Brigham City man receives national volunteer award

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:26 PM

Joe Johnston

BRIGHAM CITY — A Brigham City resident has been awarded the 2013 National Volunteer of the Year award from the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bob Ebeling, a retired mechanical engineer from ATK and a U.S. Army World War II veteran, was awarded this prestigious award June 11 at a ceremony in his honor at the Wildlife Education Center, 2155 W. Forest St., in Brigham City.

A wildlife advocate and conservationist for more than 50 years, Ebeling has donated more than 10,000 hours over the past 22 years to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

In a speech, Bob Barrett, the refuge manager, praised Ebeling for his dedication and sacrifice to making the refuge what it is today.

“Bob has given over 10,000 hours, which is the equivalent of five years of service. He has also made personal contributions, such as the use of his truck, the use of his tools — and brought his family out to share the refuge activities. I’m here to spotlight a true conservation hero,” Barrett said.

Al Trout, former refuge manager, was assigned by the Fish and Wildlife Department to manage the Bear River MBR shortly after the Great Salt Lake flooded 100 square miles of the refuge in the late 1980s.

“When I got here, there was nothing here. The deal was, no promises, but go there and see if it looks like it could even be salvaged, and then let us know if you think it’s even worth it.”

Trout moved into a little one-room office building on the south end of Main Street in Brigham City with the hopes of making contacts in town. He says he fell in love with the city from the beginning because of the friendly environment and great people.

“I was in my office talking to the county commissioner and, boom! the door opens up and here’s this guy. He kind of interrupts things and says, ‘I’m Bob Ebeling, and I want a job. I want to volunteer for two years.’ But I was not too sure about volunteers, because they don’t seem to get things done — so to put him off. I told him I would call him on Monday,” Trout said.

“I called Bob and told him to meet me in the office on Monday. When he showed up, I handed him the only other key to the office and told him he was now my assistant. ‘All right, boss,’ Bob said.”

Ebeling had a complete vision for the bird refuge, and the arduous task of repairing the refuge back to working condition began.

Over the next several years, Ebeling was instrumental in obtaining donated supplies and creating the refuge’s first volunteer team. At times he was organizing and leading more than 50 volunteers on the various projects to repair this model for U.S. bird refuges.

With the use of his engineering skills, leadership abilities and just plain joy and love for the environment, the refuge was slowly restored as Ebeling brought the community together to make the Bear River MBR better than it was before.

Every year, hundreds of people are anonymously nominated by their peers for this national award, and then are carefully reviewed by a selection committee made up of the board from the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Those nominated are not aware that their name has been submitted until the winner is selected, and then they are notified if they win, stated Anne Truslow, vice president of the Conservation Programs of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

“The Award is given by the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation together. This award has been given annually for the past 19 years.”

Along with a beautifully framed award, a check for $1000 was also awarded.The check comes through the partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There were many great submissions this year, and the decision was very difficult, but with all that Bob has done, he rose to the top,” Truslow said.

The ceremony had many distinguished speakers, including Retired Utah Congressman James Hansen, who served for more than 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Hansen was chairman of the committee of the Department of the Interior, and worked with Ebeling to find funding and support in rebuilding this national treasure.

Because of current Senate sessions, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was not able attend the ceremony; however, he sent a letter expressing his apologies for not being there and congratulating Ebeling on his sacrifice and efforts in making this nation such a great place.

Ebeling, in his late 80s, is still as passionate as ever for conservation and the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. He continues to serve in the visitor services department of the Bear River MBR. When asked what he would like to see accomplished at the refuge, Ebeling said:

“I would like to see many trees planted throughout the refuge. I have always regretted that the trees we planted in the 1990s did not survive, and I would like to see the correct trees planted before I go.”

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