Nature through a camera’s lens
For more than three decades, Bob Gress has been introducing Kansans and visitors from beyond its borders to all the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians the Sunflower State has to offer. As director of Wichita’s Great Plains Nature Center since its 1996 opening, Gress helped shape the concept and mission of the center, which sees more than 150,000 visitors each year.
Gress (BA 1974, MA 1976) is retiring, though. His last day as director of the Great Plains Nature Center is Friday, Sept. 14.
Telling the story of wildlife, plants and habitats of the Great Plains has been a labor of love for Gress. An avid hunter growing up in Marshall County, near Axtell, Gress discovered he could substitute a camera for a gun.
“With a camera, I could shoot anything as many times as I wanted,” Gress said in an interview with the Wichita Eagle’s Beccy Tanner. More than 4,000 of his wildlife photographs have been published in a variety of books, magazines, posters, brochures, calendars and postcards.
In his job as a naturalist for the city of Wichita, Gress annually gives between 200 and 300 talks to schools, churches and other groups. He started the Wichita Wild urban nature education program, and has produced a series of books on prairie natural history.
An accomplished photographer, Gress has contributed images to a long list of books on prairie natural history, beginning with “Natural Kansas” in 1985. Gress co-authored “The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots,” which was named a 2009 Kansas Notable Book. The Kansas Ornithological Society named Gress its Avian Conservationist of the Year in 2008.
In 2010, Emporia State University named Gress a Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor the university confers upon graduates. In retirement, he plans to do freelance work and occasional traveling with his wife, Mary Butel (BSE 1972, MS 1974).