Whitney H. Eastman was a member of the Friends Board of Directors from January 1961 through May 1969, after which he was an honorary director until May 1975. He joined the board when Dorothy Binder was President and was active through the fund raising and construction of the Martha Crone Shelter.
Mr. Eastman continued to attend the annual meetings of the Friends until his death. He passed away on December 3, 1979 at age 91.
Mr. Eastman was an avid birder, considered the nations top amateur ornithologist. He was a contributing author to the book The Treasury of Birds, published in 1972. He was one of four persons who confirmed the sighting of a pair of rare Ivory Billed Woodpeckers in Florida in March of 1950. This is mentioned in several articles and books including “Ivory-billed Woodpecker Sightings and Evidence 1944-2003,” a compendium of information on the bird - part of Project Coyote; also in the book The Ghost Orchid Ghost and Other Tales from the Swamp published in Florida in 2007. He was instrumental in establishing a sanctuary for the pair of birds.
By 1953 his life list of species totaled 749, with years yet to go. By 1957, with extensive travel, the list totaled 1,327. The Eastman Nature Center at Elm Creek Park Reserve was dedicated and named for him in 1974. The center is part of Three Rivers Park District, Hennepin County, Minnesota. Mr. Eastman was a fund-raiser for the 14,000 square-foot center. He was such a good fund-raiser that Star Tribune columnist Jim Kimball wrote in 1973 that his “national fame as a birder is exceeded only by his reputation as fund raiser for worthy causes.” In 1967 when Goodrich Lowry organized the Metropolitan Nature Centers Corporation, (1) Eastman accepted the chairmanship of the fund-raising committee. The first project was to build a nature center in the new Carver Park Reserve. The goal was one half million dollars. The committee raised that in six months and construction began but the money kept coming in which, with a little more fund raising, then led to building the Hyland Lake Nature Center. With $40,000 still leftover, the Corporation asked the Hennepin County Park Reserve District which had taken over the nature centers as planned, that if they had more funds could a center be built at Elm Creek. It was raised and on Eastman’s 85th birthday in 1973 the District voted to name the Elm Creek center after Eastman. (2)
He was born on April 24, 1888 in Fort Ann, New York to a poor farming family but he made it to Dartmouth and earned science and engineering degrees and then got his first job installing sewage systems in New York in 1911 but in the same year took a job with a linseed oil refining firm in New Jersey. He and his wife Anna lived in a number of cities as he worked professionally in the vegetable oil processing industry beginning with that job in 1911. He joined Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Company in 1928 eventually became a vice president in 1939 and then of General Mills in 1942 after moving to Minneapolis. His last industry position was as a director of First Oceanic Corp, the largest stockholder of ADM. He published several books and articles about the Oil Processing Industry and in particular the book The History of the Linseed Oil Industry in the United States.
For a time the Eastman's lived in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin when he was the president of the William O. Goodrich Co., as associate organization of the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM). In 1929 they constructed a house there at 4716 N. Wilshire Rd. that is now on the historical walking tour of the city. By 1940 they were in Minneapolis living at 4450 W. Lake Harriet Blvd. and then in 1959 built a house at 7000 Valley View Road in Edina that they called Tanager Hill. It was sited for nature and bird watching and inside Mrs. Eastman (Karen) said the decoration style was “Modern Aviary.” They brought to the house their voluminous accumulation of birding material and 30 years of birding records. (3)
At the time of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker sighting, he was a vice president of General Mills. In 1957 after he had retired from General Mills he became executive director of the Minnesota Area Development Corporation, the goal of which was to increase the industrial economy of the area. He was a member of many ornithological societies, on the board of National Audubon, a life member of the Illinois Natural History Survey, on the National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of American, a founding director of National City Bank. and he took part in or chaired many civic groups.
Karen Eastman was equally active in civic affairs and birding. She was president of the Minneapolis Audubon society and a director of the Minneapolis Club for a number of years.
Whitney Eastman passed away on December 3, 1979 while hospitalized in Boca Raton, Florida.
When Mr. Eastman arrived in Minneapolis it did not take him long to discover the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden as a great place for birding. He first shows up in Garden Curator Martha Crone's diary in 1941 when on May 25th she notes “Mr. Eastman of Archer Daniels in, also Dassett & others.” On May 28, 1942, a local birder, Mr. Milton Thompson of the Minneapolis Public Library's Science Museum, collected (i.e. "shot") a male Coopers Hawk in the Garden but not the female. Martha had asked him to come and get it as she was afraid it would kill too many songbirds.(4) On the 30th Martha noted Mr. Whitney Eastman left a card saying “they had collected the female hawk and found 2 eggs in the nest, thereby establishing an early record for the State.”
In 1943, again on May 30th, Martha noted in her Garden Log: “Many birds noted, also a most unusual find, a “western tanager” discovered by Mr. Whitney Eastman, south of upper gate just west of deep hole. We observed it a long while. It was traveling with a number of scarlet tanagers.”
Years later Mr. Eastman attended the 25th Annual Meeting of the Friends in 1977 and one of his recollections about the Garden was that find of the Western Tanager. He told the meeting:
“He believed he was alone in the Garden when he spotted a Western Tanager which had no business in this area. He looked around excitedly to fine someone to vouch for his identification and called to a man who appeared nearby --Western tanager! Western Tanager!!. The man disappeared hurriedly and Mr. Eastman didn’t know whether the man was an escapee from Stillwater [State Prison] or thought he was.”
Former Friends President Robert Dassett was a birder just like Eastman. Betty Dassett wrote this note about Eastman: “Bob liked to remember his friend Whitney Eastman, “a real bird man” and a great baseball fan during the Millers’ era. Whitney had his own version of a double-header, Robert recalled; he’d watch the first game, bike to the Garden to eat his sandwich and talk to Martha, and then bike back to see most of the second game.” Robert Dassett recalled doing just that with Eastman on a Memorial Day. [Fringed Gentian™ Vol. 19 No. 4, Oct. 1971]
Reference: Minutes of The Board of Directors and other documents of the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.; Whitefish Bay Historical Group; books cited above; Illinois Natural History Survey and many newspaper accounts.
(1) The purpose for the nature centers was to create a place where elementary school children and their teachers could learn about nature and the environment and begin to develop and ecological conscience. Lowry and his wife Louse joined the Friends in 1967. He passed away in 1988; Louise was a member until her death in 2002. The Friends have a program to subsidize transportation to the Wildflower Garden for elementary students for the similar reasons. How interesting that both Lowry and Eastman have nature centers named for them and both were associated with the Friends.
(2) Jim Kimball column, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 18, 1973
(3) Jean Werrall, Minneapolis Tribune, May 24, 1959
4) Information from Friends member J.S. Futcher, 1992.
Text by Gary Bebeau.