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You are here: Home - Education - Scholarships - Scholarship Sponsors

MOS Scholarship Sponsors

By Jean Fry

The MOS scholarship program, which awards funding for attendance at summer Audubon camps and workshops to teachers, park rangers, naturalists, and community volunteers, dates back to 1959 with the awarding of a Helen Miller scholarship which was the first one to be given. Through the generosity of several individuals, over a hundred individuals have had the privilege of one or two weeks of training in ornithology or ecology. An important criterion for attendance is that the individual be in a position to pass knowledge gained on to young people. Thus, an MOS scholarship is the “gift that keeps on giving.” The following biographical summaries should give more meaning to the names and lives behind the scholarship titles.

Helen Miller Scholarship -- Helen Burns Miller was born in West Virginia on May 1, 1911 and died on March 17, 1958. She was educated and taught in West Virginia for two years. In 1935, she married Gilbert Miller and moved to Martin Mountain near Spring Gap, MD to live at Consolidated Orchards where her husband was production manager. The Millers had two sons, Harry and Gilbert.

Mrs. Miller was a very energetic, vivacious, kind, and gentle person. When she became interested in an organization or project, she did everything possible to encourage the group. One of her interests was the C&O Canal; she tried to create a desire in the people of the area to visit it and realize how worthy a project its preservation was. She was instrumental in organizing the Cumberland Garden Club and was its first president. In addition she was an active member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Mrs. Miller was involved in the early organizational process of MOS. She was the guiding hand for the Allegany County Bird Club for many years, was regional chair of the Bird Study Committee, and traveled to other clubs to talk about birds. She succeeded in interesting a large number of children in nature and organized the Junior Bird Club, which culminated in her camp, officially known as Allegany County Bird Club Junior Nature and Conservation Camp. This was her pet project and she gave unstintingly of her time and energy for ten years to make it one of the best of its kind. Well versed in the flora and fauna of the region around Cumberland, she knew where to find the most interesting wild flowers and where one would be likely to see certain birds. (Maryland Birdlife, Vol. 14, No. 2, June 1958) The first Helen Miller scholarship was awarded to Nancy Dulaney Rowe from Baltimore County in 1959 as a result of a $100 anonymous donation which began the MOS scholarship program. This amount covered a two-week session at the ornithology camp in Maine. Ms. Rowe is still a member of the Baltimore Bird Club and now resides at Broadmead.

Orville Crowder Scholarship -- Orville Wright Crowder was born in Baltimore on March 24, 1904 and died on August 6, 1974. His travels began in the 1920’s with a trip to the western United States. Out of this trip grew his great interest in mountain climbing and hiking. He was eventually to climb to the highest point in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. He founded the Mountain Club of MD in 1924 and served as its first president. Active in the early years of the Appalachian Trail Conference, in 1937 he became the third person to hike the entire length of the trail from Maine to Georgia. Another interest was the C&O Canal, and he served in various capacities in canal associations.

Stemming from all of this outdoor activity was his avid interest in birds, wildflowers, astronomy, and natural history. He was instrumental in reviving a bird club in Baltimore, helped to organize MOS in the late 1940’s, became its second president, and assisted in organizing several chapters across the state.

He retired from Martin Aviation Co. in the early 1950’s and in the early 1960’s became involved in leading trips to various parts of the world for groups of friends. He founded Crowder Nature Tours, one of the first overseas nature travel groups, and either led, met with, or joined approximately 128 tours. He traveled around the world eight times and visited all but six countries. The trips were primarily for birdwatching, and he compiled a life list which exceeded 4,000 species. His AOU area list was 630 species.

In April of 1969 he founded World Nature Association (WNA). Having no family, Mr. Crowder left his entire estate to the association to help it reach the goals of promoting an international exchange of natural history and conservation information. On October 7, 1978 the WNA board of directors launched a scholarship program called the WNA Orville Crowder Memorial Scholarship. It was to be administered by MOS. The first scholarship was awarded in 1979 to Dennis Kirkwood from Harford County. He attended the Audubon Camp of the West in Wyoming. Funds from the Crowder estate were administered for many years by Dr. Donald Messersmith, president of WNA and an MOS member. In 1998, WNA was disbanded and merged with the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) in Chevy Chase, MD. The Orville Crowder scholarship continues to be awarded through cooperation with ANS. Priority is now given to qualified applicants from the Metropolitan DC area. (World Nature News, September 1974)

Daniel and Helen Gibson -- Dorothy Mendinhall Scholarship -- This scholarship is the result of a trust fund established by the Kent County Chapter of MOS to honor Daniel and Helen Gibson and Dorothy Mendinhall, who were leaders in forming the Kent Chapter. The fund was raised by sponsoring three bird carving shows during the 1960’s at Washington College, in Chestertown, MD under the direction of the Kent County president, Daniel Gibson (a former president of the college), his wife Helen, and Dorothy Mendinhall. The money from the three shows was put into a trust fund named the Gibson-Mendinhall Fund. It was voted by the membership of the Kent Chapter to be used for supporting ornithological research and related activities in that county. The club’s interest at the time was to support the banding station at “Damsite,” the home of the Mendinhalls on the Chesapeake Bay. Under the leadership and guidance of Dorothy Mendinhall, over 100,000 birds were banded from 1959 until 1991. Under Dorothy's tutelage during this period, several young MOS members became licensed bird banders under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From 1987 into the 1990’s, interest from the trust was used to support Jim Gruber’s banding activities until he was injured in a boating accident and was unable to continue. In 1994, the Kent Chapter decided to sponsor an MOS scholarship to an Audubon camp with the money from the fund. The first scholarship was awarded in 1995 to Peggy Ford from Talbot County. She attended the Connecticut ecology camp. Each year priority is given to qualified applicants from the Eastern Shore of MD.

Doris Oakley Scholarship -- When Doris Oakley died on April 11, 1990, she left over $200,000 to MOS. She was from Talbot County and was married to Harry Oakley, who was in real estate and publishing. As far as is known, she lived in Easton, MD all of her life. She and her husband met John Wanuga when he was a young man and adopted him. Doris, a backyard birder who was characterized as quiet and serious, encouraged John in birding. He became a very active birder in the Talbot County Bird Club, led field trips, and served as treasurer for over thirty years. He also served as auditor of the MOS treasurer’s records for several years. Although Mrs. Oakley was a member of the Talbot County chapter, she rarely attended meetings or bird walks. When John Wanuga died in a car accident, he left a considerable amount of money to MOS which was restricted to purchasing a sanctuary on the Eastern Shore. That money was used to purchase additional land adjacent to the entrance road at the Horseheads Wetlands Center in Grasonville in Queen Anne’s County. When Doris in turn passed away, she also left money to MOS which was unrestricted. Approximately $42,000, which was one-half of the first distribution in stocks and cash, was used to more than double the scholarship endowment fund. The other half created a research endowment fund. The first Doris Oakley scholarship was awarded in 2000 to Laura Taylor from Prince George’s County. She attended the Connecticut ecology camp.

Chandler and Eleanor Robbins Scholarships -- Although most established members of MOS already know Chan and Eleanor, many new members may not be aware of their many accomplishments and contributions to the organization. Because of their generosity two scholarships are awarded each year in their names.

Chandler Robbins is a wildlife biologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD. For the past 55 years he has studied migratory bird populations throughout the world. In the scientific community he is best known for developing the Breeding Bird Survey, which has been monitoring changes in bird populations throughout the continental United States and Canada for the past 35 years. This annual survey has revealed that many species of birds are declining in abundance, so for the past 25 years, Chan has been studying the reasons for these declines. Within the birding community, Chan is best known for his Golden Field Guide, Birds of North America, which has sold over five million copies. In the summers, Chan studies habitat requirements and nesting success of migratory birds in MD, and in the winters he takes teams of biologists and students to tropical countries where they study the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation of tropical forests. Chan has been a gentle but guiding force in MOS since its beginnings in 1945. He has also been the very meticulous and exacting editor of Maryland Birdlife since 1948 and was the senior editor of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia, which was published in 1996. (Anne Arundel Bird Club, Richard Heise Lecture, Chandler Robbins Profile, April, 2000)

In 1981 the MOS board decided to create a new scholarship named for Chandler S. Robbins. It was to be awarded to a MD student who was interested in studying ornithology, and, at that time, the designated workshop was at the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University. The first scholarship awarded in Chan’s honor was given in 1982 to Richard O. Bray of Bethesda. He was a member of the Montgomery County Chapter of MOS and attended a workshop on bird behavior at Cornell. (Maryland Birdlife, Vol. 28, No. 2, June 1982)

Eleanor Robbins is originally from Washington , DC and was born on May 6, 1916. Her father had a Ph.D. in plant physiology and pathology, although she describes him as self-taught regarding local plants, so her interest in botany was probably a result of his influence. She graduated from Washington and Lee High School in Arlington, VA and went to Duke Women’s College. After two years she transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park where she majored in zoology and minored in botany. Any MOS members who have ever been on a field trip with Eleanor have been impressed with her ability to give the Latin botanical names for plants and wildflowers. (Her father had been sent to Beltsville to the one building for the Department of Agriculture to do research, so their residence changed to Beltsville. At one point he did research on the apple trees at Arlington Cemetery.) She went on to Cornell for a master’s degree in ornithology and botany. Because there were no jobs available, she went to the University of Minnesota and studied botany and library science and then got a job in the botany/chemistry/pharmacy library at Iowa State University in Iowa City. At one point she took a course in insects at Michigan State University and also developed an interest in butterflies. She later became a reference librarian at the Department of Agriculture in Washington. She and Chan met on a field trip that Chan led for Audubon Naturalist Society at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in 1946. They were married in 1948. They have four children—Jan, Stuart, George Chandler, and Nancy—and two granddaughters—Melissa (who was Miss New Hampshire a few years ago) and Michelle. For many years Eleanor wrote a newspaper column for the Laurel Leader about the Patuxent Bird Club, which she and Rosemary Bridge started in 1960. Chan and Eleanor have attended many meetings of the International Ornithological Congress which is held every four years. This took them to Great Britain and the Shetland Islands, Holland, Hudson Bay and Australia, among other places. They have also traveled to Antarctica, Peru, the Galapagos Islands, and Africa. In the late 1950’s Eleanor attended an MOS conference and was frustrated that no mention was made of Helen Miller and all of her contributions to school children and nature study, so she decided to name a scholarship in her honor. Helen Miller had passed away in 1958.

In 1983 the MOS officers and board of directors decided to make another scholarship available to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Helen Miller and the founding of the fund which bears her name. It was decided to name this award the Eleanor C. Robbins scholarship and to designate it for an ornithology workshop. This second scholarship enabled MOS to honor both of the founders of the scholarship program. The first winner of the Eleanor C. Robbins scholarship in 1983 was Rick Holt, a MD State Park Ranger with a special interest in birding and community education in birding. A standing ovation was given to Chan and Eleanor at the 1983 state conference for anonymously funding and thus launching this program 25 years earlier and for supporting it financially through the years. (Maryland Birdlife, Vol. 39, No. 3, September 1983)

Frances Covington -- Etta Wedge Scholarship -- MOS received a $32,000 unassigned bequest in 1999 from the estate of Frances Covington in memory of her friend, Etta Stem Wedge. Both of these women had been members of the Baltimore Bird Club, and both had worked as librarians at the Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL) in Baltimore.

Frances Covington was born in Austin, Texas in 1918. She was educated in Utah and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and her master’s in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At age twenty-three she took her position at EPFL, where she worked until her retirement in 1976. The last twenty-one years of her life were spent in North Carolina, but she continued her membership and interest in the Baltimore Bird Club for many years after leaving Maryland. In 1981 she gave a gift of $1,000 to the Baltimore Bird Club in memory of her friend, Etta Wedge, upon Etta’s death. Through the perseverance of Barbara Larrabee and Marjorie Jones, that money was used to develop the Etta Stem Wedge Bird Trail at Cylburn Mansion in Baltimore and plant bird-friendly shrubbery along its edges.

Etta Stem Wedge (1908—1981) was also employed by EPFL from 1945 until 1956. Apparently these two women became friendly as a result of their profession and developed that friendship further in their birding activities. Etta acted as program chair of the Baltimore Bird Club for a few years, one of those being 1971-72, when she arranged for lectures by Jean Worthley, Chandler Robbins, and Haven Kolb, among others. She also arranged trips to Irish Grove, to Sandy Point to see Snow Buntings, and to Elliott Island in Dorchester County. Joy Wheeler, of the Baltimore Club, still remembers seeing her first American Bittern standing in the tall marsh grasses with its beak pointed skyward on the Elliott Island trip. No other biographical information on Ms. Wedge is available.

A total of $15,000 of Ms. Covington’s bequest was assigned to the MOS scholarship fund. Funds from that investment have made this scholarship available. It was awarded for the first time in 2001 to Karen Cifranick from Harford County who attended the Natural History of the Maine Coast camp.

John Wortman Memorial Scholarship -- A new scholarship has been established in memory of Mr. John Wortman, who had been a member of the Harford County Bird Club since 1964. (We are not sure when he joined, maybe l964). John passed away on March 5, 2001 after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75.

Born in Union, Oregon on September 12, 1925, Mr. Wortman served in the Army Air Force in England during World War II, flying 21 missions over Germany in B-17 Flying Fortresses. He later graduated from Oregon State College with a degree in mathematics. He was employed by the Army Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a mathematician from 1953 until his retirement in 1991.

Mr. Wortman was a member and frequent soloist with the Havre de Grace United Methodist Church choir for 47 years.

John enjoyed gardening, crossword puzzles, and games. He was an active member of the Harford County Bird Club for 37 years, regularly attending meetings and leading field trips. Always willing to share his knowledge of birds, he had a kind and gentle manner as well as a wry sense of humor. A considerable amount of his time following retirement was spent as a volunteer at Harford Glen Environmental Education Center in Bel Air giving bird banding demonstrations and instructing fifth graders in bird identification and nature studies. Susquehanna State Park was one of his favorite birdwatching spots, and he delighted everyone with his knowledge of the wildflowers as well as birds in that area. He also volunteered for the Salvation Army and Grace Place. In 1998 he was named Salvation Army Volunteer of the year.

John is survived by his wife of 47 years, Lorna, of Havre de Grace; two sons Warren, of Columbia and Odin, of Elkridge; one daughter, Adel, of Laurel; and five grandchildren, Paul, Cara, Brian, Benjamin, and Laura.

Memorial services were held at the Havre de Grace United Methodist Church. Lorna Wortman made the decision to establish a Maryland Ornithological Society Scholarship to an Audubon camp in honor of John's life and his love for birds. It is a most appropriate way to perpetuate his memory and to carry on his interest in the natural world. Donations were forwarded to the state scholarship fund by Lorna and family members, as well as the Harford County Bird Club which also collected memorial contributions. An effort will be made to award this scholarship to a qualified candidate from Harford or Cecil Counties. The first scholarship in John's name was awarded in the summer of 2003 to Thomas Smith. The Maryland Ornithological Society and the scholarship committee are extremely grateful for the Wortman family and the Harford Bird Club's generosity.

Many thanks to Dr. Bill Novak, Sally Waldschmidt, Joy Wheeler, Pat Wilson, and Dr. Don Messersmith who provided information and details to assist in compiling these profiles. Corrections or revisions should be addressed to Scholarship Chair.