A tribute to Frank McKayePublished 4:43pm Thursday, February 21, 2013
Cass County lost its most passionate conservationist the day before Feb. 14, so here’s a Valentine for Franklin Eugene McKaye, 87.
In 1981, he was on the fund drive committee to purchase the amazing Dowagiac Woods property on Frost Street.
Through the years, he acted as county liaison whenever dealing with Michigan State University on issues impacting Fred Russ Forest and Newton’s Woods.
Thanks to Frank and his ardent supporters, more than three miles of roadsides were cleaned of trash every year around those forested gems between Dowagiac and Marcellus.
No wonder he received Cass County Conservation District’s 1999 environmental stewardship award.
In 2011, the NATIONAL Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) recognized his more than 50 years of environmental activism with its Conservation Medal.
“He was a bulldog who wouldn’t let something go until he could find a suitable compromise,” Scott Wyman, director of the Cass County Parks and Recreation Commission, once said. “It is essential I surround myself with individuals who are truly passionate about conservation. I can honestly say no one fits that description more than Frank. Whether it is as a member of the Cass County Audubon Society and Historical Society, or as a member of the Friends of Dowagiac Woods, Frank has been at the forefront when it comes to environmental issues that face our community.”
He joined the Merchant Marines at 17, worked at Tyler Refrigeration in Niles and at Ball-Band in Indiana.
He lifted weights and taught ballroom dancing, married Mildred Short and had a daughter, Kathy.
He spent many years at companies that built mobile homes, American Coach and Westwood in Cassopolis. Then McKaye became co-partner in Park Estates Mobile Home of Dowagiac and Admiration Homes of Elkhart.
He retired at 47. Wanting to stay busy, he contacted Bivouac in Vandalia and offered to deliver vans on one condition — where he delivered had to be near a national park or forest or a state forest. They obliged him and kept him on the road twice a month for many years.
Norton Barnett came to know McKaye as his Boy Scoutmaster and later worked for him at Park Estates. “He taught me and other Scouts about the natural world of nature while camping, as we saw how he loved to be out in it,” Barnett once recalled. “As a Scout, Frank took us out to Russ Forest and described the various trees, plants and animals in the woods. He wanted us to respect, preserve and be grateful for the trees and green environment we had around us. He wanted nature to be protected for generations to come. Nature had to be wild and not destroyed because people of the future have to know how the wilderness used to be. Frank also took our troop canoeing down the stream that runs through the land he donated to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.”
That would be the unspoiled wetland along M-62 between Dowagiac and Cassopolis.
An avid nature photographer, he was known for rising before dawn and staying past dark making pictures, saying he could sleep later.
He photographed his travels with Millie and shared their films with clubs which wanted to see them, hoping it would further everyone’s interest in preserving his beloved natural world.
McKaye traveled to Africa, Alaska and Canada.
He especially loved California’s redwood forest, which he spoke to DAR about in 1972.