A generation of Kenai Peninsula students know a little more about their environment and the importance of keeping it healthy, thanks to one man. Dan Pascucci was honored earlier this summer in Soldotna.
In his 15 years as an environmental educator on the Kenai Peninsula, Dan Pascucci taught kids and adults many important things about the local ecosystem. But the one thing he will most likely be remembered for is that sea stars are not fish.
“Had it not been for Dirty D, I would have used the word starfish ’til I was like 27. Not even kidding,” said Molly Koski, a former student at Soldotna Montessori School.
Koski says Dirty D, or Mr. Dan, or Dan the Watershed Man, taught science lessons and life lessons.
“During each slide show, each activity, each test, Dan injected his sense humor, whether a reference to the ‘Might Morphin Power Rangers’ TV show or a picture of a salmon with a top hat, mustache and a manacle. Both of which he actually did, I not joking. He shows us you can be professional and fun,” Koski said.
Pascucci was the Kenai Watershed Forum’s environmental education coordinator. He worked with Sheryl Sotelo, a now-retired teacher in Homer, to start the Adopt-A-Stream program, which teaches kids about water quality and the importance of protecting the health of watersheds. But he didn’t just lecture. He sang, he rhymed, he enlisted props, costumes and puppets to the entertainment and rapt attention of his students.
“He’s just magical with kids and infectious with adults as far as, I think, getting everyone to think about the world around them and your part in keeping it clean and safe. And students became stewards, they became invested,” Sotello said.
Many of Pascucci’s colleagues, family, friends, students and fellow musicians celebrated his contributions to the Kenai Peninsula at a going-away party in August at Soldotna Creek Park.
Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague read a proclamation from the city of Soldotna recognizing Pascucci’s contributions in teaching more than 10,000 students on the Kenai Peninsula. The Kenai Watershed Forum honored Pascucci with a commemorative plaque on the structure in which he taught summer ecology camps. It’s now called the Dirty D Yurt.
The Kachemak Heritage Land Trust bestowed Pascucci the first King Maker award on the peninsula, recognizing those who support healthy salmon habitat.
And he’s well know elsewhere in the community. He was active in community theatre, a regular emcee for various events and had a popular music show on KDLL public radio.
Of his many hats — all of them his trademark fluorescent orange — Pascucci was probably best known for his science songs. There’s his FBI song, teaching about the tiny forces of forest regeneration.
And his rap about staying off sand dunes
And his animal guessing game, full of truly bad puns, including one about a rabbit that hopped to school without its bunny slippers, making it a no-shoe hare.
Eye rolls aside, speaker after speaker thanked Pascucci for his work and praised him both personally and professionally.
Pascucci had to speak around a lump in his throat in thanking everyone for the lively sendoff, and reminded the audience that they all play a part in environmental education, both learning it and living it.
“I’ve been constantly told, ‘Oh, you’re leaving. Whoever comes in and takes your place, they’re going to have real big shoes to fill.’ … I don’t really have big shoes,” Pascucci said. “But what I realize is there’s a huge responsibility to live in a place where you are blessed with such an incredible natural resource. And I feel like my job wasn’t necessarily to fill big shoes, it was to get everybody else to look down at their feet, and realize we all have big shoes to fill.”
And, of course, he couldn’t miss the opportunity to reiterate one last, very-important point:
“Sea stars are not star fish,” Pascucci croons.
The event for Pascucci took place Aug. 5. He and his family have moved to Kentucky, where he accepted a position at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.