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Sometimes hobbies become a passion that turns into a part of who we are. That’s exactly what happened to the late Jim Lasley.
Lasley stumbled into his birdwatching hobby innocently. Trying to answer questions about birds posed by his three (then small) children back in the early 1950s, he found he needed to do some research of his own. Lasley, a well respected mechanical engineer who oversaw the construction of the Grace Plant for Springs Industry, didn’t know much about birds but knew just who to contact.
Lasley’s longtime friend and mentor, Herb Matthewson, gave him a copy of Peterson’s A Field Guide to Eastern Birds. This book inspired Lasley to pursue a hobby as a birder.
His first quest was to locate all 750 species of nesting birds in North America. Then over the course of fifty years, he traveled to seven continents to pursue his love of birds and began to meticulously collect books and support material. Many times, his wife, Myrtle Edna, accompanied him.
According to Myrtle Edna, it took years to accumulate his beloved collection.
“Jim kept a master list of books he wanted. So for every gifting event – Christmases, birthdays, Father’s Days, etc. – we all knew exactly what to get him,” she said.
Until his death at the age of 92, Lasley’s collection of books of primarily mid to late twentieth century publications grew, totaling to almost 200.
This past spring, Lasley’s family donated his unique collection to the Charleston Library Society, the South’s oldest cultural institution.
In addition to the books, the Lasleys’ longtime friend Caroline Morgan donated framed prints by talented world renowned artists Richard Sloan and Don Whitlatch.
The collection and artwork will be on display at the society, located on King Street in Charleston, in hopes of sharing Jim’s love of bird-watching with others as they begin or advance in their study of birds
The official dedication ceremony for this ornithology collection was held in July with family and friends including several Lancaster residents in attendance. During the dedication ceremony, Jim Elliott, founder and executive director of the Avian Conservation Center, presented an Apolomado falcon, a rare bird commonly found along the Mexican border. This bird was the only American bird Jim was unable to see in his lifetime.
The Lasleys lived in Lancaster until March of 1999, where Myrtle Edna was a tenured member of The Lancaster Garden Club. Jim would speak at garden club meetings, but he enjoyed taking the members on bird walks the most. Carolyn Tolson, member of The Lancaster Garden Club remembers one walk in particular.
Tolson said on a very cold day in March 1995, the Lasleys led a large group of garden club members along Landsford Canal in hopes of seeing a bald eagle. The walk was sucessful. The eagle was nesting, and the only way they could see her was through Jim’s telescope.
“It was awesome to see that sharp-eyed eagle with a 5-foot wingspan soar far above the Catawba River, scouting for food for the eaglets in her nest,” said Tolson. “When she spotted a fish, she would dive like a rocket, splashing into the river, and come out with a fish for her babies.”
The Lasleys brought joy and enthusiasm to so many people in Lancaster County through their love of birds and nature.
In March 2013, the Lancaster Council of Garden Clubs will sponsor a two-day educational program at the Avian Conservation Center located in Awendaw, in honor of Myrtle Edna and in memory of Jim. The program will include a guided tour of the Raptor Center, as well as a demonstration of the flight of birds of prey – including osprey, bald eagles and the rare Aplomado falcon. Attendees will also visit the Charleston Library Society to view Lasley’s collection of books and prints.
Additionally, a garden club award is being designed in honor of the Lasleys. The Jim and Myrtle Edna Lasley Birding Award for the East Piedmont District of the Garden Clubs of S.C. is to be presented for the first time in 2013. This award will be available to garden clubs who present the best educational program related to birding.
“Jim and Myrtle Edna brought joy and enthusiasm to so many people in Lancaster County, and now that joy continues to the people of South Carolina,” said Tolson.