Kip Koss was “our living connection to ‘Ding’ Darling,” says Toni Westland, supervisory refuge ranger at J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Christopher “Kip” Koss was the son of Darling’s daughter Mary. He served in the Air Force and flew commercial planes for Pan Am for 27 years before devoting his retirement to furthering the legacy of his famous grandfather.


Koss was born in Iowa and studied economics at Stanford University. Five generations of the Darling family have vacationed on Sanibel and Captiva islands, and Koss continued to return every summer from his retirement home in Key Biscayne. He admitted being “pretty grossly ignorant of Darling’s work” when he became president of the J.N. “Ding” Darling Foundation in 1983, but he was a quick study. The foundation was instrumental in consolidating land acquisitions to complete Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge, later renamed for Darling. Koss himself compiled and catalogued nearly 7,000 of his grandfather’s Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoons onto a searchable CD, donated numerous Darling artifacts to the National Conservation Training Center, and spearheaded production of the recent documentary film about his grandfather’s life, “America’s Darling.”


Refuge manager Paul Tritaik says Koss was “a warm, engaging gentleman with a good sense of humor” who was “passionate about conservation and not shy about showing his support for the work we were doing.” As a member of the advisory committee for the refuge’s new visitor/education center, Koss was an active fundraiser who designed the exhibit areas about his grandfather. He transferred funds from the Darling Foundation to the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, the refuge Friends group, to create a permanent endowment that provides $5,000 in annual grants to local teachers for environmental projects.


After Koss’s death late last year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe wrote that “Kip and the foundation were great partners with the Service in promoting the Refuge System, the Duck Stamp program and ongoing conservation education, all arenas in which his grandfather was an American pioneer.” When the Service instituted a national Heritage Award in 2002 for extraordinary contributions to preserving the agency’s history, Ashe noted that Koss was the unanimous choice for the first award winner.