In Remembrance: Bob Moeller

Back in the 1970’s, a visit to the Sharon Audubon Center made an impression on me that lasted a lifetime. As an eager young naturalist, I attended the Sharon Audubon Festival, a two-day feast of presentations and field walks by experts in plants, insects, birds, and other branches of natural history. In session after session, we were hosed with fascinating information. I lapped it all up, but one experience stood out: a walk led by the Director, Bob Moeller, along the Borland Trail. It was unhurried and very quiet. Bob simply stopped at intervals and read short passages from the nature writing of Hal Borland, for whom the trail is named. Bob’s demeanor invited us to relax, listen, observe, and reflect in the same way that Hal might have done in the same place. We tapped our own awareness rather than tracking someone else’s. I never forgot it.

Almost forty years later I became, in turn, a Director of the Sharon Audubon Center. On my first day, I opened a closet door and found a yellowed, typewritten sheet tacked to the inside with instructions from Bob about how to prepare a mammal skull. The instructions were simple, clear, and ended with “That’s about it.” It was like hearing his voice all over again.

With Bob’s passing, tributes have come into Sharon Audubon from former interns and staff, now conservation professionals themselves, who had the privilege of working with him here. All credit him with influencing their careers. Scott Heth, one of Bob’s successors as Center Director, recalls: “Bob mentored countless young naturalists. He encouraged people to do the work to find the answers to questions. I have fond memories of walking the woods with Bob when I was very young...I knew then that I wanted to do what he did.” Former intern (now Ph.D) Sandy DeSimone wrote from California: “I loved his teaching style, based in nature education theory that was so far removed from the canned nature walks I had been on in the past. Bob was undoubtedly one of the strongest influences on my career path.” Corky Potter went from working with Bob to founding Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center at Penn State. Its entrance has the motto “Keep on Discovering,” inspired by Bob’s way of “not telling, but of asking questions to unfold the essence of the world around us.” Art Gingert of West Cornwall recalls “Bob was magnificently trained as an old school naturalist…but the best thing is that he was a superb teacher, always making time—often on the spot—to listen, entertain a query and then graciously share his knowledge.” Rock Moeslein in Virginia recalls that Bob taught “the importance of appreciating volunteers and people for all that they brought to the Center and the community.” (Amen to that!) He adds that the mentoring went on for another 48 years! Tom Mullin, writing from Maine, noted that in addition to leadership at Sharon Audubon, Bob “went on to have instrumental leadership for the region…the memory of his kindness and vision are ones that I recall with deep fondness.” Tom recalls other things too: “I have some wicked funny stories of Bob. I am sure many of us do. I hope I can make the Celebration of Life planned for later in the year.” Hope you do, Tom!

Without doubt, this is just a small sample of the impact Bob Moeller had on a generation of naturalists, scientists, and conservationists. He put Sharon Audubon on the national map as a source of excellence. As we welcome this year’s interns, just starting their own careers, we’re humbled and inspired by the challenge of living up to Bob’s example.

Maybe we’ll take them for a walk on the Borland Trail.

Eileen Fielding

Director, Sharon Audubon Center

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