Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Meredith Sampson, Wildlife Rehabilitator

To mark World Wildlife Day, celebrated in March, and its 2020 theme “Sustaining all life on Earth,” we feature Meredith Sampson, wildlife rehabilitator, who was interviewed by Project volunteer Sally McHale on June 5, 2018.

           Meredith Sampson is a wildlife rehabilitator and environmental educator. She oversees the non-profit Wild Wings, LLC and is often the person called upon to help when someone encounters a lost, injured, or orphaned baby bird, squirrel, or owl. It is not unusual for her to find small animals left at her door by a well-meaning person who is uncertain of what to do to help them.

            With birds, Ms. Sampson advises people to first determine the baby bird’s condition and age. If it is uninjured and not too young, it can be placed near the nest area so that the bird’s parents may do their job of caring for it. Excessive handling, feeding, or moving of the bird can put it in a more precarious position. If, however, the animal is in need of care, Ms. Sampson suggests “If you’ve found injured or orphaned wildlife, or wildlife that you think might need help, get it into a secure container that’s well ventilated and put it somewhere in a quiet, warm place, and keep it away from people and pets. Then call me.” After rehabilitating the bird, Ms. Sampson would then release it into its habitat.

            Ms. Sampson also initiated the First Sunday Bird Walks at Greenwich Point Park in 2005 under the original co-sponsorship of Wild Wings, the Bruce Museum, and Greenwich Audubon Center. As of 2019, Friends of Greenwich Point became co-sponsor with Wild Wings. These bird walks are free and open to the public of all ages. They provide an opportunity to experience the amazing biodiversity of Greenwich Point with its beach, meadows, woodlands, and marshes. “It’s an extraordinary place. It’s like nature’s classroom,” says Meredith Sampson. It provides an opportunity to appreciate the effects of climate change on various species and the migration patterns of birds, as well as many other aspects of nature that may be otherwise overlooked in our day-to-day busy lives. In addition to observing bird life, participants observe the seasonal changes of insects including butterflies, plants, and other animals.

            Ms. Sampson also works with Audubon Center to do annual Christmas and summer bird counts in our local area. She has been performing this valuable service for almost forty years and has counted as many as seventy species in one area alone. Over the years, she has observed how changes in our environment have affected native species. “Whatever is happening in the environment can affect bird populations and this is something we need to pay attention to.” For example, Ms. Sampson describes how the results of certain bird species counts may differ dramatically from year to year due to various causes—some understood, others not. For example, when the West Nile virus became prevalent in our area in 1999, there was a dramatic drop in the bird count of crows and a number were found that were unable to stand or fly and were having seizures before dying. After animal autopsies at University of Connecticut at Storrs and extensive research, it was determined that the crows had contracted a virus that had infected an exotic bird from Africa housed at the Bronx Zoo and was carried by mosquitoes to other bird species and, subsequently, to humans.

            Questions arise when the migration patterns of certain bird species changes. For example, why are wood thrushes no longer prevalent in our area? What happened to the population of yellow-throated warblers that used to be here in far greater number? Has their southern habitat been deforested? These are only some of the questions which can arise as one keenly observes the environment as Meredith Sampson does. She underscores the importance of understanding the relationship between what we do to our environment and how that affects the species that inhabit it.

            Ms. Sampson also is a proponent of replanting native plants, trees, and shrubs in order to continue to provide the food and shelter that our birds and animals need to survive. This includes planting milkweed which monarch butterflies depend on for food.  She supports the removal of invasive plant species like garlic mustard and porcelain berry that choke our native ones. “The key factors of a successful habitat is that it provides shelter, food, and opportunity to reproduce. If any one of these links is broken, we witness dramatic effects,” she tells us.

            In her interview, Ms. Sampson recounts many unusual and often humorous situations in her career as a wildlife rescuer and rehabilitator. One is the story of a creative rescue in Greenwich Point. It involved Ms. Sampson with a 60-foot-high crane, a wicker basket from McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center, and a hapless baby owl that had fallen from its ill-made nest. Find out additional details by reading the transcript of her interview.

            We have much to learn from the wealth of experience Meredith Sampson brings to our understanding of wildlife and its relationship to our environment. As she has said, “We need to seriously restore habitat and create new habitat. We’ve got to treat this earth with a lot more kindness... This is the only planet we have, the only home that we have. And this, all this, is what sustains us.”

Mary Jacobson, OHP blog writer and editor

As with all our interview transcripts, the Meredith Sampson transcript may be read at Greenwich Library and is available for purchase at the Oral History Project office. The Oral History Project is sponsored by the Friends of the Greenwich Library. Visit the OHP website at glohistory.org.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Celebrating Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time to reflect on African American residents of our town who have made a difference. The Oral History Project has, over the years, interviewed a number of African American Greenwich residents whose struggles and accomplishments benefited those who followed them. One such person is Gertrude Johnson Steadwell, interviewed at the age of 81 in 1990. Gertrude was a determined, strong, capable woman who was not afraid to do something about racial discrimination when she encountered it.  A proud woman, she broke the color barrier in a number of areas. Her story is an admirable one to highlight for Black History Month.

In her interview of 1990, Gertrude Johnson Steadwell, born in 1909, says she is happy for the opportunity to tell of the struggles she encountered in Greenwich as an early activist in the civil rights movement. “It was tough going,” she says, but it was worth it. It was really worth it.”

Gertrude Johnson Steadwell
Gertrude Johnson Steadwell, was by nature, a gregarious, open young girl, a joiner. She has warm memories of all the girls in their pretty dresses and the boys all dressed up for the annual Maypole activities, once a Greenwich schools tradition. She played basketball and field hockey, was interested in art and had her work exhibited and began to show an early talent for design. As involved as she was in high school, she also knew that in athletics she had crossed the color line, being generally the only “woman of color” on her teams.

Longing to become a member of the Camp Fire Girls, she was disheartened to learn that she could not. “Because of my color I couldn’t get in. I was really very disgusted about it,” she says. She was determined from that time on to do something about racial discrimination. She seems to have been born with a gene enabling her to recognize injustice when she saw it, igniting in her a desire to work toward change.
The Maypoles of Greenwich, a favorite memory

As an adult she seized the opportunity to make a difference. In the late 1930s, she and her husband, Orville Steadwell, joined The Action Committee on Jobs for Negroes, an organization that became a part of the Greenwich chapter of the NAACP, of which Gertrude and her husband were founding members. She also formed the Southwestern Connecticut Committee on Fair Employment Practices. Her work led to a bill being passed in the state legislature ensuring fair employment for blacks. “This was the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” she says of this period in her life.

In the midst of all her work to enhance workplace opportunities, Ms. Steadwell found time to raise a family of four, to break another color line becoming an interior decorator in Greenwich, being a member of many civic organizations, an active member of her church, and a recognized community leader.

Looking back over the years and the changes that have occurred, Ms. Steadwell concludes in her interview that much has changed for the better. She cites improved employment opportunities and improved choices, much as a result of affirmative action. Her own children were able to see the fruits of these changes having achieved good educations and jobs. 

“I’m really glad that I could tell you,” she tells our interviewer. “I figured one day it would come in good. Not for me, for my children, I was thinking.”

And “good” for the many others who followed after her, in the path she helped to clear.

Gertrude Johnson Steadwell died in Greenwich, August 15, 2007, at the age of ninety-eight.

The Oral History Project book, A Civil Rights Activist: Gertrude Steadwell, is available for $10 in the Oral History Project office of the Greenwich Library.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

For the Love of Scientific Inquiry

To begin the new year, our student blogger, Noor Rekhi of Greenwich Academy, offers the following highlights from a recent Greenwich Library Oral History Project interview, “Andrew Bramante,” conducted by project volunteer Sally McHale.

Jean P. Moore, OHP blog editor

Noor Rekhi, student blogger

This month we are dedicating our blog to Andrew Bramante, an inspiring and passionate teacher at Greenwich High School. Mr. Bramante has worked at Greenwich High School for fourteen years and is the subject of Heather Won Tesoriero’s book The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America (2018)The book follows Mr. Bramante with the emphasis on the impact he has had on his students.

Prior to teaching, Mr. Bramante worked as a corporate scientist for firms among the likes of PerkinElmer and Hitachi. He came to Greenwich High School upon the suggestion of friend and fellow teacher Ray Hamilton. While he initially started teaching chemistry, he eventually took over Mr. Hamiliton’s science class, an elective often described as a research lab. The class, a standout by reputation over the years, has garnered its share of awards, but, as Mr. Bramante attests, the attention came largely as a result of the Google Science Fair, won by science class student Olivia Hallisey.

Through his research lab, Mr. Bramante has supported and encouraged the scientific curiosity of his students and has led them to great success. Under his guidance, students have gone on to pursue groundbreaking research in their fields, win the highest award at the Google Science Fairand receive an invitation to the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm. Students in Mr. Bramante’s class are chosen not for their grades, but for their genuine desire to pursue scientific knowledge. Mr. Bramante chooses students by having them submit project proposals. While students rarely continue with the projects they originally submit, it's the passion that shines through in the proposals that enables their entry to the class.

Mr. Bramante with his science students
The research lab’s open curriculum enables these young scientists to pursue any of their interests, no matter how seemingly complex. Mr. Bramante helps aid their scientific process by offering guidance, researching topics along with them, and securing necessary materials for their work. However, the lessons given in class go beyond science and school; Mr. Bramante fosters a genuine desire for learning within his students, while teaching them necessary life skills and habits of the mind. When describing the elective, Mr. Bramante said of his students that they would “learn how to imagine, create, articulate, all the things that transcend even a science career. Kids that leave this class do all kinds of things, and I’d like to think that they learn how to be a positive force within our society.”

While students in the class have achieved many honors, Mr. Bramante recognizes that their success will be measured not only by accruing accolades, but also by honing a strong work ethic, scientific curiosity, and an aspiration to better the world through their discoveries. He recognizes that learning opportunities arise in all places, in and outside the classroom, and that even failing gives students an opportunity to reflect and aspire to do better. Mr. Bramante’s edifying approach to teaching not only has every student in his class benefitting, but also society, as his creative methods encourage a next generation of scientists to flourish.

Call the Oral History Project office at (203) 622-7945 for more information regarding the interview, “Andrew Bramante” (#2958, March 29, 2019). 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

James M. MacKay, Greenwich Resident and WWII Veteran

Continuing to honor our veterans, guest blogger Joseph Campbell contributes this post on WW II veteran James M. Mackay.
During an Honor Flight to Washington D.C., James M. MacKay with Lt. Joshua Albright [Contributed photo] 
Greenwich resident James M. Mackay (born January 19, 1921) was interviewed for the Oral History Project on September 8, 2008, by volunteer Harriet Feldman. His interview offers a fascinating glimpse into his life growing up and living in Greenwich, amid the hardships of the depression, foreclosures, and then life on a working farm. He describes it as a “self-sustaining” farm where the family “grew corn, potatoes, raised chickens, rabbits, cows, horses, pigs.” They also had a root cellar for carrots and potatoes.Mr.MacKay says it was “a great life. Oh, it was just a fabulous life when I think back on it now.”

His idyllic boyhood would be cut short not long after graduating from Greenwich High School. He notes that there was no money for college, and World War II would begin shortly after his graduation. Mr. MacKay worked briefly at a local bank before being drafted into the Army in 1942.

Inducted at Camp Devens in Massachusetts, he then was sent to Fort McCullen in Alabama for infantry training. He arrived there, he tells us, having no particular specialized skillset that the Army needed at the time. Following his stint at Fort McCullen in Alabama, he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for more training and then to the California Desert, Yuma Arizona, and California along the Colorado River. He explains that they were training for combat in North Africa, but the North African campaign had ended by the time they were finished with training. As a result, they were sent to New Jersey and then to Ireland to prepare for the liberation of Europe, D-Day. 

Photo: “Into the Jaws of Death,” Public Domain 

And thus, James M. MacKay became part of the historic Normandy invasion. Just prior to the invasion, he was transferred from the Eighth Division to Army Signal Corps and placed in an intelligence unit. Mr. MacKay describes his job as locating where the enemy tanks and units were. He was assigned to General Patton’s Third Army. He fought across Normandy and past Paris, eventually crossing into Germany and meeting up with the Russians at Salzburg. 

As if the horrors of warfare itself were not enough, Mr. MacKay also tells of the liberation of Dachau, the infamous German concentration camp.  He relays what it was like to enter the camp and see the horrors of the German “Final Solution” and to live with the impact of that experience.

Mr. MacKay also speaks of his friends from Greenwich who died during the war: “One of my buddies I went to school with, Joe Bowowiec, went in the same Eighth Infantry Division that I went into, and he, unfortunately, was killed going over a hedgerow in Normandy. Several of the boys died. Adrian Atwood, who lived on Riversville Road, too, was on an aircraft carrier, and a Japanese kamikaze hit his aircraft carrier, and he was killed there. So we lost quite a few of them in this area. We lost Joe Balco; he was another one that got killed. I was lucky.”

James Mackay is part of what is known as the “Greatest Generation,” those who came through the Great Depression to fight Nazism and Japanese imperialism around the world. They fought the largest war in history, one that affected the entire planet. When the war was over, these soldiers came home and began rebuilding their lives. Mr. MacKay, like most of his generation, is humble when he speaks of his role in defeating the evil that was the Axis powers. That we have James M. MacKay’s story to read and to absorb and to use as a teaching tool is something that should not be overlooked. There are powerful and amazing stories of Greenwich citizens that are waiting to be discovered at the Greenwich Oral History Project. It is an admirable source of information for teaching our current generation of the everyday life, livelihood, and sacrifices made by those who came before us.

James M. MacKay’s interview, #2794, Life on Riversville Road, can be read in the reference section of the Greenwich Library, first floor, or by contacting the Greenwich Library Oral History Project office, 203- 622-7495.