A History of the Indian River Audubon Society 1950-1969

By Bettie R. Moody

The knowledge, good fellowship, and admirable conservation achievements we enjoy today as members of the Indian River Audubon Society began because of an inconspicuous newspaper article. Mrs. G.T. Von Colditz read it in 1950; it said that Mr. Merritt Farrar, executive secretary of the Florida Audubon Society, and his wife were coming to Brevard on a Saturday field trip and invited interested persons to join them. Mrs. Von Colditz attended and sparked the later coming together of nature lovers to discuss different kinds of birds they happened to see during the previous month. After about six months, field trips were organized and led by Mr. Foster White of Merritt Island.

An early Limpkin, however, notes:

It would not be possible to fix a definite date when the local group of nature lovers in Brevard County first thought of organizing a club.  For some years, there were, perhaps, not more than a dozen interested persons in the County, who, at irregular intervals would tramp around the County and enjoy the wonderful wild life, (sic) for which Florida is so justly famous.  The old “regulars” in those days were, perhaps, Foster White, Sam Harper, and a few winter visitors, like Ed Ford, Emeritus Curator of Ornithology of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.  Later, we felt the obligation to try and interest other people, but for a long time, we were still just a “group”, without any organization.

Other pioneers were Mr. and Mrs. Graeme Howard, Mr. James O’Neil, first editor of the Limpkin, Mr. Hunley Abbott, Mrs. Myrtle Maxwell, Mrs. H. F. Gartner, Mr. A. H. Hastings, Mr. C. E. Richards, Mr. Floyd Miller, and later Mr Alonso Ellis, Mr. F. J. Hopkinson, Mr. William Hueston, Mr. Johnny Johnson, and Mr. G. Chandler Young.  Usually, their wives and husbands also belonged to the Indian River Audubon Club which soon became associated with, but not a chapter of, the Florida Audubon Society – mainly because of the pleasant and helpful relations with Mr. And Mrs. Farrar.  He often spoke to the group, illustrating his talks with moving pictures, and he arranged for people from Florida Audubon headquarters to teach youth groups in the local schools.  In fact, one Limpkin states that the growth of junior Audubon groups among the three towns – Cocoa, Rockledge, and Merritt Island – was phenomenal from 1956 to 1957, with Mr. Grame Howard serving as the chairman of the Junior Audubon Club Committee.

But before this point, the history of the Indian River Audubon Club took an interesting turn.  The club disassociated itself from the Florida Audubon Society and in December, 1953, it re-organized as a branch of the National Audubon Society.  The officers went to a great deal of trouble to amend the constitution and by-laws to conform to the general plans and purposes of the N.A.S.  Not until January 13, 1966, did the Club officially become a chapter of the Florida Audubon Society.  One wonders why.  The Limpkin, Vol. 1, No. 5, states, “His (Mr. Farrar’s) retirement from the Florida Audubon Society in 1952 was one of the impelling reasons why our club decided to become a Branch of the National Audubon.”  One gathers that the retirement of their esteemed Mr. Farrar was not entirely voluntary.  Furthermore, Mr. Grame Howard went to New York City and saw to it that the Indian River Audubon Club became affiliated with the National Audubon Society instead of the Florida Audubon Society.

In the early days, there were several exciting projects for which we owe a debt of thanks:  the establishment of Hall’s Island as a wildlife sanctuary, the establishment of Cocoa as an “Inviolate Bird Sanctuary” through the Cocoa City Council in 1956, and finally the successful fight to keep an oil refinery from being built on north Merritt Island.  All of these projects have their own story.  The group heard developers were going to invade Hall’s Island where a great number of pelicans, herons, egrets, cormorants, spoonbills, and even flamingoes roosted in the mangroves.  Mr. Jim O’Neil, Foster White, and Bill Hueston persuaded the state to designate Hall’s Island as a bird sanctuary and later, following trips to Tallahassee by Helen and Allan Cruikshank and Bill Hueston, it was dedicated to the county as long as it was used in conformity with the state’s stipulations.

In May, 1956, the club petitioned in addition to Cocoa, that Titusville, Rockledge, Eau Gallie, and Melbourne be designated as bird sanctuaries; as a result of cooperative efforts between the Federation of Garden Clubs and the Indian River Audubon Society, South Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach later became sanctuaries.  Nearly a decade later, in 1965, our society in cooperation with the Garden Clubs of Central Florida go the legislature to declare Indian River Drive from Williams Point to Bonneventure and official scenic drive, as well as Florida Tropical Trail on Merritt Island.  The club was enlarging; membership increased from fifteen to seventy and then to ninety under Mr. Hueston’s leadership.

Moreover, the club was well-organized.  Programs for the coming year were enumerated well in advance in the first Limpkin of the year, and understandably such all-time favorites as “Helen Cruickshank’s Slides” or “Flowers and Ellis on Hawks” hit every calendar.  After joining the National Audubon Society in 1953, the society began enjoying the Screen Tour Programs each winter, the Audubon Journal, and support in their conservation work.  Shortly, after joining National, one Limpkin notes:

We were especially fortunate in having Allan D. Cruickshank and his wife, Helen, move in upon us as Neighbors, and their cooperation and unselfish help at all times has been an inspiration.  They are both nationally known for a wide variety of skills and performances with the National Audubon Society – photography, writing, lecturing, and conducting tours and camps.  Their presence, as friends and members of our little local Society, has put new life into it, and gratitude into all our hearts.

Helen Cruickshank emerged, indeed, as a real fighter when the county commissioners became enthusiastic about the prospect of an oil refinery on north Merritt Island, just after Port Canaveral was opened.  Although public opinion was against it, several of the commissioners went to the west coast of the United States to see for themselves that there would be no ill effects from shipping in crude oil and refining it.  The plant officials showed them a refinery that did truly create no smog problems:  the combination of twelve foot waves braking in front of it and a mountain range behind it created air currents that lifted and wafted away the fumes.  Through persistent correspondence and personal contact with the Secretary of the Interior and other politicians, Mrs. Cruickshank helped defeat this industrial move.

Apparently, the field trips led by Foster White were the apex in the development of the society.  Heavily attended, they embraced such areas as the St. John’s River marsh, the Humpback Bridge area, North Banana River Drive across from Sykes Creek, and Sebastian Inlet.  Old timers report that along Humpback Bridge on Merritt Island there were many ducks, gallinules, and rails, and that for years an eagle’s nest, inhabited by a great horned owl, attracted birders to north Banana Drive.  The tree which held that nest was only recently cut down.

Pictures of exotic birds were bought to monthly meetings, and members visited Myrtle Maxwell’s home one fall to see painted buntings.  (She was the first to get them, and friends learned she attracted them with millet.)  The Thousand Islands area was then “an excellent and beautiful place for birding” reminisced Foster White.  Much of it has since been filled for a golf course, high school, housing tract, and sewage treatment plant.

Financially, the Audubon Society in its inceptive days appears as frugally inclined as we are today.  One Limpkin lamented that the rising costs of mimeographing prohibited publication of the Limpkin and requested special donations from members who wished to continue receiving it.  Confided one member, “Sometimes our treasury report was 27 cents, our bills were $3.00, and we had to pass the hat.”

One avenue for income was the Screen Tour Lectures, as they were then called.  The series truly became remunerative when Mr. F. J. Hopkinson began to devote his energies to it in 1957.  If he were not the best birder in the society, he was certainly the most astute business manager; he has a talent for selecting dates and lecturers especially suitable for Brevard County residents.  His eye for detail noted duplication of a program for three years in the series.  “No one has commented on it to date, although some steady customers may have noticed,” he wrote the lecture department scheduler.

“Any money we have in the bank from the lecture series is because of Hoppy,” claims Foster White.  It seems his technique was to mail each member tickets “which he expected you to sell.”  The story goes that a few members resented unsolicited tickets but that the majority of the members sold them.  A treasury record from April 4, 1963, reveals another reason for his making the series a lucrative project:  he advertised tirelessly.  The record reads, “Posters, folder, mailing pieces:  $69.20.  Other promotional expenses incurred, $105.00.”

One year he lowered the prices and complained of some difficulty with the press.  Yet for one date – January 13, 1963 – combined box office take was $261.00.  Over a period of 15 years, the Film Lecture series has produced a profit of $2150.80 for the chapter.  A financial history of the Wildlife Film Lectures is as follows:

Year               Expenses                  Receipts                   Profit (Loss)

1954               $   900.38                  $ 891.80                  $         (8.58)

1955                    833.78                      904.50                             70.72

1956                    763.73                      810.73                             47.00

1957                    659.97                      725.50                             65.53

1958                    492.65                      488.00                              (4.65)

1959                    633.91                      760.50                          126.59

1960                    667.66                      786.25                          118.59

1961                    782.25                    1028.00                          245.75

1962                    923.95                    1160.50                          236.55

1963                 1023.15                    1480.75                          457.60

1964                 1288.02                    1348.75                             60.73

1965                    940.45                    1359.95                          419.50

1966                 1041.51                    1050.50                               8.99

1967                 1157.06                    1144.74                           (12.32)

1968                 1131.75                    1202.35                             70.60

1969                 1081.70                    1329.90                  $      248.20

Total         $   2150.80

Average           134.42

Although the Christmas Bird Count has not yielded any financial returns, it has brought more national fame and publicity to the club than any other activity.  In May, 1965, Representatives Rountree and Pruitt introduced in the House of Representatives a resolution commending all members of the Indian River Audubon Society for its record of leading the nation for the tenth consecutive year in the Annual Bird County of the United States and for setting a record high total count of two hundred four species of birds in 1964, the highest total of species of birds at that time ever registered on one occasion in the history of the United States.  The counts began informally on December 27, 1951, when the Cruickshank’s, who were looking for retirement property, visited Brevard County and joined Dr. Joseph C. Howell of the University of Tennessee on a census.  They turned up a total of one hundred twenty-eight species and listed their find under “Audubon,” since they were unaware of the local club’s existence.  In 1952, their total of one hundred thirty species appeared under “Cocoa”; that particular year Helen and Allan went alone.  On December 27, 1953, Foster White, Samuel A. Harper, and Mr. and Mrs. W. O. Lewis of Virginia (who still participate in the counts) joined the Cruickshank’s and Dr. Howell for a tally of one hundred forty-seven species.  It was the first official Indian River Audubon Society Count.  On December 27, 1954, they recorded one hundred sixty-seven different kinds of birds.

The box score of the I.R.A.S. teams for the championship years is:

Total Number

Year               of Species    

1955               184

1956               186

1957               193

1958               194

1959               196

1960               200 (46 expert observers combed almost every acre in the 15 mile-diameter circle)

1961               191

1962               197

1963               195

1964               204

1965               197

1966               206 (Cocoa and San Diego tie)

1967               197 (San Diego 209)

1968               203 (San Diego 217)

A total of two hundred sixty-nine different species have been observed in this area during the Christmas Count periods.

Reports from various areas in the USA and Canada reach Allan Cruickshank, who is national editor for the Christmas Bird Count issue of Audubon Field Notes.  The Christmas Bird Counts were started by the National Audubon Society in 1900.  That year, only 25 reports were submitted and only 27 people participated.  Since then, interest has skyrocketed.  In 1959, over 600 reports were submitted and over 10,000 people from all sections of the USA and Canada participated.  It is interesting to note that the 1967 participants numbers over 15,000 and that the report published were 839.

It has not been possible to compile a comprehensive list of all chapter officers since the organization of the club, inasmuch as the early records are sketchy.  In 1952, there must have been an unofficial group of leaders, for one note from Sam Harper addressed to Myrtle Maxwell contains a reluctant acceptance of the presidency for 1953.  She, Peggy Howard, and Mrs. Emy Harper appear to have been “The Nominating Committee” for the first officers:

1953 – 54

President                                                 Samuel Harper

Vice-President                                       Mrs. Harold Hendry

Secretary/Treasurer                              Mrs. Alice Duff

Notification Secretary                           Mrs. Jennie Punshon

1954 – 55

President                                                 Hunley Abbott

Secretary/Treasurer                              Mrs. Alice Duff

1955 – 56

President                                                 A. H. Hastings

Secretary/Treasurer                              Mrs. Alice Duff

1956 – 57

President                                                 William F. Hueston

Vice-President                                       Mrs. Graeme Howard

Corresponding Secretary                    James A. O’Neil

Treasurer                                                Foster White

Historian                                                  Samuel Harper

The following season, 1957 – 58, Lon Ellis became assistant editor of the Limpkin, Mrs. F. J. Hopkinson replaced Mrs. Howard as vice-president and Mrs. Malcom Grimes was appointed recording secretary.  The other officers remained the same.

1959 – 60

President                                                 W. F. Hueston

Vice-President                                       G. Chandler Young

Corresponding Secretary                    Mrs. H. C. Flowers

Recording Secretary                             None

Treasurer                                                Foster White

Historian                                                  Samuel Harper

Limpkin Editor                                        Lon Ellis

1960 – 61

President                                                 W. F. Hueston

Vice-President                                       Theodore Main

Secretary                                                 W. H. Walters

Treasurer                                                Foster White

Historian                                                  Samuel Harper

Limpkin Editor                                        Lon Ellis

1961 – 62

Same as for 1960 – 61

1962 – 63

President                                                 W. F. Hueston

Vice-President                                       Lloyd Hornbostle

Secretary                                                 Mrs. Louella Grimes

Treasurer                                                Foster White

Historian                                                  Samuel Harper

Limpkin Editor                                        Lon Ellis

1963 – 64

President                                                 W. F. Hueston

Vice-President                                       Lloyd Hornbostle

Secretary                                                 Robert E. Weldon

Treasurer                                                Foster White

Limpkin Editor                                        Lon Ellis

1964 – 65

President                                                 W. F. Hueston

Vice-President                                       Lloyd Hornbostle

Secretary                                                 Mrs. Joyce Burnside

Treasurer                                                William H. Walters

Limpkin Editor                                        Lon Ellis


President                                                 W. F. Hueston

Vice-President                                       Ken West

Secretary                                                 Mrs. Louise Gibbons

Treasurer                                                William H. Walters

Limpkin Editor                                        Lon Ellis

During the latter part of 1965, the president, Mr. Hueston, suffered a stroke and could no longer participate in chapter activities. Vice-President Ken West took over as presiding officer of the club and continued in that capacity through the 1966-67 season.


President                                                 Ken West

Honorary President                               W.F. Hueston

Secretary                                                 Mrs. Louise Gibbons

Treasurer                                                William H. Walters

Limpkin Editor                                        Lon Ellis


President                                                 Karl F. Eichhorn, Jr.

First Vice-President                               Lon Ellis

Second Vice-President                        Arthur Underwood

Secretary                                                 Robert Bush

Treasurer                                                Mrs. Frances Stone

Limpkin Editor                                        Betty Ann Eichhorn


Same as for 1967-68


President                                                 Karl F. Eichhorn, Jr.

First Vice-President                               Lon Ellis

Second Vice-President                        Hale Wyle

Secretary                                                 Mrs. Mary Ash

Treasurer                                                Robert H. Moody

Limpkin Editor                                        Betty Ann Eichhorn

It seems apropos that in the heart of the missile land, even bird watchers utilize a digital computer to keep records. I.R.A.S. instituted a computerized membership in January 1968; in fact, it is probable we are the only chapter in the country to have such a system. It has been of considerable help as we reached the goal of 50% membership increase during 1967-68. Net gain of 115 memberships were made in 1968-69, and we currently carry approximately 425 members on the rolls.

Last summer, a season event and information folder – the first produced by this chapter – was prepared. Shortly after that, I.R.A.S. shoulder patches were designed and sold to members who wear them on field trips. Then in May, 1969, the chapter filed incorporation papers with the secretary of state to formalize our non-profit status in preparation for development of a nature education center. An undeveloped tract of eighteen acres on Merritt Island was recently leased from the owners and should be in use by members, guests, and youth groups by this fall. Contributions to its fund now total $128.50.

That progress is accompanied by leadership is implicit.  One of the first actions of Karl Eichhorn as president was to appoint a board of directors composed of twelve senior members of the organization, plus eight standing committees appointed in accordance with F.A.S. by-laws. During the summer of 1967, a set of chapter by-laws modeled after those of the F.A.S. was prepared and adopted by the members at the November business meeting.

Perhaps, the most significant contributions by the I.R.A.S. in 1968-69 have been in the field of conservation. Many letters and public speeches were produced to protect estuarine resources in Brevard County and throughout the state. Efforts reached a climax at the special Brevard County Commission Hearing concerning a massive fill in the Indian River proposed by Ed Ball. Sixteen members spoke against the proposal and several created posters which were photographed and published by the newspapers. Militancy seemed on the rise, for members shortly picketed a dredge filling in a large section of Sykes Creek for a shopping center.

Now the hard core members of the Indian River Audubon Society are actively planning for the annual convention of the Florida Audubon Society, which we will host at the Ramada Inn in Cocoa Beach, Florida, January 1970.

“Younger blood is running the organization now,” mused one senior citizen. “And that’s good. The older people were getting too old to meet committee responsibilities or even go on occasional field trips.” Yet the following quote from a 1959 Limpkin during the heat of political campaigning makes these senior citizens seem not so distant, or detached, or decrepit:

I would like to mention for those who were not here that the society waged the battle to save our streams and rivers from erroneous bulkheading. This bulkheading could have destroyed our river shorelines and valuable marshlands on which our wild life depends. Not to mention the beauty that would be lost. So thanks to Helen and Allan Cruickshank, Mrs. W. T. Stewart, Foster and Lois White, Lon Ellis, and all the many others who diligently fought to preserve those natural beauties and resources which a few self-minded people were trying to destroy. We must always keep our minds eye to the future. Think when we elect our candidates to public office and find out if they will conserve the people’s natural wealth instead of squandering it which has been the record of the past.