David Evans, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Biology

DavidEvansDavid died on September 20, 2016. He was 77 years old, four days shy of his 78th birthday, and doing one of the things he loved most–taking a walk on a trail. David’s 39-year career at Kalamazoo College began in 1965 and concluded with his retirement in 2004. “Biology is magnificent,” he once said, “and humbling, and goofy. In some sense, biology is best approached with a good eye for silliness, for it is stuffed with paradoxes, irony, and the ridiculous. This aspect of the subject is often the most engaging for non-majors, but it never fails to lead to more sophisticated material. I often used this movement from the ridiculous to the sublime as a teaching strategy in my courses.”

David’s area of specialty was insect behavior, and two important (and related) themes of his teaching and research were seasonality and adaptation. He earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Carleton College and his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. His research was published in numerous journals, and he received many academic grants during his career.

His work took him to Africa many times. In 1982 he was a Fulbright professor of Biological Sciences at Njala University College at the University of Sierra Leone. In the early 1990s he visited the continent to study locust migrations on behalf of the United States Agency for International Development. His work and study in Africa became the basis for one of his K courses, “Ecology of Africa.” In 1995 he received the Frances Diebold Award for Contributions to the College Community, and in 1998 the faculty awarded him its highest teaching honor, the Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching. Those awards were related, in part, to the K marine ecology courses he co-taught with the late David Winch (professor emeritus of physics) on site at San Salvador Island and Jewfish Cay in the Caribbean. “On campus,” he said, “the class handled gray rubbery specimens preserved in jars. In San Salvador the students experienced the organisms alive and in color, and observed how they behaved in their habitat. It was like having one’s eyesight restored.”

Near and after his retirement he served during the summers as a naturalist at Fort Abercrombie State Park on Kodiak Island, Alaska. He loved that assignment, in part because of the “really cool truck” he drove, but mostly because of the liberal arts breadth of the work. In addition to naturalist, he worked as the island’s historian (delving into the area’s World War II days, in particular), and he wrote a weekly column for the island’s newspaper. Shortly after his final courses in a K classroom (spring term 2004) David served as “ship’s biology teacher” in a Semester-at-Sea program that circumnavigated the globe, with stops that included Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Cuba. And long into his retirement he often contacted the College with alerts regarding the achievements of his former students, both majors and non-majors.

David always loved the liberal arts, a passion closely related to his academic and research interest in adaptation. He believed that the liberal arts was the best educational model to develop a broader range of reference and a better sense of humor, traits he considered essential for adaptation in careers and life in general.

He died taking a walk, an activity he loved (particularly along an ocean shore) and that he wrote about in his August 29, 2001, column in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, his final column for that summer’s season.

“For me, the last tide pool walks mean that the park season is winding down….[T]idepooling is one of the most unpredictable park activities in which I’m involved. We seem to have a particularly good time when children are along…

“There’s an Alutiq saying that expresses tidal rhythms in terms of using plants and animals as food: When the tide goes out, the table is set; When the tide comes in, the dishes are washed. The saying gets to the same rhythmic renewal that makes me appreciate this kind of field activity so much. I know I can go down to an area where I’ve been dozens of times, and I can be guaranteed of seeing something new and wondrous.”

2 thoughts on “David Evans, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Biology

  1. Christopher Potter

    November, 2016

    To the Kalamazoo College Community and Family of Professor David Evans,

    As a biology graduate (K ’82), I was most saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. David Evans in September of this year. Dr. Evans I crossed paths in biology many times over the past 30+ years, and we stayed in touch even as he took my two young children on a guided field trip on Kodiak Island in Alaska about 10 years ago. Needless to say, our kids learned more about sea stars and sculpins that day than they ever dreamed!

    David Evans was the first professor I had in a class at K College as a freshman in 1978. He was my main academic advisor at K for all four years and I took every class he taught. I was his laboratory teaching assistant and talked with him regularly as it became time to select a graduate program. I was awarded both the Jones and the Blinks Prizes in Biology from the Department, I suspect largely due to Dr. Evans’ endorsements. I went on to earn my Master’s and Doctorate degrees at Emory University in Ecology and Earth Sciences, and I give a great deal of credit to Dr. Evans for his inspiration and as example of a field biologist who loved to work outside in nature and learn something new every day. Dr. Evans found joy and laughter in the exploration of the natural world, and no organism was too small to be trivial in his vision of an ecosystem worth knowing.

    After completing my doctoral studies in 1987, I lived and worked with my wife (Lisa Mammel, K ’84) for a year in the North African country of Tunisia, during which time we were impressed by enormous swarms of desert locusts that appeared in West Africa for the first time in thirty years. At the same time, Dr. Evans began to study the migrations and impacts of the locusts on behalf of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Upon our return to the U. S., I was awarded a two-year fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to work with the U. S. State Department and USAID as an advisor and project manager for agriculture and forestry programs based in Washington DC. I soon found myself exchanging notes with Dr. Evans, who was becoming one of the world’s experts on locust control issues. During my numerous return trips for USAID to West Africa over the next several years, I corresponded with Dr. Evans about his experiences in sustainable development of the region, and he continued to enlighten me with his humanity and compassion for the people of the continent.

    I stayed in touch with Dr. Evans by email for several years thereafter. As we were planning a wilderness trip to Alaska in 2005, I learned that Dr. Evans was spending his summers as a field guide and naturalist at Fort Abercrombie State Park on Kodiak Island. We were spending a week in a remote cabin on the Kodiak Chain watching grizzly bears and fishing for halibut, so I called Dr. Evans and asked we could spend the day with him exploring the State Park, along with our two children. They had more fun learning about king tides and every little fish in the sea that day than any kid in the state. When we said goodbye that afternoon in Alaska, it was the last time I would see David Evans. I thanked him for being my mentor, colleague, and friend for over 25 years. He was truly an inspirational “one-of-a-kind” teacher, and his laughter will be greatly missed.

    Sincerely – Christopher Potter (K ’82)
    Moffett Field, California

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  2. David Badman (1969-1974)

    I joined rhe K College Biology faculty in October 1969. David Evans was the Chaiman at the time. He immediately impressed me as a exceptionally congenial person. It was not long before I recognized his gifts as a scholar and teacher. He had a gift for organizing events that would capture the imagination of his students. We became what I think of fast friends. His lively sense of humor made the Department a joy. He was irreverent, but focused on the development of his students.
    In a small college, there are many members of the faculty who are overbearing and protrctive of their fiefdoms. Not David.

    He was a good friend and I mourn his early passing. He will be forever in my thoughts, as will Ulla.

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