In Memory of Bruce Kershner
(This 833rd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 11, 2007.)
Everyone should honor Bruce Kershner, who died on February 16, for his work for the environment. Perhaps Larry Beahan said it best when he called him "a conservation hero."
Others have written fine eulogies for Bruce that list his many achievements but my favorite is the one read at the memorial service by his cousin and dear friend, Randy Kaplan. He captured in a different way but perfectly the Bruce that we all loved. With Randy's permission I include excerpts here:
"I barely knew Bruce when one day my mother brought me to visit my Aunt Pearl, Bruce's mom, so many years ago. Bruce was about 13 and I was 8 years old.
"I hoped to find Bruce to be a music enthusiast as the Beatles were all the rage and I was a big fan. Instead, to my great surprise, he immediately asked me if I wanted to go catch butterflies in a nearby meadow.
"Before I could ask why the heck we would want to catch butterflies, Bruce put a net in my hand and I was out in the meadow completely covering with mud the newly polished Beatles boots my mom had just bought.
"I remember Bruce enthusiastically stalking and capturing a butterfly. As I stood there without the slightest clue why we were doing this, he told me its scientific and common name, marveled at its beauty, and then set it free.
"When Bruce brought me back to his house most young boys would ask something like 'Hey, you wanna see my baseball mitt?" Instead Bruce asked, "Hey, you wanna see my museum in the basement?' A museum in your basement? It seemed impossible. I said, 'Sure.'
"As we walked down the steps, my life changed forever. Wonders of nature I had never seen up close were there for me to hold in my hands. This museum was filled with fossils Bruce had found; an entire wall lined with birds nests, one with empty robin's eggs inside; many giant bound books of leaves of every imaginable type; a tarantula in formaldehyde; beautiful specimens of minerals; a ceiling dotted with phosphorescent paint that displayed constellations and the milky way. They glowed like the night sky when the lights were off.
"Bruce then brought me up to his bedroom. A chart covered the entire wall over his bed. I asked what it was and he said, "Oh, that's a record of the number and frequency of lightning strikes I've seen out my bedroom window along with how long it took for the sound of the thunder to arrive." My mouth hung open in amazement.
"He drew my attention to a shelf with two small liquid-filled bottles that he claimed, once mixed, would form nitroglycerin. 'If you combine them we would blow up the whole neighborhood!' Needless to say, I stayed away from the bottles.
"After my visit with Bruce, I was ready to trade in my Beatles boots for a telescope. His enthusiasm and adventurous spirit was contagious even then. And that was the beginning of my life's adventure with him.
Bruce Kershner and Friends
"Bruce's incredible expression of enthusiasm with life and nature was barely containable. His fast paced step when out in nature got him to the tops of mountain peaks before the rest of us. I can still hear him yelling from ahead at the end of the trail, just barely in earshot, 'Come here, this is great! Ya' gotta see this! This is amazing!'
"For Bruce, all of nature was amazing. And you know, it was for me too, partly because I then saw the beauty of the vistas through Bruce's eyes. You couldn't help but share in his enthusiasm. The contagious nature that Bruce possessed was a part of what made him so special and unique. And he was always eager to share his experiences.
"But beyond Bruce's love of nature, his knowledge and even his inspiring view of the world, was the amount of caring he had for the people he loved. To Bruce, his friends and family were like the precious jewels he saw in nature, each with gifts he could enjoy and treasure.
"Bruce is truly an irreplaceable soul whose kind smile, love and friendship will be missed by us all."-- Gerry Rising