Lucy Ferril Ela
Woman left legacy for birders, wildflower enthusiasts
Special to the Sentinel
Lucy Ferril Ela, 14, walks a mountain trail, circa 1905. She was an avid naturalist and was instrumental in founding the Audubon Society in Grand Junction.
By Kathy Jordan
Monday, January 3, 2011
Lucy Ferril Ela stood only 5 feet tall, but she was a giant among the birders of the world.
A section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail system honors her efforts in organizing the Audubon Society in Grand Junction.
Here is Lucy’s story, so that when you’re on the Riverfront Trail and see the Grand Valley Audubon Society Lucy Ferril Ela Wildlife Sanctuary and Audubon Trail near Connected Lakes State Park, you know about her and what she did for our community.
Lucy was born in Rome, N.Y., in 1891 but spent most of her childhood in Denver. Her father was the publisher of the Rocky Mountain Herald newspaper before becoming the curator of the Denver Museum of Natural History. The museum was then housed in the basement of the Capitol building.
According to one of her five sons, William M. Ela of Hotchkiss, a retired 21st Judicial District judge, Lucy was delighted that her father worked at the museum.
As curator, he collected all kinds of birds and wildflowers. He would bring them home from a trip, lay out birds and flowers on the kitchen table and explain them to the children using their Latin names.
Ela said that Lucy grew up in a nature-loving family, which took yearly train trips. He said one trip in particular his mother liked was going up Alpine Pass, through the Alpine Tunnel and into Pitkin. The train was moving so slowly that the kids could get off the train and pick columbines.
Lucy and her husband, Wendell (Dent), met while they were both attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs in 1912. They were married two years later in 1914. Ela said he thought his mother quit college after her third year because the family needed the money to send her brother, Thomas, to college. Thomas Hornsby Ferril became the Poet Laureate of Colorado, and one of his poems is inscribed in the Colorado Capitol Building Rotunda.
After attending Colorado College, Lucy taught in a one-room school at Burlington and boarded with a farmer and his wife for a year. Lucy had a nice singing voice, as did one of her friends, and they soon became known for duets. On Sunday afternoons, the people on the party line would take their phones off the hook, and Lucy and her friend would sing for them.
During the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, Lucy was involved in raising her five sons, Dennett, Thomas, Wendell, William and Charles, but that didn’t keep her from becoming involved in other activities. She was a charter member of the Grand Junction Garden Club, which was instrumental in establishing the Duck Pond on Orchard Mesa.
One of her projects with the Garden Club was planting a rose garden at the old Grand Junction Depot for train passengers to enjoy as they were waiting for the train. The garden was on the northwest side between the depot and the Beanery Restaurant.
In 1946, Lucy was one of the main organizers of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in western Colorado. Twenty years later, she helped form the local Audubon Society.
Lucy always had loved to travel, and three years after the death of her husband in 1959, she decided to do some world birding, a hobby she enjoyed into her 70s and 80s.
Her first trip was to Hawaii and Japan. Her second was a 4 1/2-month trip touring Europe. In 1966, she joined a Canadian group of bird watchers on a world tour that took them to the Orient, India, Asia, Europe and Iceland.
In 1968, she traveled with the same group on a tour behind the Iron Curtain. Lucy was the only person from Colorado who went on a bird-watching excursion to California with the Oklahoma Ornithological Society in the fall of 1969.
Lucy didn’t center her life just on bird watching and gardening. She was the first woman on the Mesa County school board, serving from 1929 to 1950. In 1950, she was the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce’s Woman of the Year. She also was a member of the Reviewers Club, Grand Junction’s oldest literary group.
She is credited with writing the original bylaws for The Art Center. She was active in the Beaux Art Club, the forerunner to the Brush and Palette Club.
Chances are that Lucy would be delighted that the Audubon Society has set up a gift shop at the Botanical Gardens, 641 Struthers Ave. The winter hours are noon to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. So go on down and soak up two of Lucy’s loves: birds and flowers.
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Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.