Blandford has some exciting storytelling opportunities. As we collaborate with area schools, there are numerous opportunities for students to put their developing writing skills to good use. Monica VanWienen, 6th grade teacher at West Side Christian School, had her sixth graders interview people for one of their weekly writing assignments. Some of the budding writers were eager to interview Mary Jane Dockeray, Blandford’s founder; she still comes here every Wednesday morning. This is the first in a series of stories. It’s exciting to share more of Blandford’s story!
Growing Up in These Woods
Written by Kyle Veurink
I had the opportunity to go interview Mary Jane Dockeray, the founder of Blandford Nature Center, on the Northwest side of Grand Rapids. I asked her, “What was it like to be a child and grow up in the woods of Blandford Nature Center?” She said, “When I was a kid, I rode my bike to Collins farm where I played in the part of the woods where Blandford Nature Center is today. I loved to play in the creek and get ALL dirty and wet. I loved to hunt for frogs, bugs, salamanders and snakes. My mom hated it when I did this. It was nice to live where I lived because I lived on a farm. My dad was a farmer and bookkeeper. My dad liked it when I had my hair cut short and got dirty. It was special to be able to come to the woods and do what I wanted.”
Mary Jane Dockeray shared, “Growing up we didn’t have blue jeans, so I wore any pants that I could find. I wore farmerettes, which is a combination of boots and pant legs. I wore a dress to school, that came off as soon as I got home. When winter came, farmerettes were too thin, so I wore thick leather boots and riding britches.”
She came out to the woods mostly in the summer, spring and fall, but not in the winter. In the winter, she stayed close to home. She said, “There were not very many houses where I grew up, maybe two or three. I lived wild and free.” Mary Jane Dockeray said, “One reason that I loved, and still love the woods, is there is a lot of fresh air and that it is open.” She remembers venturing out to a certain spot where there was dip by the creek. “There was a fallen tree that we always slid on our fannies to get across.”
Some things have changed since Mary Jane Dockeray was young. “When I was a kid, the stream was a trout stream that led to the Grand River. It is not a trout stream any more.” The pipe that carries processed water from Lake Michigan changed that.
I really liked interviewing Mary Jane Dockeray and learning about her love for nature. I am thankful that she helped to find a way to preserve this land and make Blandford Nature Center.