Annual Audubon fundraiser draws bird lovers
(Appeared in Fairfield Citizen News)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – Sheepskin and wool throws over the backs of wooden benches. Old lanterns and flickering candles on a stone hearth. Wall mounted bear and deer trophies. Table centerpieces of pine needles and sunflowers. An Adirondack lodge environment? That was the idea.
These accents and more set the stage Thursday evening Feb. 17 for Adirondack Night at the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at 2325 Burr Street. The annual fundraiser, chaired by Peter Kunkel, vice chairman of the regional board of the Society, and his wife Carleen, helps support the organization’s mission to conserve Connecticut’s birds and their habitats. The event was attended by about 100 people, who were exposed to a myriad of elements.
Providing a music backdrop was New Haven area based band One Way Track, plucking out bluegrass tinged acoustic Americana. A silent auction featured such provocative items as a four-day Nantucket weekend, stone birdbath, a basket of “bird booze” (Wild Turkey and Famous Grouse Scotch), a case of red wine and a Winter Warm-Up Basket of Treats. Hors d’oeuvres included an array of cheeses and crackers, along with several pots of steaming chili. An open bar accommodated revelers with their beverage of choice. Millie the barn owl was even trotted out for a meet and greet.
“This is really great to just come here to a transformed lodge setting where you can hang out and relax while contributing to a great cause,” said Linnea McHenry, an educator with the Center.
Greenfield Hill resident Barbara Weintraub, attending with daughter Heather and neighbor Bill Seaver, concurred. “We took up Bill’s invite to join him and his wife Earlyne (a member) for the evening,” she said. “Of course, we will be sure and test Earlyne’s chili.”
Of the occasion, Seaver, 93, said, “It’s a wonderful event and great organization. We come every year. We’re bird people, with bird feeders. We buy 100 pounds of bird seed annually.”
Eyeing a gift basket among the silent auction items, Kathy Van Der Aue, a Society board member, shared the same enthusiasm. “This is my favorite event of the year. It’s informal and lots of fun. It’s more of a “friend” raiser than a fundraiser as it’s a little less expensive than our other events,” she chuckled.
Several attendees really dove into the spirit of the event, donning suede, flannel shirts or, like Judy Richardson, chairman of the Fairfield board of governors for the Society, a vest checkered with fly fishing lure imprints.
“This evening is a cabin fever party,” said Richardson. “At this time of year, we’re so tired of winter. There’s not much use for the facility. You can’t get on the trails… but we can connect with our members and give back.”
Dressed in a lumberjack-like red shirt trimmed with suspenders and browsing auction items was Dr. Robert Braun, 82. A past president of the Society at the time the Burr Street facility – the Larsen Sanctuary Center – was being built, Braun offered a unique perspective about the site.
“I’ve been a member since 1941,” he said. “The Society has grown tremendously since, from less than 400 members then, to tens of thousands now. The Fairfield branch is the second oldest Audubon Society in the country, founded by Mabel Osgood Wright in 1898. When I was a boy of 12 or 13, I used to ride my bicycle up to this area on Sundays to go bird watching. It was much wilder then.”
Enjoying cups of chili, Sally Waugh of Southport and Ted Pratt of Westport said they were true bird fans. “We love birds… hate squirrels. We have a hawk around our property – hopefully he’ll take care of some of the squirrels,” Pratt joked.
Truly embracing the evening’s theme was Landon Storrs, a conservation commission member who had donned a Victorian-style dress and bug veiling. She explained, “We have a camp at Blue Mountain Lake, NY, built during the Victorian era. This is period bug attire… protection from black flies.”
Looking out across the room, event co-founder Carleen Kunkel was happy to see how the affair had evolved over time. “This started off as a friends event, a freebie. Then a new director came on board and suggested the evening could be a fundraiser. We drag furniture and décor from our own homes to dress the space up to make it warm and lodge-like.”
As a couple began spontaneously two-stepping, it was clear Kunkel had succeeded in effecting an environment where attendees could let their feathers fly.