2018 was the first year we began acknowledging two individuals at Spring Fling whose exemplary volunteer service had been long-standing, influential, and supportive of Michigan Audubon’s mission of connecting birds and people for the benefit of both through conservation, education, and research. 

Our volunteer achievement award is named after Dr. Alec R. Lindsay, former board chair of Michigan Audubon and long-time volunteer whose service has gone above and beyond standard volunteerism, making a tremendous difference for the organization, for ornithological research, and for conservation in Michigan. 

Before the award was formally named after Dr. Lindsay, he was the first recipient of Michigan Audubon’s Volunteer Achievement Award along with John Baumgartner in 2018, followed by Joe Kaplan and Louie Dombroski in 2019.

Alec Lindsay (Awarded in April 2018)

Alec Lindsay’s expertise as a conservation biologist, geneticist, and teacher — in addition to his dedication to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory — continue to lend instrumental support to Michigan Audubon’s success as a statewide conservation organization. Alec served on the Michigan Audubon board for a decade, holding the position of board chair for multiple terms. Alec guided the board through a revision of bylaws and assisted the organization in a leadership transition, serving a brief and intense few months as interim Executive Director of Michigan Audubon in 2015.

Dr. Lindsay has done a whole lot of giving — not only to the organization as a whole but to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in particular — from his research on climate change to supporting the field staff to improving the quality of what we offer visitors, birders, and supporters — Alec exemplifies volunteerism and is a powerful example of how collaboration and networking can make lasting conservation happen.

Alec is constantly looking for ways he can support, bridge, nurture, and celebrate people and places we need more of in this world. As a professor of biology at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, he has leveraged his role in higher education to introduce students to opportunities in the field, at Whitefish Point, and with Michigan Audubon. I’ve seen him first hand ignite in students a curiosity and a dedication to birds and conservation.

Alec is passionate about supporting students to be their brightest and best as they develop both as scientists and people under his tutelage, and was awarded the distinction of Michigan Professor of the Year in 2014. He has had Michigan Audubon’s mission at heart in so much of his efforts as a professor, a biologist, and a conscientious citizen and dedicated volunteer who is genuinely invested in science, conservation, and birds.  

He continues to play an instrumental role as a high-level volunteer for Michigan Audubon in support of Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, in particular, lending his expertise as a researcher, biologist, and teacher, to this network of people who care about WPBO and its future. 

John Baumgartner (Awarded in April of 2018)

The second Volunteer Achievement Award was presented to someone who has, since its inception in 1979, been highly and consistently invested in Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. His personal commitment to WPBO is impressive, touching, and undying.

For more than three decades, John Baumgartner has been dedicated to long-range planning to continue research on bird migration, serving on the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory board and demonstrating his dedication to this special place, its future, and its birds in myriad ways. John has concurrently been a board member of Michigan Audubon for many years and aided us in successfully transitioning programmatic responsibility and oversight of WPBO to Michigan Audubon in 2016. John’s delightful, helpful nature, his enthusiasm, his values-based, lifelong dedication to birds and conservation, and his exemplary volunteerism, more than earned him this special recognition.

Joe Kaplan (Awarded in April of 2019)

Joe Kaplan is a conservationist, wildlife biologist, and high-level volunteer for Michigan Audubon whose idealism and clarity have not wavered in his dedication to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory for over 30 years. His contributions have taken many shapes and are a significant part of WPBO’s success and continued integrity, protection, and advancement. Joe has been behind the scenes, serving with a true blue spirit of dedication to conservation and research that, for him, constitute a values-based way of life. 

I’ve worked with Joe for over three years on the Whitefish Point Joint Committee, where he serves as the chair of the habitat sub-committee and joins me in representing Michigan Audubon and protecting the interests and needs of not only WPBO as a place from a habitat preservation perspective 

Joe has a purity of commitment to bird conservation that is inspiring; he is a true wildlife activist who doesn’t back down and whose spirit, knowledge, and character encourage people to come together and understand more about why we need to protect birds and their habitats. I can honestly say that Joe has been one of the most impactful individuals for our organization and particularly for WPBO for three decades. 

Louie Dombroski (Awarded in April of 2019)
By Joe Kaplan

There’s an old adage at Whitefish Point for prospective seasonal counters: those who dislike cold windy conditions need not apply. This year’s second Alec R. Lindsay Volunteer Achievement Award recipient Louie Dombroski knows this better than most; over the last 30-plus years, Louie has been associated with Whitefish Point having served as the observatory’s waterbird counter during nine different seasons including the inaugural fall count of 1989. In addition, when Louie wasn’t the “official” counter at the Point he served as a one-person welcoming committee for new counters and visitors alike during his residency in Paradise and MacMillan. Louie’s commitment to the Point “experience” is the embodiment of Michigan Audubon’s mission of connecting people and birds for the benefit of both. It is from this solid foundation that Louie also volunteered his expertise to Michigan Audubon over the past 20 years as both a seasonal compiler for Michigan Birds and Natural History and the Michigan Bird Records Committee.

These accomplishments alone are worthy of recognition, but in my opinion, Louie’s most important contribution to Michigan Audubon was his volunteer work to seek the long-term protection of Whitefish Point through continued federal ownership as a National Wildlife Refuge even when the concept of a refuge during the 1990s was deemed unpopular, and in the eyes of many, unobtainable. Louie is a master of the written word; his numerous letters and editorials were so successful at outlining the virtues of federal protection at the Point that he was villainized and deemed a threat to the organizations now honoring him.  

Now if you know Louie, he is anything but a threat. He is the most honest person I know. Through his unrelenting advocacy, Whitefish Point found an unlikely hero when Louie was arrested at the Point for criminal trespassing when he stepped from the parking lot onto the lawn of the lighthouse. It was this simple act of disobedience that proved a turning point as the arrest was so outrageous and egregious that it challenged and changed minds. What was once deemed radical became preferred and Louie’s vision for the Point — of diverse organizations working together to protect the integrity of the Point — finally began to gain a foothold at the local level.  

We are all fortunate that in the face of adversity Louie remained undeterred and it is because of his tenacity and dedication that the future of Whitefish Point looks much better now than it would have otherwise. Louie continues to advocate for the Point with a seat at the table with the Whitefish Point Joint Committee’s three primary stewards; the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, and Michigan Audubon. 

After such tumultuous beginnings, rivaling the best of what Lake Superior has to offer, it is worth taking note of the organizational gains that have been made in working together towards a shared vision for Whitefish Point — one that protects the resources that have been the catalyst for bringing us together for the past 40 years at this special site. We have Louie Dombroski to thank for keeping us pointed in the right direction. Please join me to congratulate Louie for over 30 years of volunteerism to Michigan Audubon and his dedication to the cause of birds and the long-term protection of Whitefish Point.   

Volunteerism is such a unique and powerful gift to nonprofit organizations and we at Michigan Audubon could not be more grateful for the vast number of people who now and in the past have given of their time, talents, and energy to support and further our mission. Thank you! We look forward to 115 more years of thriving in connecting birds and people for the benefit of both and to honoring just as many volunteers along the way! 

Heather Good
Executive Director