Richard Jones has lived all over the country: San Diego, Napa, Syracuse, Ohio and now Medford. He’s well traveled, but feels most at home at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge.
Jones is Cedar Run’s first Governor’s Jefferson Award medalist, a state honor that recognizes volunteer work that goes above and beyond. Jones was given the top award in the animal welfare category for his contributions to Cedar Run.
Jones was never a natural animal lover. He spent his career doing computer science work for a defense company. Now retired, he took his grandkids to an event at Cedar Run, where he and his wife Pam decided to volunteer.
“It’s not every day you find someone who wants to give so much,” said Executive Director Michael O’Malley.
In 2017, Jones came ready for his shifts at the refuge. The first time he held a baby squirrel, he said, he fell in love.
“It was like, wow,” Jones explained. “It’s still amazing to actually have one in your hands.”
Over the past three years, Jones has become somewhat of a Cedar Run celebrity. He’s there every day, working with injured birds like owls and hawks and teaching them to sit on his arm. As he walks around the property, he stops to introduce his feathered friends to kids and their families.
On her first visit to the refuge, Alexandra Desipris ran into Jones and they got to talking about wildlife and volunteering. From the first moment she met Jones, Desipris said, she knew she wanted to volunteer.
“He’s really inspiring,” she noted. “Even when he’s not there, Richard’s influence helps me with everything I do.”
Desipris has begun to work with birds of prey, a subject on which Jones has become a mentor. He has helped train several birds to participate in educational programs, and he knows the personality of each one.
One of his friends, Rambler, a great-horned owl, is sometimes grumpy and impatient. Jones gained his trust by reading to him. His favorite books? Nonfiction wildlife stories.
All of the animals that live at Cedar Run were rescued after getting injured in the area. Many of them were hit by cars. One owl, Bubba, was found tangled in a soccer net at Kenneth R. Olson Middle School.
“They might have had really bad experiences, especially from being hit by a car, and then the panic of that person trying to rescue them,” said Tracy Francois, director of development and communications. “Stepping back and building that foundation of trust again is huge.”
Along with his talent for getting along with animals, Jones makes an impact on the people he meets.
“He is a very special person. Richard and I are extremely different people,” Desipris explained.
She is tattooed and comes from a high-fashion background. Jones is more laid back.
“There’s just no judgment,” she observed. “It’s a really wonderful relationship because it’s very much grounded in our passion for the same thing and what we really care about.”
Jones’ relationships with animals and people alike will have an impact on Cedar Run for years to come, O’Malley predicted. Many of the birds Jones works with will live at the refuge for decades.
“The world will be a completely different place in 20 years,” O’Malley said. “His reach is so far beyond us.”