The Wide Angle: Good conversations

Published 5:45 pm Friday, December 16, 2022

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When one is brand new to a community, there are always going to be those people you remember from the very beginning.

For me, one of those people is Julie Champlin.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, like I have at a number of other places. I sometimes joke that I’ve been to The Hormel Institute so many times that I could lead politicians on tours of the place — so long as they don’t ask me to explain any of the actual science.

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The same is true of the Nature Center. I feel at times that I could tell kids about maple syruping or about some of the animals at the Nature Center.

And this is largely due to Julie.

I can’t remember exactly when I met Julie for the first time, but I feel fairly comfortable saying that it was from behind the desk of the old Interpretive Center, next door to the Ruby Rupner Auditorium.

Then director and naturalist, Larry Dolphin, was usually too busy hurrying about and it was Julie who knew how to track him down for me when I was hoping to talk with him.

However, after a while, Julie became my go-to when a story needed to be covered or a question needed to be asked.

Not that Larry wasn’t important. Naturally (Hah! See what I did there) he helped me out plenty over the years, but Julie was always the first face I would see and she often had the answers for me, allowing Larry to continue on with other work.

And boy was she patient.

There are few in this town that could more readily help me in such a gracious manner. Not that there aren’t people willing to help me, but Julie always seems ready to drop most everything to help me out.

“Julie!” Help, I’ve had a story fall through. Anything going on at the Nature Center?”

The answer was “yes” and before I knew it she had an idea or was letting me know when students from our area schools were going to be at the Nature Center, providing perfect picture opportunities.

Julie has also opened a whole bunch of doors for me over the years, allowing me the opportunity for meaningful connections. One of those connections was with the Nature Center’s red-tailed hawk, Red.

Red, who passed away a number of years ago at the ripe old hawk age of over 30, was an ambassador of sorts for the Nature Center. The close confines of the original interpretive center allowed people to view Red up close, bringing the animal kingdom closer to people.

Julie had a special relationship with Red and through my interactions with her, I too came to have a meaningful connection. No, I never held the bird or worked with him directly, but I always made sure to visit the old raptor every time I was out there.

Some of my fondest memories in journalism were writing stories or taking pictures of Red, always with Julie and so when the time of Red’s passing came it affected me. Not as much as Julie, I’m sure, but it has resonated with me and when the Nature Center had Red cremated, Julie gave me a small vial of his ashes, knowing how important Red had become — rather quietly — to me as well.

And that was again  through Julie.

Over the years, I’ve had the sublime joy of working with Julie on a number of different stories, including covering the planning and building of the new Interpretive Center, which she was an important part of.

The Nature Center has been at the heart of Julie’s life for years, and while she often distracted me from any original goal I might have had at the Nature Center with plenty of good conversation, she always was able to ensure I came away with something meaningful — whether that be professional or just the joy of spending time with an amazing person.

Julie is just days away from retirement, something she has definitely earned, but I also find myself paradoxically wondering who I go to now. Of course, there are plenty of lovely people at the Nature Center who will help me. They always do, but when you’ve worked with mostly one person for so long, it’s easy to imagine how many times I might ask, “Is Julie available?”

Julie, I hope you enjoy your retirement and time spent with family. You’ve earned it, but before you go … do you have any students coming to the Nature Center?

I’ve had a story fall through.s