David Wurl Honored as Parks and Recreation Volunteer of the Year

David Wurl (center) receives award. Photo courtesy Kay Stevens.

Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Committee Presented Wurl with Award

Born and raised on a farm in Stratford, resident David Wurl has always been an animal lover.

Almost every day at the Wildwood Park & Zoo, he can be seen picking up garbage and twigs, chatting with visitors about the animals, and helping wherever he can. In recognition of his 5-year volunteer work, the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Committee named Wurl its Volunteer of the Year.

“That caught me by surprise,” said Wurl. “I didn’t think anyone was paying any attention.”

“Dave is one of the most genuine, caring and thoughtful people I know,” said Parks & Recreation Director Justin Casperson. “His love and passion toward the zoo and the guests who visit are very becoming of his true character. I am thankful our paths in life have crossed.”

“I see Dave frequently at Wildwood Park and Zoo being courteous and visiting with guests. He is continually offering his assistance to park and zoo staff by assisting in ground clean up, litter removal, and watering flowers,” added Ben Steinbach, Parks & Recreation Maintenance Supervisor. “He even donated a tree after the passing of one of the zoo animals. It is a joy seeing Dave at Wildwood Park and it has been a wonderful experience getting to know him over the years.”

Wurl was presented the award at a surprise ceremony. Kay, a zoo attendant, and Casperson called and asked Wurl to head down to the new Community Center in December, when the Parks & Rec had their monthly meeting.

“I thought, ‘Did I do something wrong? Maybe I screwed up,’” he recalled.

But far from it: Wurl discovered that he was receiving the Volunteer of the Year award for his selfless work at the zoo.

“It’s beautiful, that award,” he said. “It’s such an honor. My family and friends were all so proud of me.”

Submitted Photo

Upon retiring from Land-o-Lakes in 2013 after a 31-year career, Wurl made a habit of walking around the zoo pond. “A lot of people don’t realize what a gem we have over there,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to see animals and get exercise.”

It was during these walks that his volunteering work began. “I would go over there and walk around the upper pond three times, and I noticed people were throwing garbage all over,” recalled Wurl. “I thought, ‘I’m walking right by this garbage, why don’t I pick it up?’”

With a bag and pick in hand, Wurl began to do just that each afternoon as he walked around the pond. Receiving radiation treatment for prostate cancer in the mornings, Wurl said the routine took his mind off his medical problems. “I’d just go over there and saw something that needed to be done, I’d go and do it.”

Through his work, Wurl became friends with the zoo workers and Parks & Rec department. As unofficial tour guide, he meets visitors from all over and answers any questions, letting them know of anything new happening at the zoo.

Zookeeper Steve Burns got to know Wurl, a regular visitor, about seven years ago. “Since then, I have grown to consider him a true friend,” said Burns. “He’s just kind of an all-around helper at the zoo. He spends as much time here as I do.”

“Dave is invaluable as a volunteer and one of the kindest people I have met. Not often do you meet someone as selfless and caring as Dave,” he continued. “Kindness seems to be his only motivation.”

Along with the humans working at the zoo, Wurl also became acquainted with the tenants.

“You get attached to the animals,” Wurl said. “I got to know a lot of the animals by their

names.” His favorites are the foxes, Shadow and Blizzard, and he brings them special treats like meat and hard boiled eggs on holidays and their birthdays in April and June.

He also forged a bond with Lady, a swan that had been a resident of the zoo since 1993, and who tragically passed away last summer.

“I took that hard. Wherever I went in the zoo, she would follow me. I could call her and

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she’d come over,” he said. “I always brought a little corn for her.” Wurl and Zookeeper Steve Burns buried Lady at the zoo and planted a bur oak tree in her memory near the crane statue by the park entrance.

Even in the frigid cold of winter, Wurl still volunteers about an hour at the zoo almost every day. “Right now the big pickup items are gloves,” he said. In the summer, he starts at midday and stays until lock-up. “I go over on weekends to help out the attendants, picking up garbage–anything I can do to help,” he said. “I’m not one to sit around.”

“For Dave, a military veteran, it seems that service has been the theme of his life. I’m grateful to have such a committed volunteer helping at the Zoo but even more fortunate to have become one of Dave’s friends,” said Burns.

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