provided to Santiva Chronicle
Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland from J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge promised members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce a surprise at the chamber business luncheon on Wednesday, Feb. 12, but no one expected she would raise two historic figures from the dead.
As the guest speaker was finishing her talk about the refuge’s ongoing 75th anniversary celebration this year and what’s new at “Ding” Darling, she wondered out loud what refuge founder Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling and refuge system creator President Theodore Roosevelt would say about how far the refuge has come in its three-quarters of a century. That’s when two reprisors who play the roles of Darling and Roosevelt burst into the room to regale members with history and humor.
Joe Wiegand, the Roosevelt reprisor, talked about his role in establishing the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island, Fla., and subsequent ones in Pine Island Sound that are now a part of the “Ding” Darling complex. The Darling reprisor, Tom Milligan, explained how an editorial cartoonist from Iowa ended up on Sanibel Island in the 1940s and created the refuge that came to be named for him.
“What I really want to do is to thank you…” The “Darling” character told the crowd gathered at the Sanibel-Captiva Realtors Association. “You’ve taken awareness of this place into consideration with your businesses. I’m so pleased that Sanibel Island has that same 1941 feel and look and love that I first discovered.”
Westland also thanked the chamber and members for getting the word out to their guests and customers about all the refuge has to offer. She revealed a 75th anniversary activity that will debut this summer and involve local businesses.
“Seventy-five roseate spoonbills are going to flock into our community in June,” she said, explaining that business partners will be invited to hide small spoonbill statues at their places of business as part of an island-wide scavenger hunt. The refuge will start collecting names of businesses that wish to partner in the fun now.
Westland, who oversees visitor services and events at “Ding” Darling, began working at the refuge as an environmental education specialist in 2002.
“Toni is always a crowd-pleaser, but this time she really outdid herself!” said Ashley Pignato, Chamber Member Services Manager, who presided over the luncheon in the absence of Chamber President John Lai, who was in Tallahassee advocating for water quality and Visit Florida legislation.
Chamber members interested in participating in the Roseate Spoonbill Scavenger Hunt can email Toni_Westland@fws.gov with their name and the contact phone number that the refuge can reach out to in May.
The next Chamber Business Lunch takes place on Wednesday, March 11, at 11:30 p.m. at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club on Sanibel Island. Lois Knox with Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University will be the guest speaker. She will be talking about how FSBDC consultants helps small businesses. Note that chamber business lunches changed to the second Wednesday of each month in 2020.
Cost for luncheon attendance is $27 for chamber members. Advanced registration is required to attend; walk-ins are not allowed. Register by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 6, at sanibel-captiva.org or by calling 239-472-8255. Payment is due at time of registration.