What is the History of Messinger Woods?
During the early years of wildlife rehabilitation (once Government regulation and licensing became mandated) all sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife were cared for exclusively from the home based / back yard facilities of state and federal wildlife rehabilitators. Wildlife rehab was and still is considered to be a volunteer enterprise, albeit regulated by the state and federal government who do not supply any funding or subsidies. Testing, licensing, and annual reporting are all a part of the regulatory process. Wildlife rehabilitators are on their own to face all the burdens of time, costs, and regulations. They are monitored to provide specialized housing and medical / veterinary care for the animals received from the public. The financial and physical challenges can become overwhelming. It soon becomes apparent that trying to balance a full time job, personal finances, family obligations, and providing the proper care for the animals, while trying to have a “normal” life is all but impossible when taking on the responsibilities of a home based wildlife rehabilitator. These lifestyle sacrifices can and usually do snowball out of control for an individual trying to go it alone. Such was the plight for Messinger Woods’ original founder and President, Michael Olek.
From 1990 to 1994 Mike discovered that once the public knew where you lived and had your personal phone number, your life changed drastically. Each year the number of animal calls and spontaneous unannounced drop offs from the public grew exponentially. In 1994 Mike and his wife Noreen cared for almost 200 animals in just that year alone. Working a full time job, while having to care for 20 to 30 animals daily, affording animal medical and food costs, and constantly finding dropped off boxes of debilitated wildlife on his porch frequently interrupted suppers or family plans. Many sleepless nights made for a growing stressful family life. Burnout and family discord was inevitable at this pace. Mike also learned that other local wildlife rehabbers were facing the same problems. Changes were needed.
By this point Mike understood all too well that in order to provide the proper care for wildlife in volume and still maintain somewhat of a reasonably normal life, would take a small army of trained care givers coming and going in shifts, and under one roof. The pipe dream to establish an actual “hospital for wildlife” was born. It was sound logic that rather than one or two very exhausted people trying to do a lot. It made more sense for many well rested volunteers to each do a little. In Mike’s mind the concept not only had merit, but was a need in the community. Mike also realized that an undertaking of this magnitude would require participation from many citizens who might share this concern. So from 1994 to 1996 Mike created a journal of ideas.
1995 Enter: Margie Hanrahan! At this time, Mike was teaching wildlife rehabilitation at Erie Community College as a part time, adult community education class to help defer his animal care costs. Margie was a wildlife rehabilitator, course student and soon became a friend and cohort to Mike’s pitch about a wildlife hospital. She had computer skills and at the time Mike had none. She offered to join on to the idea, and utilize her computer and management skills. They decided to launch a community feasibility study to determine if there were enough people with like interests that would want to get involved. So Margie, Noreen Olek, and Mike developed a plan. One hundred invitations were sent to other area wildlife rehabilitators, former ECC students of Mike’s and known area animal lovers. A shelter at Chestnut Ridge Park was rented, and on September 21st, 1996 a grassroots meeting was called to order. Of the 100 invitations, 30 people showed and 20 joined on to share the goal.
At the meeting surveys were handed out to determine who had the personal skills, careers, talents and interests, to assist with these initial goals. The goals were to establish a Board of Directors, acquire an attorney pro-bono, seek out a donor of rural property, and apply for a 501(c)3 not for profit status so they could begin fund raising efforts for seed money.
Enter: Judy Seiler, Arline Adams, and Judy Cresanti, or J.J.& A, as they were referred to. J.J.& A, were not only at the meeting but were also wildlife rehabbers who felt strongly about this concept. Judy Seiler was and still is a paralegal /law secretary for the Morris and Bray P.C. law firm, Arline Adams was a former accounting manager, and sales administrator for Lancaster Stone, and J.C. (Judy Cresanti) was an administrative assistant for Rigidized Metals Corp. Almost like the fellowship of the ring, a team was formed as the founding Board of Directors. Mike Olek, although not initially confident with the role of President, reluctantly accepted. The words used by the others were… “This was your idea, we’ll help you”. Margie Hanrahan became Vice President, Judy Seiler, Secretary; Arline Adams, Treasurer, and Noreen Olek, 2nd Vice President. J.C. became the first Volunteer Coordinator. The attorney firms of both Morris and Bray P.C. and Paul Notaro offered to provide legal services, and Edith Messinger, who was also a wildlife rehabilitator, attended the meeting. Edith and the Messinger family became the first donating benefactor of 30 acres of rural property in Holland, NY. To demonstrate appreciation for this enormous donation, it was agreed by everyone to name the organization after the Messinger Family. The organization of Messinger Woods Wildlife Care and Education Center was born.
Between September of 1996 and January of 1997 this organization worked very hard and attained its legal not-for-profit status. It gained an Advisory Board along the way of community businessmen, physicians, lawyers, and veterinarians. We also formed a fundraising department, headed by Volunteer Kai Taylor. Daily meetings usually lasted way into the night. To this day the joke is that the 5 on the Executive Board practically lived together during the first few years. There were many hurdles, and even some opposition from other groups and people who, for some reason, made attempts to stop our efforts. Everyone ignored the negatives and focused on forging ahead to accomplish a great deal in a very short time. Basically, it was 20 people with a treasury of zero. Initial seed money was raised through a series of fundraisers with the help of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’s celebrity Jim Fowler. Jim met Mike years prior at a wildlife conference, and expressed an interest in helping should his services toward this goal be needed. By 2002 Messinger Woods had raised the sufficient financial goal to build the Wildlife Hospital. Volunteer Bob Andres spearheaded the actual building as Project Manager, and Messinger Woods continued to grow and prosper. The hospital was completed and the doors opened on May 15th 2003. Though many hard working people and generous donors have come and gone since our early beginnings, each person has contributed along the way to make Messinger Woods what it is today. No doubt, Board members and volunteers will continue to come and go. Hopefully, Messinger Woods will continue to provide help to wildlife and to our community for many future years. The Founding Board of Directors, Michael Olek, Margie Hanrahan, Noreen Olek, Judy Seiler, and Arline Adams served for 15 years before passing the torch. Hopefully, their dreams and aspirations will continue to live on in the hard working Boards and volunteers and in so doing, help make a small legacy live on.
The benefits of forming an organization in terms of quality care, funding, and networking knowledge were obviously the most efficient way of providing service to the community and the wildlife. Today, Messinger Woods is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization. The center’s name came about to show our appreciation to Mrs. Edith Messinger and her family, who were responsible for the donation of our first parcel of property. We have just exceeded our 6th year anniversary since that grass roots meeting, yet Messinger Woods has accomplished the unimaginable. Messinger Woods has a supporting membership base of over 1000 people, 12 volunteer departments of approximately 200 people, strong veterinary support, and two parcels of property exceeding 60 acres of biodiverse habitat. Best of all, the funds needed to build our wildlife hospital were met, and construction began in September of 2002. Our ribbon cutting ceremony took place in May 2003. Since then we have added countless outbuildings and cages, such as the Waterfowl Compound and most recently the Gofundme funded the large flight barn. It is important to note that no salaries are paid to any officers, directors, staff, or members. 100% of all donations are used for wildlife care and the continued development of Messinger Woods. We would also like to acknowledge Mrs. Hilda Wheeler, who shares our goals toward the preservation of the natural world. Mrs. Wheeler was responsible for the donation of our second parcel of property. This beautiful unspoiled acreage has been named "The Wheeler Site", to immortalize her gift back to nature, and to once again demonstrate our appreciation. To realize that a project of this proportion is being carried out entirely and so successfully, on a volunteer basis, is proof that our community is comprised of compassionate, hardworking citizens who have a genuine concern about life. It also projects a very exciting and promising future for our organization. Messinger Woods has come a far; progress and community support has been nothing short of excellent. Our potential for growth, and the fulfillment of our mission is more assured today than it was on September 21st 1996. The Future of Messinger Woods is well rooted in today. This organization is only possible because of people ... people like YOU!
What Makes Messinger Woods Unique?
Messinger Woods is a 501 (c) 3 not for profit membership supported organization. It is operated by its Volunteer Boards and Directors as well as its active member/volunteers. Truly the most unique thing about Messinger Woods is its future for long term operational longevity in Western New York. It is not a sole proprietorship, but the corporation of Messinger Woods who own all property. The Corporation and By-laws of Messinger Woods have been carefully planned to insure the replacement of any officer or director, should a vacancy necessitate such action.