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Naturalist says 'taking care of one another' is the key

AUSTIN — After more than two decades of being in tune with Mother Nature, Larry Dolphin is finally bidding adieu to the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center at the end of the summer.

The director of the nature center decided "it was time," and will be retiring at the end of August. Dolphin spent 28 years filled with teachings of conservation and preservation of the environment. He taught hundreds of people who came through the center, seeking to learn more about the world around them.

His interest in nature began as a child. Dolphin attributed his curiosity and wonder for the environment from his father, who worked as a conservationist in southwestern Wisconsin during the late 1930s.

"Really early on, he taught me to take care of nature," he said. "I grew up in a small community, and I'd ride my bicycle to go outside of town."

Melodies of songbirds flying high overhead in the skies to a red fox nipping at a butterfly gave Dolphin the spark to continue learning everything he could about nature and the environment.


It was something that made him decide, "I wanted to go into conservation."

He spent years teaching others about what he knew. While working for the Hormel Nature Center, the man enjoyed the opportunities to inspire young environmentalists to continue seeking more information about preservation.

During the last two decades, Dolphin saw the nature center expand. Having started with 123 acres in 1971, it has grown to 518 acres. The center's history can be traced back further when Jay C. Hormel planted more than 200,000 trees in 1927.

A new interpretive center broke ground a couple months ago, which is funded by a $5 million Hormel Foundation grant, Austin's capital improvement program, and the Friends of the Hormel Nature Center. Another $2 million has generated through fundraisers.

"The Friends of the Hormel Nature Center Board was key," Dolphin added.

After a while, even Dolphin admitted that he wished to see where the songbirds roost, nest and migrate during the seasons. Plus having three grandchildren, he wants to enjoy all the time he has to be with the people he loves.

He added that the search for his replacement is ongoing. Applications are due this coming Friday, and hopefully, there would be a new director chosen sometime in July.

It's somewhat bittersweet. Dolphin, while on the phone, remembered taking the interns out to tap maple trees for syrup. The sound of hammers pounding against the bark, he sang a tune out of the blue, and everyone started following suit.


"That song has been included in our curriculum," he said. "All the interns sing it, but that's the key thing. We're loving one another, taking care of one another ... that can be extended to the natural world."

This, Dolphin said, was what he'd probably miss the most before retiring. But his love of nature, and legacy aims to preserve it.

"It's been a wonderful job, and I'm very fortunate to have it," he said. "I enjoyed working with all the people. All of us working together to help great people enjoy nature, and teaching them how we may take care of it in the future."

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