Curt Abdouch was the first director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, serving from late 1973 to early 1978. He participated in activities at the Nature Center in September 2016, when Amazing Space opened to the public. Curt lives in California.
Here is a portion of Curt’s August 1993 recollections as shared verbally, via cassette tape, and later transcribed. Please enjoy Curt’s fun memories of his earliest days at ICNC.
“As I looked back this morning (August 8, 1993) and checked some of the things that were going on 20 years ago and reflecting on them and remembering them, it strikes me that we had a very ambitious and progressive project. And there’s no question that we started and did something that was on the right track and certainly good for the community of Cedar Rapids.
“It all began about a day after I resigned from the position that I had at a large Nature Center – Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Omaha, Nebraska. I had resigned because I felt that I had pretty much exhausted the challenges that that nature center had afforded me. I had grown a tremendous amount in the five and a half years that I had worked for them, and wanted an opportunity to apply some of the things that I had learned to something new.
“About the day after I tendered my resignation, I saw a notice in one of the professional newsletters that called for a director of a new nature center in Cedar Rapids. I had never been to Cedar Rapids before, although I had relatives there, and so I felt this might be a real opportunity. That evening I called the person who was indicated as the chair of the search committee, Bruce Sampsell. Bruce was very enthusiastic about getting the information from me. I set out with one goal in mind: to obtain that position.
“Shortly after I sent my materials off to Bruce, a friend and I made a trip on a weekend just on our own, to just see what the grounds were all about. And when I arrived in Cedar Rapids and finally wound my way out to the extreme southeast corner of the city, I was delighted by what I saw. There was an old tile barn, and it was set right in back of a maple tree that I’ll never forget. That maple tree stands vivid in my memory: it was probably one of the most welcoming kinds of things that a nature center could have, and it made me feel instantly at home. I went back more determined than ever to press on for this position. Bruce assured me that they would probably make a decision within a month. Well, it was four months later. In fact, it was the first of December when I finally set out from Omaha, moving to Cedar Rapids in the wake of a very violent ice storm. The journey was very treacherous, but as we got close to Des Moines I remember looking up and seeing a bald eagle fly over the car. I felt that that was a good sign, then I thought everything was going to go well, that we would have a successful project. I’ll never forget that, either.
“When I finally arrived in Cedar Rapids, I was finally treated to a first look inside the (Penningroth) barn that was going to be the headquarters of the Nature Center. It was not as I expected. It was still full of everything that an old dairy barn would be full of: the milking stanchions and piles and piles of dried manure from years and years of farm operation. Although I’m sure the barn was cleaned out from time to time, at the point at which I first saw it, it hadn’t been cleaned out for a while, so that was a rather unpleasant surprise.
“Well, we knew we had our work cut out for us, and it was something that I felt we needed to get on with right away. I had gotten some hints that there might be some help available, and as it turned out, my good friend who was at Fontenelle with me – he was a volunteer there – came to Cedar Rapids with the promise of a job with the Cedar Rapids School District. That person was Bill Desmarais, who is now (in 1993) serving on the ICNC board of directors. I’m delighted that the evolution of the Nature Center has included Bill, and vice versa. The other person that arrived shortly after – it was a real supporting cast – was the person who became my wife, eventually – Ruthanne, who had been a secretary at Fontenelle and became the first secretary at the Nature Center.
“But well before we had a paid staff besides me, I was informed that there were some people in the city that were interested in volunteering for the nature center, and the first person that I was able to contact was Charlesy Bennett. Charlesy proudly announced during my first discussion with her that she was a fourth generation Cedar Rapidian. And that seemed to qualify her as much if not more than anything, but she was handy with a typewriter, which I wasn’t, and was willing to spend some rather regular hours, which I thought was important. And so together we started cranking documents that would describe the Nature Center – to find it and help people know a little bit more about it – because, at that point, it wasn’t much more than a vision.
“We worked out of my apartment at that time, which was on Pioneer Avenue SE. It wasn’t the best of digs in the world. I had some furniture, but there was one spare bedroom. And that’s where the Nature Center headquarters was located until we grew to the point where we needed to have a larger space, so then my living room became the Nature Center office.
“But back to the bedroom: I recall that I had no chair in there. Just a nightstand and a telephone. And I recall something that Jim Malkowski – the founding director at Fontenelle – used to remark about. In fact, it was one of his favorite lines when he would tell people about the trials and tribulations of starting a project such as a nature center. He often remarked that he started with a lawn chair and a telephone on the floor. And I felt I one-upped him when I had a telephone on the nightstand but the director was on the floor. So he didn’t have anything over on me after all! But we did obtain some furniture, in fact in rather short order, from the Cedar Rapids School District – surplus furniture from their warehouse – a large, oak desk and a couple of other things, including an old typewriter chair. We felt we were really in business.”
We thank Curt and all who participated in conceiving of, and creating, the Indian Creek Nature Center. Those deep and abiding roots contribute in no small part to the present-day organization.