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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 24, 2018

A darling afternoon

Actor Tom Milligan portrays Jay “Ding” Darling at Oakland Mills Nature Center
Apr 24, 2018
Photo by: Gretchen Teske Actor Tom Milligan portrays conservationist Jay “Ding” Darling during his one man show, “The Art of Conservation: A Visit with Ding Darling”.

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


Dark brown shoes scuff the floor as a tall man with white hair shuffles in. “My assistant, Merle, opens my mail if it’s something important,” he says as he holds up two opened envelopes. “Must have been important.” Actor Tom Milligan portrayed conservationist Jay “Ding” Darling during a one man show at the Oakland Mills Nature Center, for an Earth Day celebration. Milligan wrote the 45-minute show himself and is already scheduled to perform in 2019.

Milligan has been a character actor for over 20 years. He has performed as Grant Wood, Forest Spalding and Henry A. Wallace. When he was contacted in May of 2017 about writing the show, he was elated. He said he had been thinking about it for a while and now that he was given the opportunity, he took it.

Milligan spent the summer writing the show and gave the first performance at the Iowa State Fair in August of 2017.

“You couldn’t grow up in Des Moines at a certain age and not know who he was,” he said. “I think Ding Darling is a name a lot of people know from their past.”

Jay “Ding” Darling was a cartoonist at the Des Moines Register who was best known for his political comics. Darling was an avid hunter and fisherman but felt there should be restrictions in order to preserve wildlife. While there are many leaders in the conservation world, Darling’s scope on the topic was rather broad. “He was the one who kind of got his arms around the whole thing and said we can’t do one without doing the other,” Milligan said. “I consider him the godfather of the conservation movement.”

Teddy Roosevelt is credited with being the father of the modern conservation movement, but Milligan says Darling deserves credit, too. Darling helped found the National Wildlife Federation and initiated the Duck Stamp Program, both which continue today.

The one act show was held at the Oakland Mills Nature Center and open to the public. Naturalist Cari Nicely was able to bring Milligan in through a grant, and a little bit of luck.

Nicely applied for a grant which would allow a speaker to come to the center and educate the guests. By the time Nicely was able to apply, all open dates were filled. Soon after, a new grant was opened and she was able to apply for Milligan to make an appearance.

“Our theme this year is creative nature. When you think of nature, you think of conservation (and) you think of Ding Darling,” she said. “The people that come here are going to know that Ding Darling was important, but they may not know why.”

Nicely hopes guests will take away a new sense of understanding and acknowledgment of Darling’s accomplishments. “I hope that they have a new appreciation for him and all our state conservationists that have made tremendous contributions,” she said.

Among those who appreciate all that Ding Darling accomplished, was Bob Wehrle, a retired sixth-grade teacher. “I’ve been involved with students and the environment and I love the environment and I have the same feelings toward conservation as Ding Darling had,” he explained. Wehrle hoped the conversation would spark student interest in the field of conservation. “It’s important for students to get involved with conservation and the environment,” he said. “They’re the future.”

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