Happy Birthday To Us!

“Father of Burroughs”, Albert Shirling, author of “The Birds of Swope Park”, published in 1920. He passed away in October 1947 after spending 42 years in Kansas City.


April 15, 2019 was the official 100th anniversary of the founding of Burroughs Nature Club which later became Burroughs Audubon Society of Greater Kansas City. The first full account of the club’s founding was recorded in 1936 by the Secretary, Helen Goodrich, and it reads in part:


“Early in the year of 1919 an enterprising salesman from the Houghton Mifflin Publishing Co. came to Kansas City to market sets of John Burroughs’ nature essays. Automatically, each purchaser became a member of the Burroughs Nature Club, was presented with a course of study, and thereafter received monthly “Nature Notes”. As soon as there was a worthwhile number of purchasers, the book agent arranged for an outdoor hike in Swope Park.”


Birders in Swope Park, 1920s. These were some of Mr. Shirling’s students from the Kansas City Teacher’s College, and many of them were among the founding members of Burroughs Nature Club.

All of our field trip notices were once printed in the Kansas City Star and Times newspapers.


“So enthusiastic was the response, the Burroughs Club formally organized on April 15, 1919, under the leadership of Miss Loula Van Neman as President, W.H. Nagel, Vice President, and Miss Mary Robinson, Secretary-Treasurer. There were one hundred and fifty charter members who met twice a month for one indoor and one outdoor meeting.”


Our current longest-serving member is Dick Dawson. Here is a photo of him from his high school biology teaching days! He was selected as the Outstanding Biology Teacher in Kansas in 1968, and has been with Burroughs for 71 years!

Map to the library and nature center at Fleming Park, from about 1980. The “Birding Hot Line” was everyone’s source for unusual bird sighting information, in the pre-Facebook and pre-eBird days!


“Swope Park and Mt. Washington [Cemetery]…proved the favorite haunts for the outdoor activities…Mr. Shirling often added to the interest of these gatherings with illustrated talks. The objective of the Burroughs Club is the protection of the flowers, birds, and trees, combined with general interest in nature.”


Lena Feighner was not only a teacher but a world traveler and benefactor of Burroughs, and a member for many years.

Past President Harry Gregory also acted as CBC compiler and director for BAS during the 1970s and early 1980s. This particular year was “so cold the binoculars froze up”. Harry was the first President after Burroughs became an Audubon chapter.


“Bird houses have been placed by the club, twice; a nature trail has been laid out and marked in Swope Park…and also, the trees on the grounds of the Art Institute have been labelled…The meetings were well attended until those not accustomed to hiking gradually dropped out. Although the club has dwindled considerably in size the real enthusiasts still meet, more often outdoors than in, and still under the fine leadership of Mr. Shirling.”


From 1944 until the mid-1970s, Burroughs participated in the Screen Tours provided by NAS. Each year, there was a series of 5 lectures on various nature subjects, illustrated with films or slides, to encourage interest in nature and conservation. BNC solicited funds from donors so that most of the films were shown to the public free of charge.

Our first formal Conservation Committee was convened in 1954 and chaired by Ellen Schoen. This was the first contact between Burroughs and The Nature Conservancy. TNC was just beginning to appreciate the urgency of protecting prairie areas in the Midwest. I like the phrase, “we are alert to the needs of conservation”. We are still alert today!


-Elizabeth Stoakes, BAS Historian