Ed Wesely: A life well lived
A profile by BARBARA YEAMAN
I’ve always thought that Ed Wesely lived better, with less, than anyone I’ve ever known. And indeed, he lived better than …
A profile by BARBARA YEAMAN
I’ve always thought that Ed Wesely lived better, with less, than anyone I’ve ever known. And indeed, he lived better than most. And now he is gone, leaving us with a high goal to meet.
Born in 1930, during the Great Depression, a much-beloved single child, he grew up in Chevy Chase, MD, attended public schools, graduated from Georgetown Prep and Amherst College before heading West to explore his world. Meanwhile, at Amherst, he excelled in tennis, earning National Tennis titles and championships competing at the game he loved.
After leaving school behind, hitching rides, working here and there to earn his keep, he set off to explore the country, including a tour in the U.S. Army. He spent many days helping ranchers brand heifers, running a summer camp for children and spending icy winters alone in the frozen Cascade Mountains before he found his way West and fell in love with Oregon. He would be there still if his mother, in failing health, hadn’t called to him for help.
He headed back East and, this time, he found that he loved teaching at Hood College and Montgomery County Community College in Rockville, MD. He also worked for the National Park Service as a seasonal park ranger at Great Falls National Historical Park.
It was my good luck to meet him when a mutual friend invited us to dinner. In those days (1956 or so) my own marriage was shaken, and Ed sensed that I was in need of companionship and invited me out.
One thing led to another and he taught me to speak to planning commissions, to promote effective land-use measures and to influence the political landscape in Montgomery County, MD. To gauge the effectiveness of these lessons, just drive through western Montgomery County, MD today and cross the Potomac River into Northern Virginia to compare the landscapes. There is, of course, no comparison, as Western Montgomery County remains largely agricultural while Northern Virginia is heavily developed. If you are a developer, that is considered progress. Not so if you treasure the benefits of open spaces and the agricultural scene, as Ed did.
Before long, he cultivated county council members and their staffs. Often, his guitar brought levity to long meetings and hearings while he worked to conserve open space in the western county. (Singing your testimony is a guaranteed way to focus the attention of listeners.)
Those were the good old days, and we soon became a couple. Meanwhile, Ed was earning his keep teaching and working with special needs children in Maryland. Then Ed took care of our home one year so I could spend time working for a degree at the University of California. When I returned, he said, “Come with me. I want you to see a special place I found while you were away.” Of course, that was the Upper Delaware River region. We spent summers there for a few years before buying the Deighton’s home and 12 acres on the river and moving in permanently.
And thus began a new life for us both—a life that led to the creation of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy and the Butterfly Barn Nature Center, and a life working with children and adults, teaching them about the values and beauty of the Upper Delaware River region and, most importantly, how to protect it. A key component of this effort was the annual raising and releasing of monarch butterflies. Over the years, thousands were rescued and helped to safe annual migrations. During that time, Ed became a treasured mentor to local families and school children who are now sending their own children to our schools.
His legacy continues as others carry on the efforts to save the Milanville Bridge from demolition and care for their lands in many other ways.
I miss him terribly and will continue to long into the future. His voice will guide me and the rest of his world to help move it into a future of beauty and safety for all of the natural world he now has left behind.
Thank you, Ed, for all your gifts of love, laughter and knowledge of the natural world and the people who live and work here.
[Editor’s note: Ed Wesely received the Upper Delaware Council’s Distinguished Service Award in 2017. The following is an excerpt presented at the award ceremony.]
The Distinguished Service Award is the Upper Delaware Council’s highest honor. It is given to individuals for “lifetime achievement” in modeling the goals and objectives of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River Management Plan, for dedicated work on a particular project, or outstanding representation of one’s community.
Ed Wesely of Milanville, PA never seeks this type of attention for himself and was speechless and humbled when we advised him about this award nomination that Jeff Dexter made for Damascus Township to the universal agreement of all who know Ed.
Passionate, deliberate, literate and well-spoken, Ed has a certain omnipresence in the Upper Delaware River Valley but somehow manages to always turn the focus to his subject matter while remaining relatively quiet and mysterious as an individual.
In his case, the subject could be the natural resources of his surrounding environment which he is constantly observing and documenting.
It could be Monarch butterflies, which he reared, released and sometimes tagged more than 7,000 of over the two decades that his Butterfly Barn nature center was active in Milanville, PA.
It could be about hiking the Damascus Forest Trail that he designed and led many nature walks along its two-mile path.
It could be teaching adults and children through hands-on activities, animal puppetry, his writings and lectures, and volunteering hundreds of hours staffing informational booths at festivals and public events.
Or it could be his campaign to raise awareness of the Milanville Historic District and its 1901-built interstate bridge crossing, which are the subjects of two booklets that Ed recently wrote, illustrated with his stunning photographs and distributes free on his own dime.
Ed concludes his booklet on the Skinners Falls-Milanville Bridge with this personal plea: “In Milanville... we have a vibrant community with roots in colonial America, with 14 homes and structures (including our bridge) listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service also maintains a Resource Management office in town for managing the ecology of the Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River. The Milanville Bridge fits hand and glove into this remarkable setting. Treasured by residents and visitors, it would be tragic to close it for good. It must be preserved for present and future generations.”
The plaque reads, “Upper Delaware Council Distinguished Service Award, presented to Ed Wesely in recognition of your contributions to the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River Valley through your roles as a naturalist, educator, conservationist, historic preservationist and renowned butterfly expert, on this 23rd day of April 2017.”
[Editor's note: Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has created the Ed Wesely Bridge Fund in his memory, as a legal fund to defend the Milanville Bridge. The donation page can be found at www.bit.ly/edweselydonate. Be sure to indicate Ed Wesely in the "in memory of" section.]
Click here for Ed's online blog, A River Runs Through It