Bob Fleming's love of nature was nurtured in a suburban backyard in Broomall, Delaware County, and grew deeper through his life as he walked the woods near his Pike Township home.
Friends say that when you walked with Fleming in the woods that you learned something. Fleming, who worked for a Pike Township equipment company and as a jazz pianist for the John King Dance Band, died unexpectedly in 2018. His legacy will continue through his family's $1 million endowment to Berks Nature.
His name now graces Berks Nature's 30-acre preserve in Alsace Township. Berks Nature unveiled a new kiosk and other improvements at the preserve on Nov. 5 while announcing the Earl Poole Sanctuary was renamed Bob's Woods at the Earl Poole Sanctuary.
"Bob was born a nature lover," said his sister, Trinka Arnold, of Hereford Township. "From the time he and I were tiny kids, he was always out in the backyard digging in the dirt looking at all the bugs, the insects there, the toads, the little turtles, the plants, the trees, you name it, and that love for nature continued for his entire life."
Arnold said she sought a way to honor her brother through his connection to nature. Arnold, who leads a foundation established by her parents, wanted the endowment to make a difference for many people. Naming the woods for her brother was icing on the cake.
The Fleming Foundation donation will support a new shelter kiosk, ADA picnic table and footbridges over the wet, forested Tanager Trail. More importantly, Arnold said, the endowment will support a fund to defray land preservation costs and enable Berks Nature to hire a preserve manager dedicated to maintain the conservation organization's several preserves.
Berks Nature President Kim Murphy said the endowment was game-changing for Berks Nature. The conservation organization sought support from Joe Poole, Earl's son, for the change. Poole, who is a member and friend of Berks Nature, was on-hand for the unveiling of the new kiosk.
The property was donated to Berks Nature in the late '70s and was originally named the Earl Poole Sanctuary in honor of Dr. Earl L. Poole (1891-1972), famed ornithologist, artist, teacher and author. In 1930, Poole wrote, "The Bird Life of Berks County, Pennsylvania," and in 1932 he wrote, "A Survey of the Mammals of Berks County." Poole was one of the founders of Baird Ornithological Club. In 1947, Poole’s "A Half Century of Bird Life in Berks County" was published by the Reading Public Museum.
Murphy said Poole’s legacy lives at the nature preserve, which continues to be a haven for the many birds and mammals he wrote about many years ago. Once a working farm and apple orchard, the land has returned to a natural forest. It is the headwater of Antietam Creek, providing source water to Antietam Lake in Lower Alsace Township.
"Birdwatchers can spot numerous species at the sanctuary, including the scarlet tanager, downy woodpecker, Baltimore oriole, wood thrush and towhee," Murphy said. "Seasonal pools serve as breeding grounds for amphibians such as the wood frog."
Arnold said her brother loved his home in the Oley hills. He gardened and had chickens. It wasn't too far from his church, St. John-Hill United Church of Christ, where he could be found playing piano and singing.
"I hope that in the future people will visit here, read the little bit of information about Bob that is posted and just understand a guy named Bob once lived who really loved nature and that this little preserve is named in his honor and memory," Arnold said. "I hope that they will enjoy spending time here as much as Bob himself would have done."