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Oregon Flora Herbarium Endowment

Biographical Sketch

(courtesy of Oregon Flora Newsletter)

Professor Emeritus of Botany and Plant Pathology Ken Chambers' interest in biology began in high school in Paso Robles, California, where his mother was the science teacher.  He did his undergraduate studies at Whittier College and was drawn to plant taxonomy through a course in the spring flora of southern California.  After graduating from Whittier in 1950, he was accepted at Stanford University, working jointly with Ira Wiggins and Richard Holm.  His Ph.D. thesis, dealing with the biosystematics of the annual species of Microseris (Asteraceae), was completed and published in 1955.  He received a National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship while at Stanford, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship for one year in Harlan Lewis' laboratory at U.C.L.A.  In 1956 he went to Yale University as an Instructor in Botany, joining a faculty which included such luminaries as Oswald Tippo, Theodore Delevoryas, Arthur Galston, Paul B. Sears, and Norman Giles.  Of his four years at this Ivy League school, Ken says:  "I had many rewarding experiences, the best of which was to meet and marry Henrietta ("Henny") Laing, who finished her Ph.D. in plant taxonomy there in 1960."  That year Ken and Henny moved to Corvallis, where he began his tenure at Oregon State University as Associate Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology, and curator of the Herbarium.

      Ken's activities at OSU over a 30-year time span involved teaching and research in plant taxonomy plus curatorial and public service work in the herbarium.  He shared herbarium duties with Assistant Curator LaRea Dennis Johnston, who was particularly skilled at dealing with the problems of farmers and extension agents needing identifications of weeds and toxic plants.  During his three decades of teaching, Ken directed 16 M.S. theses and 17 Ph.D.s.  He retired in 1990 but continues to do research in taxonomy, maintaining an office on the first floor of Cordley Hall across from the herbarium.

      During the 1970's Ken served as taxonomic advisor to various plant conservation organizations and helped to prepare a preliminary catalog of the rare, threatened, and endangered plant species of Oregon. This work benefited from the leadership of Jean Siddall, of Lake Oswego, who coordinated the field studies of the state's corps of amateur naturalists.  At the O.S.U. herbarium itself, several botany students and volunteers worked to extract data from the collections and to prepare dossiers on a long list of candidate species. These files, and those developed by Mrs. Siddall's group, form the core of the existing database of Oregon's endangered plant species.  These species continue to be the focus of research by various graduate students in taxonomy and by the Conservation Biology Program of Oregon's Department of Agriculture.  Dr. Robert Meinke and some other former students of Ken's are staff members of this program, which has its offices near the OSU herbarium.

      Ken has been active in a number of professional societies, including the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (president, 1979), Botanical Society of America (chairperson, Systematics Section, 1965-67), and American Association for the Advancement of Science (executive committee, Pacific Division, 1984-90). His professional awards include a Career Merit Award from the Botanical Society of America, 1990; OSU Alumni Distinguished Professor Award, 1989; and appointment as Fellow of the AAAS, 1989. In 1967-68 he worked for the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., as Program Director for Systematic Biology.

      Ken remains every bit as active as he was before retirement.  His current research involves writing treatments of numerous genera for the Oregon Flora Checklist Project, preparing the Key to Genera for an upcoming new Manual of the Grasses of the United States, and completing the descriptions of several new taxa plus a monograph of Claytonia.  He also enjoys traveling to interesting corners of Oregon to collect plant specimens for the herbarium.  As a post-retirement hobby, he took up acting and has performed in seven consecutive productions in the OSU Theater Department's summer festival of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

      What about future careers for taxonomic botanists?  "There are enough taxonomic questions remaining about our flora to keep at least another generation or two busy for life," Ken says. 

 The Endowment

In 1999, Drs Kenton and Henrietta Chambers made a gift to establish the Oregon Flora Herbarium Endowment. To provide the initial funding, Dr. Ken Chambers sold a 40year old stamp collection.

The interest from the endowment will be used in support of the Oregon Flora Project.