JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – When Kimberly Moore and her sister Kelly Warshel look back on their childhood, they remember a loving home with many animals that roamed the apartment above Richland Veterinary Hospital on Eisenhower Boulevard, and later their home next to the business.
They also remember a loving father, Thomas Dick, whose love of animals was tied to almost everything they did.
“It was the coolest childhood in the entire world,” Warshel said.
Unfortunately, the sisters lost their family patriarch in late July after a brief bout with COVID-19. He died at the family’s vacation home on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, where he had spent the last three years living with his wife, Sally.
Dick was 80 years old.
Although it has been almost a month since they last saw their father, he is never far from their thoughts.
They remember him as the guy who got kicked out of the Ferndale Area School District when his dad was school board president, the man who brought home boa constrictors to roam the house, loved bird watching and helped raise birds. of all kinds, such as red tailed hawks regain health.
Moore, now principal of Windber Area High School, said with a laugh that a falcon, after being released, tried to land on Warshel’s head at the bus stop when they were children.
Warshel said there was little concern. His parents only gave him a motorcycle helmet to wear as protection until they could capture him again.
But that was the kind of carefree, animal-filled environment the couple grew up in, according to the sisters.
The joker’s favorite holiday was Halloween, his children said, and his love of the environment led to the development of the Dunnings Creek Wetlands near New Paris, Bedford County; the Allegheny Plateau Autobah Society chapter; and the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, near Schellsburg, Bedford County.
He also founded the Richland Veterinary Clinic in 1968 when he was 26 years old and worked there until his retirement in 2006.
Warshel, now a doctor like his mother, said his father had a childlike sense of wonder, with everything from the sunrise each morning to the ants and spiders that roamed near the house.
“I will never forget it,” he said.
“That was so unique.”
His curiosity and love of nature is what drew him to the Chincoteague Island Wildlife Refuge.
The women fondly recalled many family vacations in Virginia, several of which included animals such as joey possums.
They said that there was a particular hotel there that was aware of their father’s work and received the children as well as the guests.
Dick also shared his love of the natural world with his son, Chris.
“I think for the most part my dad exposed me to nature and that I was able to pursue that professionally,” he said.
Chris Dick earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Hampshire in Massachusetts and his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Harvard University.
Now a professor in the field, he studied for his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.
Chris Dick said his father created a free wildlife rehabilitation clinic with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and served as president of the American Coastal Society, a group that “promotes the study and conservation of marine life and habitat.” , protect the coastline from harm, and empower others to do the same.”
As part of the Audubon Society, Thomas Dick helped clean up Stackhouse Park, planted native wetland vegetation, and removed industrial drainage ponds.
“Any time there was any kind of activism, they would get together, put their minds together and work on it,” said Chris Dick.
He added that one of his father’s talents was “getting other people excited about environmental things.”
An example Chris Dick gave was Dunnings Creek Wetlands.
He said that Thomas Dick bought the former wetland converted to farmland at auction.
Later, it partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for grants and other funds to create a series of reservoirs – lakes and ponds in which the water level can rise and fall.
“They haven’t previously been associated with a private individual before,” said Chris Dick.
There was some skepticism among locals about the new wildlife refuge, but it turned out to attract more bird species than any other site, said Chris Dick.
The wetlands were also the first of their kind in the country to be converted to farmland and back to nature again.
Moore said that the fight for environmental efforts continued throughout Thomas Dick’s life.
His last effort was to keep the windmills off Shaffer Mountain.
Moore said it wasn’t that his father was against building the turbines, but rather that the proposed location was directly in the flight path of migratory birds.
When the project was scrapped in 2012, “it was a huge win for Dad,” Warshel said.
All three brothers agreed that their father’s outlook, morals, ethics, and love of life greatly influenced them.
Moore said her personality traits, like her leadership skills, help her on a daily basis.
“He laughed and lived for the moment, but he worked hard,” Moore said.
They also agreed that their parents’ focus on family and good relationships was a significant influence on them as well.
“I’m very, very proud of that,” Warshel said.