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Back Roads: Man's legacy lives on in squirrels

Back Roads: Man's legacy lives on in squirrels
Tom Frederick, head of maintenance at Ostrander Care and Rehab and Colleen Marks, housing manager, stand next to a new squirrel feeder Frederick made to continue the squirrel-loving legacy of Willard Jahn.

OSTRANDER — With little fanfare, a major new entertainment center opened Monday outside the Assisted Living section of Ostrander Care and Rehab.

Maintenance man Tom Frederick built four tiny wooden chairs and a wood table, attached them to a board and nailed it to where a big limb had been cut off a tree outside the dining room. Stuck to a nail in the center of the table was an ear of corn.

There, the new entertainment center was done. Squirrels now have a place to eat and frolic, residents have an easy way to watch those comic antics, and the memory of Willard Jahn continues.

Jahn started feeding the squirrels when he was a resident there. He died in 2009 at the age of 91.

In his few years at the center, however, he made a big impression, said housing director Colleen Marks.


"He was such a jolly man. He loved to make people laugh," she said. "He would do cartwheels if it would make you smile (he didn't) … When he passed away, he left a hole."

Jahn was the only man there at the time. "He loved to open the door for the ladies and treat them like ladies," Marks said.

And he loved squirrels. He nailed a simple board to the side of the tree and put out ears of corn, she said. He also shooed away cats because they might harass the squirrels.

Marks thought that odd, because most people try to get rid of feeder-raiding squirrels. When she watched them, however, she changed her mind.

"There is some entertainment value with squirrels," she conceded. "Squirrels are just crazy by nature."

The board, however, was the height where it might bonk the head of someone mowing the law, so staff members took the board down. But Jahn found other ways to feed the squirrels. After he died, Marks tied ears of corn to the side of the tree with strings until the new entertainment center was installed. Much of the corn comes from Jahn's daughter, Charlotte Carlson of Spring Valley. She will occasionally drop a bag of corn in Marks' office with a note, "Treats for Willard's squirrels."

Marks admits that as an entertainment enter, the squirrel feeder isn't much. But Ostrander's a small town, "we have to get entertainment wherever we can," she said.

The new platform might be small but it has a large impact because of its whimsy and that it's honoring someone. It's a way to continue the tradition of one person helping others by adding a smile, a laugh.


Squirrely antics also help entertain the residents, Marks said, it gives them something to laugh about, talk about, watch when eating.

Resident Frances Gilbert is thrilled with the squirrels. "Oh, we love to watch them," she said. "They are so cute."

Though Jahn the squirrel lover didn't live long enough to see the new, improved entertainment center, Marks has a good idea how he would have reacted: "I think he would have loved it. He would have laughed, he would have loved it."

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