Edward W. Scheer ’54, 1932-2011

The Impact of One Life

Edward W. Scheer ’54

By George E. Brown III ’70

It was with sadness and awe that I read of Professor Edward W. Scheer’s passing in the Spring 2011 issue of Rollins Magazine. Many people read the obit and moved on; some it touched.

In 1966, I was an idealistic freshman wanting to make a mark for ecology. Of course, I hadn’t the slightest idea how or what ecology really was all about. But I wanted to study biology and had Professor Scheer as my advisor and teacher.

At first, he was intimidating. Larger than life with a no-holdsbarred, full-steam-ahead attitude; it was his way or no way. What had I gotten myself into? I felt as though I had failed miserably, and it was only his first lecture. Over time, my reticence and fears eased. I found him to be a warm, caring teacher who delighted not only in making you think, but in pulling out your character, molding it, and transforming it into a mature scholar and scientist. He would raise a question, challenge you to answer it or perform a task, and then show you a new way of thinking, a different approach to your reasoning.

With the strictness came a sense of humor. He was a jokester. At one lecture, he brought out a canvas bag and placed it on the stage in front of the podium. As the talk progressed, the bag started to move and flop. It started to lurch, twist, and turn around, and finally as he made his last point, the cat clawed itself out of the bag and raced across the stage. The audience was laughing uncontrollably. Prof. Scheer said, “Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag…” and gave us our next assignment.

He was a mentor. I was not the brightest student, far from it, and by my junior year was questioning my career choice and future. Professor Scheer sat and counseled me for what seemed to be hours. We talked of biology, hopes, and dreams. He encouraged me to get out of the classroom and to attend a summer biology station.

As a result, I went to Mountain Lake Biological Station sponsored by the University of Virginia. There I met scientists and professors studying the relationships between birds, insects, molds, etc. True ecology. From there I went to UVA, obtaining my first master’s degree in 1972 and to Miami University, Oxford, obtaining my second in 1978. I started as an entomologist and became a benthic biologist for Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois and the Ohio EPA.

What is the impact of one life? Professor Edward Scheer took a frightened boy and turned him into a man, formed a student into a scholar, and showed him that dreams are possible. This is the type of teacher that inspires, not only by knowledge, but by caring about the student and molding him into the person he can become.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ed Scheer taught biology at Rollins from 1958 to 1995. He received numerous National Science Foundation grants for advanced research in biology and founded the College’s environmental studies program in 1970.

By Steve Phelan, Professor Emeritus of English

Rollins has lost one of its outstanding interdisciplinary teachers, retired associate professor of biology Edward W. Scheer. Trained at Harvard as a geologist, Ed was the driving force behind the creation of a new department of environmental studies.

I first remember Ed from the many meetings he called in Bush 222. It was the early 1970’s. Faculty of several departments, we sat underneath a rafter of pythons and other stuffed wildlife. Our purpose at first was to set up a program where students interested in the environment could carve their own major out of existing courses in biology and other departments.

As more and more students took advantage of this opportunity, faculty outside biology started to teach interdisciplinary courses for the program. That was when Ed asked if I would like to team teach a winter term course in Environmental Literata. His basic texts were all news to me (Leopold, Hardin, Odum), whereas he knew America’s great nature writers quite well and added Abbey to my list. He thoroughly enjoyed the nature writing I assigned and insisted on providing his own feedback to each student.

Team teaching is an intimate enterprise of the imagination. I learned a great deal about the practice of field trips from Ed, a marvelous interplay of very careful planning and spontaneous interaction with the natural world. Each trip generated as well a whole list of new questions that Ed was always careful to pursue later in the classroom, reinforcing each student’s curiosity and experience in the field.

The success of his leadership in environmental studies was due to the broad scope of his reading, filling every square foot of his office and bookshelves in two homes. He naturally linked his own interests with those of us in art, history, literature, politics, religion, and philosophy. He was the reason we have an environmental studies department, in 1982 one of the first of its kind.

Ed was born in New England, but his heart was in the mountains of Wyoming, a westerner. A prodigious hiker, skier, and camper, as soon as school was out, he went straight to his cabin under the Tetons and invited all his friends to come and visit. His hospitality was legendary among his local tennis buddies and Rollins colleagues. It seems as though half the people I know have stories to tell of visits out west with Ed.

Even those who locked horns with Ed in faculty and department debates--Ed was passionate about preserving the interdisciplinary experience which he had as a Rollins undergraduate (class of ‘54)--found themselves in the lap of Ed’s kindness, looking at the spectacular western vistas, swimming in hot springs, and touring the Lamar Valley. Out there we all learned the measure of Ed’s environmental activism as we drove through Yellowstone or down into Jackson Hole. A generous soul leaves a profound legacy.