Under the guise of a Hernando Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting, Valery Smith was lured to the pavilion at the ARK Trail on west Commerce Street where she was ambushed.
Colleagues, family, friends and supporters of Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc. (MWR), gathered on Saturday afternoon at the nature trail to honor the work and birthday of Smith who turned 75.
The founder of MWR, Smith was recognized for her ongoing work rehabilitating wild animals in DeSoto County. Along with a party organized by colleague Debbie Crum, Smith was recognized by the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors and tapped as the namesake for the future planned animal hospital.
MWR was founded in 1995 by Smith to meet the increasing need for wildlife assistance in north Mississippi. MWR is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that assists injured and orphaned wild birds year round. MWR also offers a variety of education programs for community festivals, civic organizations and thousands of school children annually.
DeSoto County District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell delivered a plaque to Smith in honor of her proclaiming September 4 as Mississippi Wildlife Preservation and Education Day.
“As I talked to the other supervisors, they all know about wildlife rehab,” said Caldwell. “This (proclamation) is official, it’s on our records forever.”
The proclamation highlighted Smith’s efforts coordinating with the Mississippi Corps of Engineers, organizing education programs for the public, volunteer work and advocacy for the proposed nature center and wildlife hospital to be constructed at the ARK Trail near Arkabutla Lake.
A sign was unveiled by Smith’s colleagues at MWR marking the future site of the “Valery E. Smith Wildlife Hospital.”
Mrs. Keith Osterbrink and husband Charlie, of Nesbit, are two of MWR’s top donors and were present at Smith’s party.
“For years we’ve come across a lot of wildlife, baby squirrels, baby rabbits, that were injured,” said Mrs. Osterbrink. “We are so glad that we finally met Val twenty years ago. We have pressed on her expertise numerous times. We are very thankful she is in this area, because there’s a lot of wildlife that needs help. Her knowledge...is astounding.”
Smith said she was very surprised with the gathering Crum and others organized. She lauded her faith in God as “opening doors” for the future nature center’s completion.
“I was blown away!” Smith said. “When I got here I saw all these people, I thought they combined a get together with the ribbon cutting.”
Smith said she had missed her three sons calling her for her birthday, but who were all actually in attendance at the event.
“I just thought they were all busy,” said Smith, “then I see them all here and I’m like “They lied!’”
“It was a wonderful lie,” laughed Smith.
A passion for animal care and rehabilitation was instilled into Smith by her own grandmother, Minnie Elizabeth Harris, called nina. “In the Apache language, that means grandmother,” Smith explained.
“She, back then, took care of any little critter that came up,” said Smith. “I was right there with her.”
Later, Smith saw the need for animal rehab in northern Mississippi and headed to her local library to research founding a nonprofit organization and 501(c)(3).
“God opened doors and kept opening those doors,” Smith said.