We dedicate these pages to H. A. Stephens (1906 - 1986) who spent a lifetime in biology education and botanical research and collecting. Steve, as he was fondly known by students and faculty, grew up in Emporia on a family farm that has since become Jones Park. He picked apples, went to French class with Mary White, daughter of William Allen White, and he later reminisced that “he started his love of nature on the farm.” That love of nature brought him to Emporia State University where he served as an adjunct professor of biology in 1951 and he joined the faculty in 1954 as a part time instructor and educational outreach teacher.
He was a graduate of ESU in 1927 when the university was Kansas State Teachers College. He earned a Master’s Degree in teaching from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University in New York. In 1955 he accepted a fellowship to do doctoral work at the University of Colorado, however, his desire to be a naturalist was too great for him to complete the work. He came back to Kansas to his first love, plants.
Steve Stephens was the first full-time plant collector at the R. L. McGregor Herbarium at the University of Kansas from 1966 to 1976. He collected over 90,000 plant specimens in these years. Most of his plants are in the collections at KU and the University of North Carolina, however, many of them were donated to ESU and became a major portion of our herbarium collection. He was an authority on flora of the Great Plains and a 1975 issue of the Plant Science Bulletin claimed that he had collected plants in every county of the region from Canada to Mexico.
These were some of his most productive years. He authored three books, Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines in Kansas (1969), Woody Plants of the North Central Great Plains (1973), and Poisonous Plants of the Central United States (1980). He wrote numerous short articles and was a contributor to the Kansas School Naturalist. His Naturalist issues, Cacti in Kansas (1962) and Kansas Sunflowers (1981) have been reprinted many times.
Steve Stephens spent his later years in retirement in a small house he built at the Ross Natural History Reservation, one of ESU’s natural areas. He continued to collect plants to help build the ESU Herbarium. He served as the unofficial “Naturalist” for countless numbers of school children, scouts, and their parents. He was hard at work on a book on the identification of over 2000 plant seeds from the Great Plains when he died in 1986.
Illustration by Iralee Barnard
Photos by [left to right] Greg Sievert, Laurie Robbins, Laurie Robbins, Laurie Robbins