If you spend enough time around the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, I can guarantee you will get to know some of the most interesting people. Over the past 25 years, I have had the pleasure of knowing literally thousands of remarkable individuals, ranging from frequent visitors to regular program participants to, of course, volunteers. I’ve watched children grow to adulthood, never leaving behind their love for the Nature Center. I’ve watched students evolve into trained professionals. I’ve seen hobbies develop into passions and hobbyists become experts. These people are just as important to the Nature Center as the grasses of the prairie and the trees of the Cross Timbers. Just like the trees and grasses, they live, grow, and pass away.
And just as new visitors and volunteers come to the Nature Center every month, our long history means that we lose longtime visitors and volunteers as well. December saw the Nature Center lose two iconic volunteers who certainly left their mark on all who had the good fortune to know them.
Dora Sylvester passed away at the age of 97 in Austin, where she had lived since leaving Fort Worth in 2010. Beginning in 1980, when she first joined the Friends, Dora began a whirlwind of volunteer activity, of which the Nature Center was a prime benefactor. Two years after joining the Friends, she became treasurer, followed by vice president in 1984, and, finally, Friends president in 1986. Beyond her willingness to hold office, Dora was a botanist — arguably one of the most important botanists associated with the Nature Center.
Dora started the Nature Center’s herbarium collection with her specimen of Quincula lobata, the purple ground cherry, collected in June 1981. Over the next 30 years, she added 1,362 specimens to the collection, supplying 71 percent of the herbarium’s total. In addition to her extensive herbarium collection and preparation work, Dora also created the Nature Center’s popular Wildflower Identification Workshops, which were later continued by Suzanne Tuttle.
During 2018 to 2020, the fruits of Dora’s (and many other botanists’) labors reached a new apex as a cooperative project with the University of Texas at Austin resulted in our entire herbarium collection being digitized and included in the Texas-Oklahoma Regional Consortium of Herbaria website along with 40-plus other institutions/collections in the two-state region, making this important research collection available to botanists from around the world.
Terry Chenoweth, a Friends member since 1994 and a Board member from 1997 to 2000, was one of the first volunteers to welcome me when I came to the Nature Center in 1997. Originally from Indiana, Terry and I bonded over our Midwestern roots. Terry volunteered at the Hardwicke reception desk, answering the phone and visitors’ questions in a gravelly voice honed by a lifetime of smoking and carrying the full authority of her Lieutenant Colonel rank in the U.S. Air Force. A military nursing career that included both overseas and stateside assignments gave Terry a unique perspective on nearly any topic, but her military bearing helped keep the staff in line whenever she was on duty at the front desk.
With more than 2,000 cumulative volunteer hours, Terry was more than capable of answering most questions that came her way, and she took special pleasure in working with the youngest staff members and volunteers, helping guide them down their life’s path.
Two very different women who impacted the lives of many around the Nature Center. We are all lucky to have known them, and, today, we can enjoy what they helped build while we miss their kind hearts.