Black Swamp Bird Observatory leader dies

By Mark Zaborney - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (TNS)

OAK HARBOR, Ohio — Lois Rae Harder, a charter member with her husband, Vic, of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and who transformed the farm where she grew up into a grassland that drew rarely seen species, died Wednesday in Riverview nursing home in Oak Harbor, Ohio. She was 84.

She had dementia, her husband said, and until she broke a hip lived with Mr. Harder at their Salem Township home.

“She used to sit on the couch with her binoculars and watch the bluebirds and the purple martins on our farm,” her husband said.

The observatory seven years ago posted a video of a bobolink at the Harders’ 80-acre grassland.

“Here in NW Ohio,” the post continued, “one dedicated couple, Lois and Victor Harder, has put forth years of back breaking effort to restore and maintain a large grassland that is host to nesting bobolinks and many other grassland birds… Lois and Vic prove that the effort of just one or two people CAN make a difference for birds.”

The grassland drew visitors from around the world, especially during the observatory’s Biggest Week in American Birding. Some birders saw their first grasshopper sparrow or dickcissel at the Harders’.

“That was pure joy for her,” daughter Vicki Rae Thornton said.

Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the observatory, said: “They were so gracious in sharing their property with us. That 80-acre grassland was like a work of art.”

Mrs. Kaufman was a volunteer when she met Mrs. Har- der. They connected at once.

“I have jokingly called her my bird mother,” Mrs. Kaufman said. “She really influenced the person I have become over the last 25-plus years. She was direct and at the same time kind and respectful. I’ve tried to live my life in many ways the way Lois lived hers.”

Mrs. Harder and her husband also volunteered as bald eagle nest-watchers as the species made its northern Ohio comeback.

The Harders joined the observatory as it formed in 1992. Mrs. Harder learned the importance of animals in the wide scope of nature from her parents.

“She loved birds and wanted to help,” her daughter said. “She wanted to be part of something that we are all connected to, and what we do as human beings has a great effect on everything else.

“She was one of the most determined people I have ever met in my life, and one of the most warm and kind and resilient,” her daughter said.

She was born Jan. 14, 1936, to Margaret and Otto Hehl and helped on the family farm.

She was smart and musically inclined, her husband said. She was in school plays, sang, and played five musical instruments. She was valedictorian of her 1954 graduating class at Oak Harbor High School.

She later worked for the Benton-Carroll-Salem school district and for Toledo Edison at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.

Her son, Scott, died in September 1974.

Surviving are her husband, Victor, whom she married June 5, 1954; daughters, Vicki Rae Thorne and Kendra Smith; sister, Linda Mortus; four grandsons, and four great-grandchildren.

A gathering will be scheduled later. Arrangements are by the Crosser and Priesman Funeral Home. The family suggests tributes to Black Swamp Bird Observatory online at, or P.O. Box 250, Oak Harbor, OH 43449.

By Mark Zaborney

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (TNS)

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