By Julie Calohan (Madigan Healthcare System)March 16, 2010
A rainy and gloomy day provided the appropriate background for a memorial service to honor one of Madigan Army Medical Center's elegant and graceful icons, Lewi the swan, who died unexpectedly on Jan. 9.
Madigan Commander Col. Jerry Penner III, and several distinguished guests, including retired Maj. Gen. Leslie M. Burger, a former commander of Madigan, shared thoughts and memories of Lewi, one of the original swans that came to Madigan in 1993, shortly after the facility opened.
"Anybody who has spent more than a couple of months here realizes very quickly that these swans are revered by our guests, our patients and our staff," Penner said. "Lewi has served us well for 17 years. He's a therapeutic measure and he has been enjoyed by all."
Madi and Lewi were brought to Madigan to help control the Canada goose population that invaded the ponds. They are mute swans, which are very aggressive and territorial, and according to Burger, the strategy worked well.
"It wasn't very long after the pond was built that Canada geese decided this would be a neat place to stay," Burger said. "The facility manager at the time had only one person to keep the grounds clean, and so he tried one thing after another to keep the geese population down."
Burger relayed the attempts that were made at population control. The first measure taken was to gather up the geese eggs, but it was soon discovered that the geese would just lay more eggs. The next attempt was to physically move the geese, but Burger told the facilities manager that he didn't think that was logical.
"These are birds that fly from Siberia, across Canada and the United States, into Mexico, and you want to move them 20 miles away," Burger said. "They're just going to come back with all of their brothers and sisters, which they did."
The third try was to put up engineer tape to keep the geese out. Watching from the command suite, Burger said the first goose turned around and walked away from the pond. "I thought, son of a gun, this may work," he said. "But the second goose came up to the tape and went under it."
They even tried scarecrows. That was when a member of the vet command suggested the mute swans, which was finally the tactic that worked.
"We wound up keeping the swans and indeed, the population of geese has been kept down," Burger said.
During the ceremony, Lewi's cremains were scattered in the pond by Penner and Burger, and since the memorial service, Madigan has welcomed Lewi II, a new mute swan who is adjusting to his new-found home in the ponds.