Pioneer Park Aviary fund drive takes flight

The newly formed Friends of Pioneer Park Aviary hope to raise enough money to operate the aviary in the absence of municipal funding.

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WALLA WALLA - Long before the majestic white peacocks strutted with their fully fanned tail feathers, other animals such as deer, elk and even a bear were enjoyed by the patrons of Pioneer Park.

According to the city's Parks and Recreation Department, those first animal enclosures go back to the 1940s. Then in the 1950s pigeons were added. And in the 1960s, pheasants were also brought in.

Not much information was readily available about those original facilities, but what is remembered and documented is that it took a pride of benevolent lions to hunt down the support that would be used to build the structures that are today known as the Pioneer Park Aviary.

"We did a lot of things, but it was 27 years ago. And we were a lot younger then," LaVonne Reser recalled.

She is one of three locally remaining charter members of the Walla Walla Valley Lioness Club, which became a chapter in 1978.

And only six years after forming, the fledgling group took on an additional mission to add to their traditional sponsorship of programs for the blind and their collection of used eyeglasses.

This new cause would turn out to be their biggest single fundraiser, when in 1983 the Lioness raised close to $100,000 in funds and in-kind contributions , which also included securing a $65,000 donation from the Braden Trust Fund, to build the aviary.

Reser, 79, said individuals were hit up for donations, raffles were held - including for a new $700 Honda moped that brought in $2,000 in tickets - merchants dedicated portions of their revenues and, most of all, the cans went out to the community.

"We called on various businesses to enlist their help, and I remember making the cans. We colored them by hand, all the labels, all the peacock feathers," said Lioness Carolyn McCane, also a charter member.

Back then, the cans were placed on business counters where people could leave their change or even a few bills. And 27 years later, McCane is doing it all over again.

On Saturday morning she and several other members of the newly formed Friends of Pioneer Park Aviary gathered under a City Park and Recreation Department canopy in Land Title Plaza, trying to stay warm while spreading the word about saving the aviary.

On their information table, next to photos of the majestic birds and a clear plastic water jug with a few dollars dropped, was a stack of what had once been full green bean cans.

Once emptied by McCane's family, a slot was cut in the lid, then the lids were glued back on and a colorful peacock label was attached to the side.

But will people still be as supportive as they were back then?

The day before, on Friday afternoon, McCane spoke of her concerns that the same level of community commitment might be lacking this time around.

"I don't know that everybody is that excited about it. I know that one of the places I tried to put a can in, the owner said that we should not be spending all that money on that sort of thing," McCane said.

If there was any doubt, it seemed to fly away with the first donation the group received Saturday.

"The very first lady who stopped by donated a thousand dollars," an elated McCane said.

"God bless her heart. We will dedicate a monument to her," group member Peggy Jennings added.

For group member Craig Keister, there was and still is no doubt that the money will be there in the months to come. It just takes getting organized and providing the information and the opportunity.

"Everybody wants to do something, but nobody has a concentrated effort," Keister said, pointing out that many people are talking about the aviary, but few are doing something about it.

"If you make it easy for people to do the right thing, they will do it," he added.

It seemed like Keister might be onto something, as by 2 p.m. he and other Friends had made their first dent.

Though they were still a far cry from the $40,000 they expect will be needed to keep the facility funded through the last nine months of 2011, in four hours Keister estimated they had collected close to $3,000 in funds and pledges.

And that water jug was now stuffed with $1s, $5s and $20s. Keister said there were even some $100s in there. Then he picked up the jar and turned it over and over, like it were a Find It game container.

"People have been very generous," he added.

Minutes after the jar went back on the table, Jon and Wendye Bren walked across the street from Starbucks, knowing good and well beforehand what they were being asked to save. And they dropped another large bill into the container.

Later, the couple explained that when their children were little the couple often took them to the aviary.

"If you don't have these kinds of things in your community, you don't have something that is unique and special," Jon Bren said.

The reason the aviary is facing permanent closure is that the city is financially strapped due to reductions in projected revenues over the next two years, which has left the aviary unfunded for those same two years.

People who wish to donate funds or help out in other ways can contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 527-4527.

Or you can always keep your eye out for the colorful peacock can at local participating businesses.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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