A tribute to Harry Spring, explorer, teacher, advocate and friend

“Future generations may not remember our names, but they will certainly be glad that we were here.” These words, rooted in the Avon Land Trust motto, seem a fitting tribute to Harry Spring, long-time ALT board member, who passed away on December 30th. Harry left an indelible mark on the landscape of Avon and in the hearts of those with whom he worked tirelessly to protect the land, preserve open space, and advocate on behalf of the Farmington River Watershed for over three decades. A brief review of his career accomplishments reveals just how big that mark is, and why we on the Land Trust board are so glad he was ‘here.’

Harry joined the Avon Land Trust Board of Directors in 1976, shortly after its inception. During that time, he held a variety of other environmental leadership positions, including: town delegate to the Farmington River Watershed Authority; town delegate to the FRWA Open Space Consortium; member (and later, chair) area Natural Resources Commission; town delegate (and later, chair) of the Hartford County Association of Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions; member (and later, chair) of the Natural Resources Commission; and member of the Connecticut Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission. In the mid-1980s, during a time of record growth and real estate development in town, Harry was recognized as Avon’s Conservation Citizen of the Year ~ a wise, and obvious, choice.

Harry’s advocacy reached beyond Avon and Hartford County. For example, he was Incorporator of the Bermuda Biological Station for Research in St. Georges Bermuda for approximately forty years, and Associate at the Charles Darwin Biological Station in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos, Ecuador. However, despite the reach and breadth of his resume, it is Harry Spring’s participation, locally, on the Alsop Meadows Acquisition Committee and the Fisher Meadows Building Committee that is most likely to be recognized and appreciated by present-day Avon residents. These two magnificent parks exist for our recreation today, because of Harry’s vision and hard work years ago. The Town of Avon is a better place because of Harry Spring.

Although he never married nor had children of his own, Harry Spring has many ‘heirs’ including countless students from the Hartford Public schools who recognize him as ‘the best teacher’ they ever had, and the untold animals he nurtured and rescued over the years including, but not limited to, cats, dogs, birds, coyotes, skunks, turkeys and, depending on one’s credulity, a mountain lion. As one ALT board member said at his memorial, “every time I see a duck, I will think of Harry. His memory will stay with me in the form of quacks and feathers.”

Harry always welcomed tough questions and reveled in answering them; his ‘students’ were many. A lifelong learner, he earned a BS in Zoology and MS in Invertebrate Zoology, and first considered Veterinary school but knew he couldn’t handle the inevitable losses that come with that job. Harry had a soft spot for animals – too soft for that kind of sadness. So, instead, he taught Biology, Chemistry, Geology and Astronomy at Hartford and Weaver high schools for 37 years, fostering in his students a love of science and critical thinking. His teaching legacy includes zoologists, botanists, MDs, cell biologists, oceanographers, geologists, paleontologists, astronauts, hundreds of educators and, yes, one politician ~ Not bad for an only child born of deaf parents in the Hartford projects.

Eventually, Harry retired from teaching because it was taking a toll on his heart, but his idea of retirement would have killed another man, even one who hadn’t had cardiac bypass surgery. He paddled up the Amazon, caught rattlesnakes in Mexico, watched the sunrise at the Temple of Thebes, dodged iguanas on Galapagos, meditated at Machu Picchu, and witnessed the solstice at Chichen Itza. Yet, perhaps what Harry loved best, was a good walk in the Avon woods, on trails he was instrumental in creating, blazing and maintaining. In recent years, walks became fewer and farther between for Harry, as his heart and legs began to slow down. He was always on the lookout for a sturdy stump or large rock for resting. So, in a fitting tribute to him, the Avon Land Trust installed Harry’s Bench on the Garvin Trail in 2007 – a perfect seat for resting and taking in the beauty that its namesake worked so hard to preserve.

Harry’s hard work extended beyond the classroom and landscape into the town meeting hall. A veritable pitbull in his battles with town officials over conservation issues, Harry would joke amiably with those same officials as soon as the meeting was over. He loved people and took time getting to know them. From state legislators, to former students, to the young woman at the feed store who carried birdseed to his car – Harry knew peoples’ names, he knew their stories, and he sought and found the best in them.

Harry’s curiosity and passion for teaching prevailed until the end; we were all his students. In 2010, well into his seventies, he worked on a vernal pool study mucking about, sometimes in chest-high water, looking for rare species. No job was too messy or too formidable for the ever-confident, ever-curious Harry Spring. His presence reminded us of how much there is to learn about our natural surroundings, and inspired us to seek answers. In his memory, we pledge to care for the land he helped preserve, to advocate for open space so that it may be enjoyed by humans and animals alike and, most importantly, to be a little less hurried and a little more curious about the land (and the people) around us.

Susan Rietano Davey

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