I was born in 1933 in Murphysboro in southern Illinois. My undergraduate work (1951-1955) was at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale, eight miles away. I majored in zoology taking such courses as ecology and limnology from Willard Gersbacher (a student of Victor E. Shelford) and wildlife conservation from W.D. Klimstra. My botany minor included plant ecology and plant geography with John Voigt (whose major professor was John Weaver of the University of Nebraska).

I took a Ph.D.(1959) at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) with S. Charles Kendeigh, who was Shelford’s successor. Shelford still had an office at the Vivarium Building and worked there every weekday completing The Ecology of North America. I also learned a great deal from the plant ecologist Arthur G. Vestal. Most of Kendeigh’s students in the mid to late 1950s were working on physiological ecology projects, mainly energy balance in various finches. My thesis topic, however, dealt with the ecological and evolutionary relationships of black-capped and Carolina chickadees (Poecile atricapillus and P. carolinensis)

Photo (1979) by Philip Brewer

Photo (1979) by Philip Brewer

After completing my degree, I moved to Michigan and spent 37 years in the Biology Department at Western Michigan University.

Before retirement in 1996, I taught courses in ecology, conservation biology, and ornithology. Like Kendeigh and Shelford, I’ve been interested in these topics as subjects both for research and for practical societal application. These interests began earlier than graduate school. I was one of seven students who graduated from Murphysboro Township High School between 1948 and 1952 that went on to obtain doctorates in biology. The other six were Bill Hardy, Tom Collins, Pat Hatcher, Bob Mohlenbrock, Kenny Stewart, and Wallace Weber. The school of about 450 students was a hotbed of biological study stemming mostly from the encouragement of the biology teacher, E. Esther Smith.

Some research topics that have particularly interested me include how birds become distributed (behaviorally and evolutionarily) into different vegetation types, the evolution of life histories of both birds and plants, and how vegetation changes, or doesn’t change, with time. Most of my research has dealt with organisms and ecosystems in southwest Michigan.

I have two excellent sons, both grown–Philip, who has returned to his birthplace of Champaign-Urbana, and Steven, who lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. Both have interesting websites which include, among other things, on-line journals. Steve has two sons, in school in Amherst.


Photo of Phil and Steve 1971 copyright © 2003 Richard Brewer