Jean Henry and Ruth Stanwood came to Martin County from Vermont in 1969, bringing with them their Morgan horses and a huge store of commitment to all living things. Before long their ranch on Kanner Highway in Stuart was filled with animals, wild and otherwise. But Treasure Coast Wildlife Hospital traces its real beginning back to 1974, when Jean was asked by the local Audubon Society to accept phone calls about birds needing help. “I figured it’d be a call a month with a baby bird that fell out of a nest” she said later. That first year, perhaps 50 birds received care at Jean and Ruth’s home, paid for entirely out of their own pockets.
With help from friends and due in large part to Jean’s characteristic outspoken style, the group became known as the Martin County Audubon Wildlife Hospital. Over time the patient load steadily increased, as did the diversity of species treated. Retirement of first Ruth then Jean turned their part time avocation into a more-than-full-time life work. Funds, primarily their pittance of pension money, were always short but the ladies made do and kept on treating wildlife.
Recognizing that most animals in their care suffered from people-related problems, Jean became a high profile advocate for wild creatures and the wild places they require. Long before "environmental advocacy" became a buzzword, she spoke before school classes and other groups, educating everyone around her on environmental issues. Never hesitant to castigate anyone, from county commissioners on down, for decisions she considered detrimental to the environment, nevertheless February 21, 1980 was declared “Jean Henry Day” by the Martin County Commission.
Other awards included the Sertoma Club's Service to Mankind Award, St. Lucie County Conservation Alliance's 1984 Conservationist of the Year Award, President Reagan’s Private Sector Volunteer Initiative Award, and seven Partners in Education citations from the Martin County School Board. Jean was the subject of countless local newspaper and television stories, and a number of national press and television features. Environmentalist Nat Reed called her “one hell of a human being”. The effect of Jean's work, and that of several contemporaries, is apparent today; Martin County in particular and the Treasure Coast region in general remain one of the most environmentally aware places in Florida.
Long time partner Ruth Stanwood passed away in November of 1985, coincidentally on the day that a major fund raising drive for the Hospital was to begin. Community response was tremendous, helping Jean to overcome the personal tragedy. Still, Jean’s failing health made it increasingly difficult for her to continue her heavy load of wildlife care and educational programs. Salvation came in 1987 in the form of a six and a half foot tall volunteer named Ken Christensen.
Immediately recognizing a kindred spirit, Jean said “He is the first person who has come into this organization since my partner died who has been able to fill her shoes- and is as caring”. Before long, Ken was Assistant Director of the now Treasure Coast Audubon Wildlife Hospital, Inc. Jean’s death on February 2, 1989 was a tragedy felt by people throughout the Treasure Coast. But Ken, along with Jean’s friends and champions, resolved to make sure that her dream endured. And one more thing: “It’s gonna grow,” Ken said.
New Director Christensen orchestrated an aggressive campaign to improve both the facilities and the financial security of the Hospital. Patient numbers increased to roughly 800 per year and new skills and enclosures were acquired to accommodate them. Ken continued Jean’s educational programs and expanded them by opening parts of Treasure Coast Wildlife Hospital to the public, helping TCWH evolve into a form still recognizable today. Ken’s tenure continued until the end of 1992, when he decided to return to his home town in Ohio.
Dan Martinelli was hired and, moving here from Miami, became first the Assistant Director and then Executive Director of TCWH. His training in both biology and education allowed Dan and his staff to improve the Outreach Educational Programs, create and use new medical facilities, improve rehabilitation procedures, and add popular new exhibits. Dan would say “I am both proud and gratified to be involved with this amazing organization. Few groups of its kind can claim such a noteworthy history, nor such a bright future. I see it as my job to ensure the continued expansion of the Hospital’s commitment to the wild creatures and the human residents of the Treasure Coast. With the passing of our former Director, Dan Martinelli, 2019 will be a year not just remembered in memoriam, but in dreams working to become fruition.
Today the organization is carrying on this legacy of "wildlife recovery and human discovery" with newly appointed Director Susan Nash, and a capital campaign for a new Treasure Coast Wildlife Center