The past 11 years have been very different from the prior 11 years for Linda and Kevin Pillow. They moved from Redlands, California to Kerrville, Texas and transitioned from careers in real estate to becoming owners of a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise. Over the course of their 11 years as WBU store owners, Linda and Kevin have rallied their local community into record participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count. They have enthusiastically supported the South Llano State Park, the Riverside Nature Center, the Fredericksburg Nature Center, the Wings Over the Hills Birding Festival and just last year launched their very own Kerrville WBU Nature Education Center (NEC) adjacent to their Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop. For these reasons and more, the couple received the Wild Birds Unlimited 2017 “Friend of the Environment” award at the Wild Birds Unlimited Enterprise Leadership Conference in Indianapolis, IN on June 26th.
“Linda and Kevin have played a valuable role in supporting their community’s conservation and nature education activities,” said John Schaust, WBU’s chief naturalist. “They have focused their time and resources towards supporting numerous community partnerships through volunteer hours and substantial donations while also offering programs and events that help to educate their customers and their community about birds and nature.”
It all started in 2007 when Linda and Kevin decided to change direction. From Redlands, California, with careers in real estate, they wanted a different focus. Kerrville, Texas was the answer. A haven for naturalists and retirees with just under 25,000 residents, Kerrville, TX offered the couple what they were looking for and the Pillows have been operating the local Wild Birds Unlimited store going on 11 years now.
“We love where we are and what we are doing. We landed in a great spot,” said Linda. “We have hunting camps, rivers, state parks and nature centers; all sorts of wonderful things that support nature. It’s not just about birds here; we supply a way of life and the things that you need for that way of life.”
From the beginning of their new life in Texas, the Pillows jumped right into bringing people and nature together in Kerrville. First on their list was to encourage their community to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Despite their efforts, only a handful of lists were initially submitted to their store that first year. Not easily discouraged, they have made it their mission to make their community aware of the GBBC. Slowly but surely, interest has increased and this past February, they had over 80 checklists submitted to their store.
“The main tactic that seems to generate the most customer interest is that the store promotes the GBBC as something you can do at home in your bathrobe. That really seems to get them!” said Linda. “Our customers love doing the count and are usually very surprised at how many species they have in their yards.”
Linda and Kevin have also been involved with the Riverside Nature Center since the beginning of their journey with WBU. They initially partnered with the Nature Center to run a campaign to obtain the funds needed to equip and install a complete bird feeding station. They have continued to donate seed every month and help to keep the feeders filled.
The Fredericksburg Nature Center, located in Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, is another organization the Pillows support. It was built and is operated by the Friends of the Fredericksburg Nature Center. This non-profit organization has worked hard to set up trails, blinds and gardens for everyone to enjoy as they experience 11 different habitats and a plethora of birds, bees, butterflies and insects.
A friend and one of the Fredericksburg Nature Center’s early founders, Bill Lindemann, reports that Linda and Kevin have been active supporters and Nature Center donors as well as vendors and sponsors of its Wings Over the Hills Birding Festival. This festival is held every April during the height of spring migration. Linda and Kevin have watched the festival grow over the past seven years into a grand event attended by people from all over the world. They feel fortunate to participate in the event and also glad they can help to get the word out about the festival through their store’s website, in-store signage and handouts.
To top it all off, on July 16th 2016, the couple launched their very own WBU Nature Education Center (NEC) with a mission to “Bring People and Nature Together through Education.”
The center came about because Kevin and Linda were fortunate enough to be able to work with their landlord to secure a lease to the property adjacent to their store, a space that had been vacant for the past eight years. They committed time, money and elbow grease to transform the space into a nature center. The center boasts exhibits for attracting and feeding birds (including how-to’s on squirrel proofing), the contribution of bats, dragonfly identification, and a pollinator corner that celebrates hummingbirds, butterflies (particularly Monarchs) and bees. And, they provide plenty of handouts for guests to take home and study.
Many nature items are placed on low shelves so children can feel free to touch and play. Plus, several televisions around the room play DVD’s that highlight certain species of birds and their feeder activity.
During community programs, they have room for fifty seated guests but Linda says they could use even more seating room. The Pillows try to organize at least three programs a month at the Center, including special programs just for children. They also offer up the space for non-profit groups, such as the local Kerrville Beekeepers. All activities at the Center are provided free of charge to the participants as well as to the nature groups that need the meeting space.
WBU Kerrville is also a major sponsor of one the Nature Center’s primary fund raisers – the Run for Riverside - 5K Run and Walk. This event, has been very successful and they are very proud to be partners with everyone at Riverside Nature Center.
“We are very humbled. We put in the nature center because we wanted to give back to the community, which has given to us so many years of support. All our programs are free. That was our main objective. We are surprised at the response and never expected the recognition we have received. We also never expected people to line up at our door to visit the center,” said Linda.
Since opening their store, Linda and Kevin have also reached out to their community to partner with local bird and wildlife-focused organizations. One such partnerships is with the South Llano State Park. This park in particular is very well equipped for bird watching. The park features four bird blinds, all with solar water features. Every month the store donates seed to keep the blind areas full of birds. The park goes through a lot of millet because this is the spot to see Painted Buntings. The staff at the store always send customers to the park if they have never seen one. One only needs to sit down in a blind from April through August to get great views of this gorgeous bird.
In the words of Bill Lindemann, “The Pillows are wonderful ambassadors for birding in the Hill Country.” “We are very fortunate to have them doing what they love to do in our area. Their value to the community goes well beyond their business operations. You should be very proud to have them as the operators of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Kerrville.”