Thursday, January 22, 2009
Lindsay retires from Audubon
By BETH BREITHAUPT
Another chapter has just been written in the long history of Strawberry Plains Plantation with the retirement of Audubon Mississippi director Madge Lindsay.
Lindsay was reared on a farm in Limestone County, Ala., near the county seat of Athens. Her dad grew cotton, corn, and soybeans, as well as most of what the family ate. They were self-sustaining, for the most part. Lindsay has two sisters and a brother. Her mother is 93 years old and is in remarkable health, she said.
Her deep Southern roots, embedded in nature, helped prepare her for a career in conservation.
Between graduating from high school and her first job after college, Lindsay married and reared a son, Brian Lindsay Smith. They went to college together at Texas A & M.
Brian studied computers and works in that industry now, traveling the world with his job. He resides in Austin.
As a gift, Brian gave his mother a trip to Europe some years back, which she thoroughly enjoyed, and hopes to travel more in retirement.
Lindsay’s first job out of college in 1989 was as outreach coordinator of the non-game department at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. While there, she helped develop the first birding trail in the U.S. along the Gulf coast of Texas. Now all states have birding trails, she said.
Another accomplishment in Lindsay’s career is writing “Hummingbirds of Texas” with co-authors Clifford E. Shackelford and C. Mark Klym. It is a thrilling book for all bird lovers, especially for those enamored by those tiny, jewel-toned “hummers.” The photography and charts, and comprehensive information on the 19 species of hummingbirds is a treat for all ages, whether serious birders or a 4-year-old just enjoying the pictures.
A few people who inspired Lindsay to pursue a job in conservation include the late Ned Fritz, an attorney; former Texas governor Ann Richards because of her wit and care of everyday people; and her wonderful mother because of her refined grace and never speaking ill of anyone.
Her years in conservation work prepared her well for the top job of Audubon Mississippi.
“I loved Strawberry Plains immediately upon seeing it and also liked the man who hired me,” Lindsay said, reminiscing about when she first came to Holly Springs to work in August of 2002.
Roger Steel is her boss and they’ve had a good working relationship which has allowed them to accomplish many things beneficial to Audubon, Strawberry Plains and the Audubon sites in Vicksburg and Pascagoula.
Lindsay has directed the work of 13 employees at all three sites in the state and praises their talent, hard work and dedication.
“The work has been extremely satisfying. I’ve been blessed with a really good staff and dream board of directors,” she explained. “We were able to garner a great group of board members who are extremely dedicated and helpful, from Tate County, Pontotoc, and Oxford, to name a few. Bob Bowen from Senatobia is the chairman of the board for Strawberry Plains, and his wife Cheryl chairs the Audubon Mississippi board.”
“Community support is so wonderful and this community has been very gracious, and embraced Audubon.”
With so much support from the boards of directors, the staff and the community, Lindsay is proud of the many accomplishments of Audubon Mississippi at Strawberry Plains during her tenure.
Perhaps the most satisfying project is the growth of the annual Hummingbird Migration Celebration in September of each year.
Jesse Grantham, former director of Audubon Mississippi and Strawberry Plains, started the event in 2000, with about 100 people participating. In 2001 it grew to 200-300 attending.
Lindsay happened to know Bob Sargent of Clay, Ala., in the Mobile area, and asked him and his wife to come band hummingbirds at the festival.
She knew if people could see the tiny winged wonders up close and personal, and touch them, that they’d be hooked and excited enough to return year after year, spreading the word and bringing friends and family with them.
Lindsay was right, as numbers of tourists have grown by leaps and bounds every year. Last year’s estimate was more than 8,500 people attending.
It was a joy to grow that festival, she said, and know that they were teaching conservation as a result--- introducing city people and younger generations to nature and the land and how the birds, animals, insects, fish and plants are all dependent on one another to sustain mankind; and how it is man’s job to take care of the earth and the delicate balance of nature.
“Strawberry Plains Audubon Center: Four Centuries of a Mississippi Landscape” is the book written by Hubert McAlexander, English professor at the University of Georgia and a Holly Springs native. The book, partially funded by the Shackelford Trust, is the basis of the historical interpretation at the plantation. It’s the history of the 2,500 acres and the two antebellum homes willed to the National Audubon Society by sisters Ruth Finley and Margaret Finley Shackelford.
Lindsay asked McAlexander to write the book. “Hubert has given is an accurate history of Strawberry Plains,” she explained.
From Hernando DeSoto’s exploration of America in May of 1539, to the Chickasaw Indians, to the settling of white farmers with the black slaves building great plantations, through the hard times of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and on into the 21st century, McAlexander spins a fascinating and true tale of this land in Marshall County.
“Hubert personally knew so many people and families connected with the story of Strawberry Plains,“ Lindsay related.
Other projects begun under Lindsay include the annual native plant sale, the master naturalist program, the Coldwater River Shed Initiative, and many physical changes out at Strawberry Plains. Parking lots and roads have been added to accommodate the public, nature trails blazed, food plots planted, native plant species reintroduced, landscaping changed, old buildings restored and acquired, education programs started, etc…as well as the components of the Hummingbird Migration Celebration added to each year. In less than 10 years, the old plantation has been reborn into one of the premier conservation centers in the country.
Lindsay is very proud of the conservation awareness of the public that is due to the projects at Strawberry Plains and enjoyed her time there, but feels it’s time to retire and start a new chapter in her own life.
“I think after about five years in any job that it’s time for new blood,” she said. “By then, goals and projects have had time to come to fruition and someone with new ideas can build on them and make it even better.”
She feels like Strawberry Plains is in good hands, under the direction of Walter “Bubba” Hubbard and the board and a dedicated staff.
“Strawberry Plains will continue to do well,” she said with conviction.
Lindsay thanks the community and praises them for adopting the ideals and projects of Audubon at Strawberry Plains, which relies on volunteers to carry out the work and spread the mindset of nature conservation.
“I want them to feel like it’s their Audubon, and it is. And I want them to use it and be proud of it,” she emphasized.
Returning shortly to Texas, Lindsay looks forward to having more control of her time, letting go of some of the stress of huge responsibilities, and taking better care of her health.
“I’ll be glad to help Audubon in any way I can through the transition,” she said.
“I plan to go bird watching and hiking. I want to write again, especially a book on my wonderful cat Buster, my traveling buddy.
“I want to get back into photography. And I plan to set up a business, and pursue the things I’ve not had time for while working.
She has enjoyed being nearby her family in Alabama, but looks forward to having time for visiting and traveling and taking her mother for extended visits to her home in Texas. Plus she’ll be closer to her son Brian.
“It’s beautiful there. There’s a mountain in front of my house, and lots of wildlife,” Lindsay said.
And so Madge Lindsay’s chapter in the book of Strawberry Plains comes to an end, but the book goes on, and Lindsay’s book begins another chapter in this new stage of her life. Happy retirement, Madge!
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