Jason Meyer, but he started doing so you've had some interactions with with Liz and she she just really thinks your top notch an amazing. So what do you think of what's going on now? I don't know how they are managing when the buses. Stop taking kids there. We'd have thousands of children. They're all seasons. And when the bus is stopped taking them there eyes. It was a real struggle to keep things moving and these naturalist have come up with the most wonderful ideas and they've kept going and are

34:09 Doing beautifully which I'm just amazed that you got to be able to move along and work with the times and they knew how to do it and it was it was wonderful to see on my oldest just doing a wonderful job and I know that they work with a lot of the other nature centers in the area with holtschlag and doing something called and he's big nature lesson and that's heard of it in something that they've tapped into and work with could you do know all that much about a nice big nature. I do know a lot about it because you're part of it and I did want to say that I'm so proud of you because you have continued from your job at MSU to being a teacher to being a volunteer in so many wonderful activities like a nice big nature still going.

35:10 So going back to Edward's school to help with programs, even though you weren't working there anymore and and bringing bring you the word to many many people about how we need to care about our world and make sure that it's it's here and safe for other Generations. You realize that's your legacy. Your legacy is being able to stimulate other generations to do these sorts of things. So I'm sort of the tribute that back to you. So that's not something that's been going on with me. Anything nature lesson is very interesting to see the kids how they respond to things that a lot of them are not even aware that Tanner existed until they get their some of the parents are they think that the kids can't go out there because they're

36:10 That would be wolves and bears and stuff that would get them in hand. So it's not only the kids that learn but the parents send after a nice pic nature lesson with the kids being there for a whole week of the kids identify it as their park and then they can bring their parents back and it's in it's an ongoing educational experience form, which is great. So one of the things I've I've seen and then talking with you hear about that you've done your sensory experience. I've really tried to incorporate bad in the teacher training that I do with a nice pic nature lesson and trying to get all senses involved to be able to get kids to really internalized sum of learning that they do and it's it's really now you can see things and hear things.

37:10 Not in the classroom. It's mostly just hearing and I'll but when you're outside, you see things you smell things you hear things and touch things is all those things go into building and actual concrete foundation for the learning that they they get so but it's it's it's wonderful to see that the answer is still doing what it's doing as well as the other Nature Center site one of the things that I was thinking of

37:41 When you did the Nature Way Association was that when you were at as a naturalist at so young that is the association that started up Walter Myers. Well right now is on the board when it started so that was before you actually got to dinner.

38:07 So that's that's interesting. You're so now is Association teaching understanding respect and and for the world around you switch spells Nature Way, nobody remembers that I'm glad it's easy to remember nature way. So they don't call it that anymore. No, but they they are aware of it still which is which is sort of certainty.

38:44 So I'm wanted to say how proud I am of you. You've just done a wonderful job with your life including marrying Jay and in a wonderful job educating children about the world they live in and I just think it's

39:05 Amazing and I couldn't be prouder of you. Well, that's I'm humbled. Thank you, and I hope that too before. Yeah. Well, it's okay. If you didn't say it when you get it on the record that do a lot of things that I did as a kid with other kids, especially my my grandkids and my cap my own kids to be able to do things and that's sort of a legacy from you as well.

39:43 So I'm it's a wonderful thing to be able to think about.

39:49 Sound

39:51 Okay. Well, it's been wonderful talking with you. This is always such a wonderful thing to do and I'm glad we were able to have this discussion. Thanks for the information about dinner. That's such a wonderful location. I'm glad it's still in existence and that we're still able to participate there as soon as the wonderful opportunity. I appreciate appreciate it Mark.

40:20 All right.