History of the Biology Department
Biology at Muskingum College
(1911 through 1985)
( Derived from an article by Clement E. Dasch
Published in the Muskingum College Bulletin Series 77 No. 2 Fall 1985 )
The Department of Biology came into existence during the early years of the presidency of J.Knox Montgomery. In 1911, Earl R. Bryant began his long career at Muskingum. Occupying offices and laboratories on the top floor of Johnson Hall, "Bugs" Bryant gathered the scattered offerings of botany and zoology into a single department. He gave direction to biology until his retirement in 1950, and continued as a campus personality for several more years, occupying a basement lab in Johnson Hall where he tested water and milk samples for the village and a local dairy.
John H. McCleery, who also served as college physician, joined Bryant in 1924 and served in this dual capacity until 1953, continuing as college physician until his retirement in 1959. The facilities available to biology in Johnson Hall were at best primitive. Three high-ceiling leaky -roofed laboratories, a closet-sized storeroom, and a small office that at times hous ed three faculty members were located on the top floor. A windowless basement dungeon served as an "animal room" and a copper-lined bench in another sunlit basement room served as a "greenhouse". The library occupied the remainder of the basement and the main floor of the building, separately enduring periodic inundations from the faulty plumbing of biology above, and jointly with biology enduring the extremes of heat and cold at the terminus of the college steam lines. With the limited financial resources that were available, equipment was rarely purchased and biological preparations were usually home-made by the staff or collected on the local scene.
William Adams joined the department in 1944, sharing some of his time with the education department until 1958, then serving solely in biology until he retired in 1977. Like Bryant, Adams left his mark on the department. The herbarium, one of the best small college pla nt collections in the state, is largely the result of his efforts. Important segments of the vertebrate animal collection also are the product of his collecting and trading. One of a vanishing breed of naturalists, he left indelible impressions on all who came to know him. In 1953 Clement E. Dasch joined the staff of Adams and W. Hughes Barnes. During the 50's the curriculum of the department was revised, and a concerted effort was made to expand the departmental equipment. With the completion of the new library in 1960 biology also vacated Johnson Hall and joined the other sciences in Cambridge Hall in the fall of 1961. The new laboratory benches and cabinets, four laboratories, a large storeroom and a museum represented a marked improvement in the facilities available to biology. During the 60's the sciences prospered and the enrollment rose. The biology staff grew to four faculty, first by the addition of Robert J. Simpson in 1962 and then Richard C. Lewis in 1964. In 1966 David L. Quinn and William K. Reist replaced Simpson and Lewis. A fifth staff member, Vishnu P. Saksena, was added in 1968. The quality of the department reached a peak in the next few years.
The swelling enrollment served as the stimulus to the creation of a "wild-blue-yonder" committee in the science division. The work of this committee culminated in the construction of the Science Center. The new facility became operational in the autumn of 1971. Biology occupies 12,500 square feet of space on the top floor, with five main laboratories, a greenhouse, museum, large storeroom, photographic darkroom, 12 student research offices for 24 students, a seminar room, classroom and several offices. Acquisition of much newer equipment during the early 70's made the department one of the better undergraduate facilities in the state. Financial problems beset Muskingum in the late 70's as enrollment decreased. Adams' retirement in 1977 was followed by a state of financial exigency in 1979 in which the department lost another staff member. Peter Zager joined the staff in 1980 as a botanist-ecologist and was succeeded by Karinlee Kneller in 1984.
Through the generosity of alumni and other friends of the college, a number of services, facilities and pieces of equipment have become available to the department over the years. Three examples illustrate the importance of this support.
In the early 1960's Hugh Kuhn of Hammond, Indiana, was a member of our board of trustees. He had purchased a Christmas tree farm near Lore City, but had no expertise in its management. He secured the help of William Adams to serve as a consultant. Kuhn died unexpectedly, leaving his wife to manage his estate. Acting on Adams' recomm endations, Hedwig Kuhn sole the farm and donated the receipts as a memorial to her husband. Half of the proceeds were used to buy biology equipment, and half was used to endow the Hugh Kuhn Memorial Award. The award is made annually to outstanding seniors who have demonstrated scholarship and research ability in the biology department.
The second example involves the McAllister Biology Research Station near Otsego. Evelyn McAllister, a retired Akron public school teacher, was distressed to see the progressively encroaching patter of coal strip-mining around the old homestead, which had been in the family for 100 years. In 1975, when she became aware of our efforts to secure a parcel of land that could serve as a research station, she generously deeded the 57-acre farm to the biology department. Today it is used for field studies in ecology, field botany, field natural history, and senior and faculty research. In conjunction with the station Don Hodgson of Charleston, West Virginia, whose wife is Evelyn McAllister's niece, was a prime mover of Muskingum's Parents Association drive to secure a mobile laboratory for the station. The laboratory was obtained in 1977 and fitted out for field studies by the biology faculty.
One of the strengths of the biology department has been its student research program. Initiated in the early 1950's and variously modified in the intervening years, it prepares the student on a research topic through the development first of a library review paper of the appropriate literature. That work is followed by individualized laboratory or field research on some aspect of the selected topic, culminating in the preparation of a research paper. Such one-on-one instruction is invaluable to the student who aspires to do graduate work in the sciences.