Remembering Orie Loucks: teacher, mentor, and plant ecologist
Guest Post by Don Waller
I was sorry to learn that Orie Loucks died on Saturday Sept. 10. Just a week before, I visited with him and his family and was pleased to share news from his old department at UW-Madison and reminiscences of shared colleagues and students. I also realized that I was probably saying goodbye. One of Orie’s favorite colleagues, Prof. Hugh Iltis, also managed to visit him at the hospital despite being handicapped himself.
I owe my job to Orie Loucks, and sit at his former desk most days. He left UW-Madison in 1978 to become the founding Director of the Holcomb Environmental Institute at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. This was a place I knew, having grown up there as the son of two Butler professors. I appreciated the chance to visit both Orie and family on return trips and always benefited from his encouragement and interest in my success. He shared his perspective generously and opened professional doors for which I will always be grateful. Under his leadership, the Holcomb Institute gained expert staff and engaged effectively on several key environmental issues of the region. These included work on the effects of acid rain / N deposition from coal-burning power plants up and down the Ohio River valley — on farms as well as forests. Orie never shied away from leadership on several issues, inducing key work with NAPAP — the National Acidic Precipitation Action Program. After this work concluded at Holcomb, he resumed an academic career as a distinguished professor at Miami University in Ohio.
In addition to the best job I could hope for and his desk, Orie bequeathed me a graduate student named Eric Menges who was a pleasure to work with on a variety of projects. Orie then managed to get him back by hiring him as a post-doc at Holcomb before Eric continued his illustrious career at the Archbold Biological Field Station in central Florida.
I heard glowing reports of Orie’s teaching and mentoring―especially about his prowess in the field when leading excursions to the natural areas he knew so well. These accounts of him left me wondering if I could ever promote the high reputation of plant ecology at UW-Madison to the same degree that he had. Orie’s “big shoes” did nothing to allay the imposter syndrome I felt.
Orie left UW Hospital to spend his last days at home with his family. His many friends and colleagues all miss Orie for his insights, his dedication to students, his willingness to get engaged on the important issues of our day, and for his unfailing concern for others.
John T. Curtis Professor of Botany & Environmental Studies
Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin