Many children of the 1970s will know exactly what to expect when they hear children singing, “We're off to the forest to see Miss Jean.”
That was the opening line of the theme song for “Hodgepodge Lodge,” which ran from 1970 to 1977 on MPT and was syndicated up and down the East Coast for years after that.
Along with her parrot Aurora, host Jean Worthley filmed more than 1,000 episodes.
“If you ever saw a woodchuck eat a chocolate bar or a child say just the wrong thing at just the right awkward moment, you likely saw it on ‘Hodgepodge Lodge,’ ” said friend and member of the Worthley Botany Group Jack Wennerstrom.
Worthley was close in the minds of those at Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills on Friday morning as they officially unveiled Hodge Podge Lodge 2, a re-creation of Worthley’s set that will now be a part of the center’s Outdoor Classroom.
“We know that the programs and classes that will take place here will foster a love of nature in children across our area and help create the next generation of environmental stewards who, like Jean, will use their curiosity and knowledge to protect our natural world,” said Brooks Paternotte, Irvine’s executive director.
Worthley was a trustee of Irvine Nature Center for many years.
She died in April 2017 at age 93.
Worthley and her husband Elmer were residents of Finksburg starting in the 1980s where they lived on a 14-acre farm.
MPT President Larry Unger said to the gathered audience, “Simply by opening her gunny sack on the 'discovery table’ and releasing a snake , a rabbit, or the branch of a tree, Miss Jean introduced a world many children in her audience had never experienced before,” and wished the lodge years of “good memories and good teaching.”
They cut the ribbon with a pair of golden garden shears. Outside the lodge sits a painted wooden mailbox, the original from the lodge that was donated by family. It has been shellacked and preserved to stand outside the new building for years to come.
Inside, the walls are painted with chalkboard paint. Tables just the right height for young visitors are covered in feathers, stones and magnifying glasses. A miniature rocking chair formed from twigs sits in the corner.
The original Hodgepodge Lodge was an 8-foot-by-10-foot structure built in the MPT building. It was repaired and moved to the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock in 2008.
The greenhouse at Irvine’s Outdoor Classroom was damaged in a storm in 2017 and the Hodge Podge Lodge 2 project was conceived then to rebuild the space. Construction was completed in early September.
WPM Real Estate Management were partners in the construction, donating building materials and hours of labor, with as many as 35 employees donating weekend time to the effort.
Individual donations and a gift from The Worthley Botany Group contributed financially also, and many members were in attendance.
At the celebration Friday, Worthley’s daughter-in-law, Jodie Worthley, said the dictionary didn't have enough words to describe Jean Worthley.
“Her plants, she knew them by name, but she knew them by the Latin name,” she said. “Her love was children and nature, and that was what was most important to her.”
She also brought a copy of Worthley’s book “The Complete Family Nature Guide,” published in 1976 as a gift to Irvine from Jean’s daughter, Heather Worthley, of Seattle.
Directly after the ribbon-cutting, friends and family stuck around to reminisce.
Helen Welsh, who grew up watching the show every week said it was wonderful for people of her generation. She felt a little choked up from emotion after the ribbon-cutting.
Most of the episodes of “Hodgepodge Lodge” were destroyed in a storage fire, but some survive and can be found on YouTube.
Robert Johnson, another former member of the Worthley Botany Group and Irvine trustee, thought the recreated lodge was “as cute as can be.” He remembered trips with the botany class to his family cabin in West Virginia where they would all camp and botanize in the surrounding area for miles.
“You could go to a parking lot and Jean and Elmer would find plants to look at,” he said.
Lynn Jordan, former trustee and past president of Irvine, knew Worthley and remembered her as one of a circle of women in the Baltimore area advocating for environmental advancement including preservation of sites like Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area and Cromwell Valley Park.
She remembered a story Worthley told her about riding through Soldier’s Delight with her mother on horseback. Before they set out, his mother would crack an egg into a cup and attach it to the saddle. But the time they reached a stream at the end of the trail, the egg would be scrambled and they would fry it for breakfast.
As the adults reminisced, the Hodge Podge Lodge 2 went right into use as groups of children streamed in for Tales and Tails, a weekly storytime and education program.
The Hodge Podge Lodge 2 will be a part of educational programming at all levels from the Little Birds for caregivers and children birth to 3, to homeschool programs for kids as old as 14.
The programs are all child-directed and nature-based, said Katie Rooney, director of early childhood education programs.
“We allow them to get messy. That’s how kids really do learn,” she said.
All of the programs are currently taking new members.
Parernotte said cultivating an early passion for the outdoors is how young people become lifelong stewards of the environment. “I can’t state enough how important it is to get kids out here, digging in the dirt.”
More information about the Hodge Podge Lodge 2 and educational programming at Irvine Nature Center is available at www.explorenature.org.