Wayne Webber was a successful entrepreneur from Macomb, Michigan. He and his partner grew a small concrete business into a national highway construction company. They built highways, bridges, and airport runways nationwide. His passion for hunting and conservation equaled his passion for his business and family. Wayne spent his entire adult life hunting large game on three continents. Wayne and his wife Joan were well known for their philanthropy. Their foundation gives generously to causes related to healthcare, education, and shelter for those in need.

The Poet family has roots in Clare, Michigan spanning generations. Jeff Poet is the second-generation owner of Jay’s Sporting Goods. In 2020, Jeff was told by a mutual taxidermist friend that Mr. Webber would like to talk to him about some animals he had collected over the years. As the owner of Jay’s Sporting Goods, Jeff gets plenty of calls from customers offering their mounts for display. His friend assured him that Mr. Webber had something special to offer. Jeff agreed to a phone call and was soon convinced to meet with the Webber family.

At the time of their meeting, Wayne was in his late eighties. He told Jeff he wanted to leave a legacy that would accurately reflect his lifetime of hunting and conservation. His vision was to build a facility displaying groupings of wildlife in their natural habitat, a wildlife and nature center. Wayne wanted to locate that facility next to Jay’s Sporting Goods.

Jeff could see the synergy of having a wildlife museum next to his retail store. Still, he wondered, “What was the catch? Where do I fit in?”

Wayne assured him there was no catch. He offered to develop land adjacent to Jay’s, build a 16,500-square-foot facility, transport the animal mounts to Clare, and see that the scenery and landscapes created for each animal grouping were high quality and accurate.

Wayne was a man of vision. He knew Jay’s is a destination for Michigan hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts, with many motorists stopping at Jay’s on their annual trek north for the opener. He also could see that Jeff was a man of vision. He knew Jeff would honor his legacy as a conservationist and his generosity. Jeff saw many parallels between Wayne and his father. These men both built successful businesses from scratch with hard work and determination. Both were born on Michigan farms (Webber in Thompsonville, Poet in Clare). Both grew up hunting and loving the outdoors, and both were philanthropic and generous to their friends, families, and communities. Poet and Webber developed mutual respect and trust for each other. The partnership was formed.

In 2021, construction on the facility began. Mr. Webber lived long enough to see his dream start. Unfortunately, he passed away that same year. He will be remembered as a philanthropist who loved people and life. When the building was complete, over three hundred wildlife specimens were transported to the new facility. The team of Randy and Rita Mitchell was hired to create the landscapes and murals showcasing the natural settings of each wildlife grouping. It took this team nearly two years to complete the task. The results of their work were well worth the time spent on this impressive project. The landscapes and backgrounds they created are realistic simulations of each animal’s natural habitat and are simply beautiful.

In the reception area of the new Wildlife and Education Center, visitors will see first-hand an example of Wayne’s generosity. A flat-screen monitor receives a live feed from a watering hole created by a man-made well in the West African country of Namibia. You can watch native wildlife come and go as they drink the fresh water. Wayne generously built wells and provided fresh meat to the people in the areas he hunted. He provided food, clothing, school supplies, and sports equipment to children in the villages he visited. As with most hunters, he gave back more than he took from the land and the animals. He was a true conservationist.

The first display you will see when entering the building is The Michigan Outdoor Hall of Fame. This display honors outdoor communicators past and present for outstanding work promoting conservation and the great outdoors through print, poetry, art, and video. Honorees include Fred Bear, Mort Neff, Tom Huggler, Jim Foote, Denny Geurink and more.

Mr. Webbers’ legacy is now entrusted to the Poet family and their staff at Jay’s Sporting Goods. Jeff Poet takes that task seriously. He wants this wildlife museum to promote the message that the conservation of wildlife and their habitat starts with hunters. Jeff is excited about the future of the building and its contents. He plans to use a museum model that emphasizes keeping the attractions fresh. He plans to bring in temporary exhibits that include interesting animals and he plans to add new wildlife to the existing displays. Jeff would like a Musk Ox to enhance the North American polar region display. He plans to take a hunting trip soon that will provide that specimen. Most of all, Jeff wants the Center to honor the life and generosity of the Webber family.

The Webber Wildlife and Education Center has a large conference room that will accommodate 60 or more attendees. This area will be used to provide a meeting venue for various conservation clubs, area board meetings, and other groups looking for a special place to gather.

When you walk into the reception area, you will be met by Sam Humphrey. Sam is the museum curator and has a wealth of interesting information about the animals and their region. You will walk through North America, Europe, and Africa. You will see animals that live in polar regions, mountains, deserts, and wetlands. You will see animals that crawl, animals that fly, and everything in between. While walking and listening to Sam, be sure to look up. The trees above are home to baboons, jaguars, and colorful birds. The detail that the taxidermist and the designers put into the displays is incredible. Any written description will not do them justice. You simply must see this special place.

Make time this summer to travel to Jay’s Sporting Goods and The Webber Wildlife and Education Center. Their central location in Michigan makes a day trip possible, and for those on a long journey north or south, Jay’s is a perfect place to get supplies and walk over to the Webber Center. You will not be disappointed.

Although subject to change (seasonally), the Webber Center hours will align with Jay’s. They will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They will open on Sundays at 11 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. For more information; jwwildlifecenter.org