One man’s love for his late wife inspired him to carry on her legacy and her passion for wildlife, and in particular the once endangered Trumpeter Swan.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY: Jim Holt (Star Tribune) and
Chris Lommel Photography
WRITTEN BY: Southern Guide to Life
Monticello, MN – There is no doubt that Sheila Lawrence had a love for animals. It didn’t much matter what species. She fed everything from backyard lizards to the birds that congregated on the riverbank near their home. Her husband, Jim, called her a “feeder,” most people called her the “Swan Lady.”
The waters are warmed by the overflow from a nearby plant, making this is the only local section of the Mississippi River than does not freeze over in winter. It serves as a perfect spot for northern water birds looking for a place to spend the winter.
When pairs of Trumpeter Swans began showing up by the riverbank, naturally she started feeding them, too. The more she fed the more swans that came to this little stretch of riverbank. Her husband said it was not unusual to find her out there with her beloved birds from dawn to dark, feeding, nurturing, and talking to them.
Year by year, the flock of Trumpeter Swans that called Monticello their winter home grew. Eventually, Sheila’s daily feedings of 1,200 to 2,000 pounds of shelled corn regularly drew 1,500 to 2,200 swans to the small town of 13,000 during the winter months. In the process, it also turned Monticello into a tourist attraction for Minnesota residents and bird lovers from around the country.
“She has put us on the map,” Sandy Suchy, director of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce & Industry told the Star Tribune. The city eventually dedicated a vacant lot next to the Lawrence’s home for the birds and named it Swan Park.
Carrol Henderson, a supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources credited Sheila with helping to restore the once endangered swan. Henderson told the Star Tribune that Sheila “single-handedly speeded up the recovery of this threatened species in Minnesota.”
When neighbors left the ice and snow behind for vacations and warmer climates, Sheila never left the swans.
In 2011, Sheila lost an eight month battle with cancer. As her health began to fail, Jim made a promise to continue caring for her swans.
“She worried about them,” Jim told Kare 11 News. “She said, ‘Will you feed my swans?’ And I said ‘Of course.’”
For the last five years that is exactly what he’s done. Every day during the winter months he tosses out 200 bushels of corn from five-gallon buckets.
He knows he can’t replace her, but he is committed to carrying on the legacy and the memory of the woman he loved and called his wife for so many years. “I know she’s saying, ‘You’re still walking too fast when you feed.’ I say, ‘I know, Sheila, but I’m just trying to feed. You wanted to talk to every one of them. That’s the most important part of the job, is to make sure the legacy continues. I want people to know about the Swan Lady, and what the Swan Lady did.”
These days, folks call Jim Lawrence, the “Swan Lady Man” and he’s just fine with the title as long as they remember the “Swan Lady.”
It costs $20,000 annually to feed the swans, a cost Jim still pays out of his own pocket and with the help of donations. He recently started a non-profit to help care for the swans and to keep Sheila’s memory alive.
If you would like to help or to find out more about viewing the swans visit: http://www.monticellocci.com/pages/swans
Donations can be mailed to:
Swan City Heritage Foundation
PO Box 192
Monticello, MN 55362.
Top Photo Credit: Jerry Holt (Star Tribune)
Bottom Photo Credit: Chris Lommel Photography
Video Via: Kare 11