Friends and family of the late Jim Durell say he was a selfless man who had a passion for nature that was one of a kind.
In 1980, the City Commission dedicated a 2-acre lot at Juniper Hill Park to fulfill Durell’s goal of creating a public area for research and conservation of fruit and nut trees.
The next year – in mid-April – Durell, Frankfort Audubon Society, the Garden Club, and local Boy Scouts planted trees to begin an arboretum.
Over the next several years, Durell faithfully tended the trees to ensure their success, said his friend Scott Hankla, president of Frankfort Audubon Society.
Even when his sight was failing and he could no longer drive, Durell asked his son, Kenny Wingate, to drive him to the park so he could check on his trees.
“He didn’t ask me to do much, but that was one of those things he loved,” Wingate said.
About 30 friends and colleagues gathered Thursday morning under the chilly shade of three thornless honey locust trees to honor Durell and his work at the arboretum at Juniper Hill Park.
With the help of the Frankfort Audubon Society and the City Parks and Recreation Department, a plaque describing the arboretum project and a park bench overlooking the space were dedicated in Durell’s name.
The wood from the honey locust is strong and durable, Hankla said during his presentation. Its seedpods are food for wildlife, and it has no thorns, unlike the typical honey locust.
“So it’s a lot like Jim – strong and durable, wildlife friendly, easygoing and not too thorny,” he joked.
His friends and colleagues shared stories about Durell, who died in August at 89. Each focused on his unwavering passion for the outdoors and natural conservation.
Many shared stories about working with Durell and his techniques to outsmart squirrels, but only Wingate knew what it was like to live with him.
“… You never knew what vial of seeds would fall out of the refrigerator when you opened it,” he joked.
His dad even thought about conservation and the environment while shopping for groceries.
“When I pick out fruit or vegetables, I pick the biggest and plumpest fruit I can find, but he would pick the bruised ones or the ones about to be discarded, because he hated to see anything go to waste,” Wingate said after the ceremony.
Durell was a founding member of Frankfort Audubon chapter, formed in 1969. He served on many boards and worked for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources for 37 years.
Tim Slone, education director for the department, says Durell started as a research project leader there in 1948.
“Jim Durell, he was a pioneer in the early wildlife profession,” Slone said, noting research methods included more trial and error without the technology available today.
After unveiling the new plaque, Wingate and his wife, Jane, were the first to try out the green park bench overlooking the arboretum that contains more than 12 species of trees.
“We met on a park bench in Juniper Hill Golf Course,” Jane Wingate joked as they walked to the bench.
During the presentation, Slone read a letter Durell wrote to a boy – who now works for the Department of Fish and Wildlife – about conservation and what it means.
“I believe we have reached a time when we have to admit that this world was built for man and animals to live together,” Slone read from Durell’s letter.
Friends and family agreed Durell lived by those words.
“Jim had a passion for wild things and wild places, and that sort of passion makes me proud to be a part of today’s dedication and celebration for Mr. James Durell,” Slone said.