How the Rotary Nature Center Came To Be
Bugs (Brighton) C. Cain was a Stanford graduate in entomology who introduced many young boys to nature around California and particularly in Oakland. According to Paul Covel, the first salaried municipal park naturalist, “Boys flocked to this nature man who could, all in a day, introduce birds, botany, insects, astronomy, and informal lessons in philosophy and behavior.” Bugs, along with his best students, created the first list of the birds of Lake Merritt—138 species!
Cain was employed by The Boy Scouts but he also worked pro bono with school and church
groups. Eventually the superintendent of parks, Lee Kerfoot, decided that this man needed some official recognition and presented him with a tin star bearing the words: “Naturalist, Oakland Park Department”. No salary accompanied this honor. Cain worked out of the famous “Bug House” at Camp Dimond where he gave lessons, collected specimens, banded and fed birds.
This site was eventually sold by the Boy Scouts and Cain was moved to other duties. He died suddenly shortly thereafter in 1950 at the early age of 31. The Bug House collection and library was presented to the Oakland Park Department by his widow. Where to house this valuable collection? With money raised by the Cain Memorial Committee, the Oakland Rotary Club, and City of Oakland the Rotary Natural Science Center was born. A friendly contractor offered to build the structure and a fine job he did. In 1953 the Rotary Nature Center opened its doors, thus providing suitable accommodations for the first salaried municipal park naturalist.
Remarkably, one of Bug’s students is still alive today. L. Martin Griffin, now 96 years old, has posted the story of Bugs Cain on his website.
Source. “People are for the Birds” by Paul F. Covel 1978, Western Interpretive Press
Photo from L. Martin Griffin’s website