Like the rest of the California community, we were stunned to read of the passing of broadcaster Huell Howser. His contribution to documenting the glories of California — mostly through his public television shows — was a treasure that will likely never be replaced. Because he managed to turn just about every inch of the Golden State into a fascinating story, it was inevitable that Howser would come into contact with Audubon California. He visited the Audubon Starr Ranch in 2011, and visited the Audubon Center at Debs Park around 2005 or so (we’re not sure about the exact date).
When Howser came to Starr Ranch, he was struck by the natural beauty of the landscape. Sanctuary Manager Pete DeSimone was struck by Howser’s warm honesty, as well as the host’s fierce love of all things California.
“Huell came to Starr Ranch to originally do a piece on our Barn Owl webcam, cam but when he got here was so taken by this place he ended up doing his show on all of it,” said DeSimon. “From the start he was the warmest, down-to-earth guy and made everyone here feel really comfortable.
“His style of talking and his questions were so genuine and engaging that the camera was soon not a factor. He just wanted to know what was going on and was really interested in what you had to say. And his persona aside, he was legitimately enthusiastic about what you could show/tell him and his audience what they’d probably never seen before. He did this for Starr Ranch and beyond and will truly be missed.”
Years earlier, when Howser brought his show to the Audubon Center at Debs Park, he was equally excited about seeing a nature center in full swing in the heart of urban Los Angeles. That’s a photo of Howser at Debs interviewing then-Teacher Naturalist Jeff Chapman, who is now the Center Director (and rarely sports such rocking hair).
Patty Sun, a teacher naturalist at the Center, recalls his visit well.
“It was a wonderful experience meeting him,” Sun said. “Of course I had seen him on TV, and even though we knew he was coming, I was so surprised to see him in person. I was nervous, but he was very sweet, very friendly. He was a warm, kind person.”
Sun said that she was struck by the fact that there was little difference between his on-screen persona and his in-person persona.
“He sounded like he did on TV. He had the same twang, the same catch-phrases. You could just tell that he enjoyed going places and meeting people. He loved doing what he did, and he loved California.”
And Sun said his enthusiasm had a way of rubbing off. “Right after the show aired, we had a lot of new people come by the Center. Being on the show was sort of an indication that we had arrived.”