Dr. McCleery Lobo Wolves Digital Archive

Memory by Leora (Hoge) Duncan

Description

A memory submitted by Leora (Hoge) Duncan, a relative (second cousin once removed) of Jack Lynch. She visited the wolf farm in August 1968 when she was 10 years old.

Interviewee

Leora (Hoge) Duncan

Interviewer

Kirsten Canfield

Date

May 5, 2014 to May 20, 2015

Memory

My mom (Dolores Kaufman Hoge) and Jack Lynch’s mom (Augusta M. Kaufman Lynch) were first cousins once removed (I am second cousins once removed with Jack). My mom and her brother (Elwayne Kaufman) used to stay with Jack’s family when they went to college in Charleston, Illinois. I think they spent some time with Jack too.

My cousin-in-law Edith said Jack’s parents could never control Jack. He was kinda a wild child. Did what he wanted to. I remember vaguely getting that idea from my dad. Said he was a “ne’er-do-well” type. I think that played a big part in going to the wolf farm. I don’t think my dad totally believed there was one.

Edith told me that, back in the day, there was a train they referred to as “The Plug.” Jack’s dad was the conductor. The train stopped at Kaufman station, which was an old farm house in Alhambra, Illinois. Jack's mom, my mom, and others in the area used to ride to Springfield, Illinois and then ride back later that day. That’s how Jack’s mom and dad met. I think my grandparents lived there too because my grandma used to feed the hobos that rode on the train. She would make them fried egg sandwiches because they had a ton of chickens. But the hobos had to stay in the field – she would take the food to them. They weren't allowed up by the house.

In either 1967 or earlier 1968, we drove an hour to Charleston, Illinois for Jack Lynch’s mom’s funeral. I remember it was warm outside. I came out by my dad (Arthur Hoge) who was talking to Jack. I don’t remember ever talking about Jack’s dad at the funeral. We were on some steps with a black railing. My dad and Jack talked quite a while about the wolves. I found it interesting so I hung around listening. I remember my dad telling my mom about it on the way home. He said we should go to Niagara Falls and swing by and check out the wolf farm. To be honest, I got the idea that maybe my dad didn't believe that Jack had a wolf farm. But we did go, and I’m so happy there was a wolf farm!

In August of 1968 we went to the wolf farm. I was 10 years old. I remember driving through a lot of woods on curvy roads. We got there early and stayed all day. I remember we surprised them. My folks liked doing that. We talked to Jack’s wife (Marjorie Lynch) at the ticket booth. She didn't want us to pay the 35 cents for admission, but my dad insisted. She sent us down the path to meet up with the tour.

We caught up with the tour in front of the lion cage. I believe it was an African lion – I don’t know where the mountain lion stayed. It was a big cage like 1/3 of the way through the tour. It was a large cage with bars and it stood out because it was different. I never could figure out where the lion came in. Jack was speaking about the lion, then turned around and recognized us right away. He was like, “Hey everybody, this is family!!” So I felt special! I was excited to see the wolves. They were so cute!

I was usually afraid of men (except for my dad), but I wasn't afraid of Jack. And he didn't treat me like a dumb little kid, or like I was bothering him. Kind of took me under his wing.

I know I went on every tour he did of the wolf farm. I remember Jack had a story about each wolf. I don’t remember any signs or numbers on the pens but Jack knew all the wolves’ names. He would tell people he used to feed them during tours but one day he threw a cow head in the pen and one wolf ate out its eyeball. He said a fat lady screamed and went running back to the parking lot. It was funny the way he told it. Then he would get in a pen and play with them. Put his head in one’s mouth. As a little kid I was very impressed.

I remember Wendy was the only wolf pup. God I loved that wolf. She was born in 1968 and was six months old. She was in a small pen to the left of the ticket booth, kind of halfway between the trailer and ticket booth (see drawing). I remember thinking it was too small for her. It was short – she could stand up but a person could not. It was like a playpen size with a lid. They let me try to hold her – I think Margie let me hold her. She was not a lap wolf. It was all I could do to hang on. She was like a German Shepherd pup on steroids. I don’t know why they kept her apart from the others, and I don’t know where her mom was. She was so sweet. I remember sitting by her cage and petting her through the wire. She licked my fingers.

I never saw the wolves growl or be mean. I’m sure they could be. Jack told me I had free run of the place but not to go into the pens with the wolves. He didn't have to worry about that. I loved the wolves and even at 10 I had great respect for them. I conducted a tour for my folks that evening. I knew all. But I didn't go in and play with the wolves like he did.

Sometimes to “avoid” staying with family my folks would rent a motel room before we went to visit, but not this time. Jack insisted we stay at what I’m guessing was his mom’s house (I don’t know who else’s house it could have been; Edith said Jack’s mom was “well off” so she could have moved up there to be by Jack).

The house was down the same road as the wolf farm I think. It wasn't more than 15-20 minutes away if that. It was a white frame house and sat back off the road a little. The grass was long. I think it was two stories. But I’m not sure only because my mom didn't go snoop up any stairs, which was unusual for her. At least I don’t remember.

Does this photo look like the house you stayed in? 

Yeah it could be.

We went there during the day and Jack showed my dad how to turn on the lights (he kept the power turned off at the fuse box). We put beds on the floor. I remember a lot of furniture and dishes - stacks of them on tables. The house was filled with antiques and it was a bit creepy. During the day it was fun exploring. It was a nice house and nice accommodation.

When the park closed Margie took me and my mom out to eat at a small diner. My dad stayed at the farm with Jack. We got them carry-out. I remember Margie was very nice. I always remember her as very pretty and petite. She looked like a movie star to me. I remember she was also easy to talk to. She could have had a scar, but I probably didn't notice it. And she was writing a book. The title was going to be “Love me, Love my Lobos!” And that I am 100% sure of. I wanted to read it.

Jack and Margie had about 20 cats in the trailer. And my mom wasn't so much for the cat hair (she wasn't allergic; she just didn't care for many pets in the house). You couldn't go into the bathroom when the cats were in there. The trailer was kinda messy. Lots of cat hair and cat poo around. Didn't bother me but I’m sure my mom had other thoughts about it.

There was a roast defrosting in the sink and the cats were eating off it. I never knew if it was for the cats or if that was Jack and Margie’s dinner?! As a 10 year old kid I thought it was a hoot. Again, my mom – not so much. And the carry out we got for Jack, he was eating off the right side and the cats were eating off the other. Then they’d switch it up. Of course my mom was mortified. Didn't really bother me, haha. My mom had cat hair all over her dress. She never wore pants in those days. She was still picking cat hair out of the car days later. I thought it was funny – much ado about nothing to me.

There was a mountain lion that used to live in the trailer with them until their friend, who happened to be a local sheriff, went in and the lion jumped off the fridge onto his neck. So it didn't stay in there all the time after that, but I’m not sure where it was when I was there. I kind of remember something living in the back bedroom.

At 11:00 that night Jack was going to make his rounds (he would go down to the pens twice each night). He had a shotgun. My folks and I went with him; Margie did not. We walked all through the park. There was thunder in the distance and wind rustling the trees. A storm was coming. And the wolves were howling! Just like in werewolf movies. I was absolutely terrified out of my 10-year-old skin! It is in the top five times in my whole life of being scared. I was with my folks and a man with a gun. Scared. Terrified!

My dad asked why he brought a gun. He said a lot of neighbors hate the wolves because they howl at night. They try to poison them and he’s caught people in there at night - a story which added to my fear. And we were in the woods. I think Jack howled with them that night.

Anyway, we went to a building at the back of the park. There was a large walk-in freezer where he kept dead things to feed the wolves. But he also had 5-6 wolf pelts from wolves that died naturally, worth 5-6 thousand dollars a piece. I remember he let me hold one!

The freezer was part of the chained-in area. We went down the paths through the park, and it was kind of at the bottom of a slight hill. But it was 11-12 at night. I don’t remember seeing it during the day.

It was storming when we came back to the house late that night. My dad had to go around back to turn on the lights. I always wondered why he didn't just leave them on. Anyway, my dad was gone a while and I remember being scared. The house was so dark when we turned off the lights that my mom rigged up a night light. I was so scared! When it would lightning, all the furniture would become scary shadowy monsters to me. The night light helped.

We only stayed the one day. We went back in the morning to say goodbye. I may have gone on one more tour. We then went on to Niagara Falls. I could have just stayed at the wolf farm.

Around 1980-1981ish (I wanna say it was warm out), when my kids were little, my mom got them a Ranger Rick magazine. I opened it and there was Jack!! They said you could “adopt” a wolf. You know – send money and get your name on a wolf’s pen and a picture sort of thing. When I tried to contact the magazine they said no, it was a mistake, you can’t adopt a wolf. The lady at the magazine said that the magazine offered to do that adopt a wolf thing to help the Lynches money-wise. But the lady said the Lynches started acting weird and would not contact the magazine back. The idea I got was that the adoptee program was the magazine’s idea. Jack said no, but they printed it anyway. That is the drift I got at the time.

I remember it was a kids’ magazine – if not Ranger Rick I don’t know what it would have been. It had pictures. I wanna say there was a wolf with paws on Jack’s chest but I could be wrong. I don’t remember any kids in the photos. I think it was about them in Montana.

Recently I got in touch with the Ranger Rick magazine to see if I could get copy of article and they can’t find it. I talked to 10 different people and no luck.

Then one or two years later (in the mid-1980s) we found the Lynches’ number somehow and called. We were at my house, and my mom was on the downstairs phone and I was on the upstairs phone. Mary was really nice and she and my mom had a pleasant conversation talking about how they were related and so forth. Then my mom asked if they still had the wolves. She went from nice to rude in two seconds and said “Leave us alone” and hung up. I tried to talk to her days later and she was still cold – would not even give me a chance to explain. Too bad Jack didn't answer. I should have written a letter but I didn't. I wish I had now.

Edith lost track of Jack’s family once Jack’s mom passed away. My family’s trip to the wolf farm was the last of the family to see him.

I think my visit to the wolf farm meant so much to me because it was one of the last vacations with my dad before he got really sick. I was always afraid of men. My dad’s best friend Erwin and Jack were the only two men that I was comfortable with.

I was kind of a backwards little kid. I didn't have many friends. But Jack took me under his wing and made me feel wanted. I've always loved animals, and I was so fascinated with wolves. Animals, unlike humans, accept you without judgment. Not that they wouldn't eat me for lunch, haha. I respected them for what they were. But they didn't make fun of me or pick on me. For those 36 hours I was happy and at peace. I just felt free.

I had no social skills when I started school. But at the wolf farm… I was just me. And like I said, I was at peace. I only remember two other times I felt at peace. No wolves laughed at me for being adopted, or fat. I realize of course the wolves are not capable of pointing a claw and laughing. But that’s how my 10-year-old mind thought back then.

I could have stayed there forever. I watched them run around and play. And holding Wendy was so special. I got to HOLD A REAL LIVE WOLF! And she liked me. She stole a piece of my heart. They all did, as did Jack and Margie. When around adults I was expected to keep still. But Margie would talk to me. And she was easy to talk to.

I felt accepted, free, and at peace. At the time I couldn't put a name to it, but I knew I felt different there. If I could repeat any one day with my dad it would be that one.