Dr. Melinda F. Denton
Bachelor of Science in Education 1965
Melinda F. Denton, a farm girl from Doniphan County, Kansas, brought her love of botany and her passion to find order in nature to her student years at ESU. Under the watchful eye of Dr. James S. Wilson, she became an intrepid collector of plants and a skilled herbarium taxonomist, all while earning her BSE degree in 1965. She went on to earn her doctorate at the University of Michigan and from there she entered the world of academic botany at the University of Washington. She was a teacher, first order researcher, and a tireless mentor of graduate students. Her research interests were in the systematics of vascular plants, especially Oxalis on which her Ph.D. was based, and Sedum, which occupied much of her research energy in subsequent years, their evolutionary processes, and their geographic distribution. In 1972 she replaced Dr. C. Leo Hitchcock, author of the Flora of the Pacific Northwest, as Professor of Plant Systematics and Curator of the University of Washington Herbarium. She extended the legacy of the herbarium while guiding it well into modern times until her untimely death in 1994. Throughout her all too short career she was ever mindful of the real world of living plants, lessons that she learned at ESU, while she reached out for funds to develop the herbarium. She enlisted the help of students and faculty as well as pioneering a program that recruited skilled volunteers to identify, access, and prepare specimens for the herbarium. While accomplishing her goals for the herbarium, she also served as Chair of the Botany Department for eight years. Dr. Denton is remembered for the numerous publications and book chapters that she authored, the numerous Masters and Ph.D. students she trained, and for the Annual Melinda F. Denton Lecture Series and Graduate Fellowship at the University of Washington that was endowed in her name. Melinda Denton was married to State Representative and State Senator Donn Charnley and they have one son, Alan. Dr. Charnley, who was also a Geology Professor, said “that he and Melinda both shared a deep knowledge and love of the Earth.” At the time of her death, a colleague remembered her as “a great lady who has impressed the fabric of our lives and will not be forgotten.” We, at ESU, remember her as the finest of botanists and as a beacon of light for young women in the sciences.
Illustration by Iralee Barnard
Photos by [left to right] Greg Sievert