Monday, December 29, 2003

Jane Claire Dirks-Edmunds: 1912 - 2003

Jane Claire Dirks-Edmunds
1912 - 2003

A memorial service for widely acclaimed Linfield professor emeritus and author Jane Claire Dirks-Edmunds was held 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004, in the activity room at Hillside Manor, 900 N.W. Hill Road, McMinnville.

Mrs. Dirks-Edmunds died Dec. 29, 2003, in Hillside Retirement Community. She was 91.

The youngest of 10 children, she was born June 9, 1912, in Baxter County in the Arkansas Ozarks, daughter of Peter B. and Lydia Gates Dirks. When she was about 6 months old, the family moved to Kansas and lived in several areas of the state. In 1924, the Dirks family moved to the Puget Sound area in Washington, then to the Umpqua Valley in Oregon the following year.

To that point, she had attended at least eight primarily one-room schools. She entered Roseburg High School and graduated in 1930. She then worked two years in the Douglas National Bank in Roseburg before enrolling at Linfield College in McMinnville in 1932. She graduated magna cum laude in 1937 with a bachelor's degree in biology.

She enrolled as a graduate assistant in zoology at the University of Illinois and four years later completed studies for a doctorate in the department of zoology, with a specialization in ecology.

With that, she became in 1941 one of Linfield's first two women graduates to receive doctoral degrees. That fall, at registration time, she responded to a request from Linfield to join the faculty as an instructor in biology and assistant to the registrar, thus becoming the first woman to hold a doctorate on the faculty. It remained that way for 33 years until she retired in 1974 as professor of biology, emerita.

She and Milton Ray Edmunds married Aug. 11, 1944, while she was on a leave of absence from Linfield to teach at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. She returned to McMinnville, and after a leave of a year, started teaching again at Linfield in 1946 as an assistant professor in the biology department.

Mrs. Dirks-Edmunds said of her husband: "His knowledge of forestry and interest in ecology was of invaluable assistance in my research and teaching. We shared many delightful experiences, as well as trials and tribulations."

They lived their entire married life in McMinnville. He preceded her in death in 1983.

A love of nature began in childhood for Mrs. Dirks-Edmunds. She said she became fascinated by the majestic ancient forests she found in the Northwest after moving west in 1924. She studied in the Sonora Desert in Arizona in 1967 and again in 1972, and also had a brief introduction to the ecology of Guatemala's Lake Atitlan and tropical forest. 

After retiring, she traveled to the Swiss Alps and other places in Europe; New York City and Shelter Island, N.Y.; Bar Harbor, Belfast and Orono, Maine; the Tall Grass Prairie of the Midwest as well as other sites, including many in Oregon.

She found writing, aside from teaching, her most cherished activity. She wrote a variety of short essays and poems, scientific papers and lectures. She listed her major contributions as her book, "Not Just Trees," the story of her research and life experiences in forest ecology; "Roots, Visions and Mission," the 125-year history of the First Baptist Church of McMinnville, written in 1992 at the request of the church's anniversary committee; and her doctoral thesis, "A Comparison of Biotic Communities of the Cedar-Hemlock and Oak-Hickory Associations," published in Ecological Monographs for July 1947.

She had been a member of the McMinnville First Baptist Church since 1944, and was a member of the scientific honorary, Sigma XI; a charter member of the Oregon Academy of Science; and an emeritus member of the Ecological Society of Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Save-the-Redwoods League and Defenders of Wildlife. For a number of years she was listed in "American Men and Women of Science."

Mrs. Dirks-Edmunds is survived by three sisters, Myrtle Hartley of McMinnville, Dorothy Voodell of Ashland and Alice Beck of El Dorado Springs, Mo.; 11 nieces and nephews and numerous grand- and great-grandnieces and nephews, as well as numerous friends and loyal former students.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Jane Claire Dirks-Edmunds Lectureship at Linfield College, the McMinnville Baptist Church, The Ocean Conservancy and The Wilderness Society. Disposition was by cremation at Little Chapel of the Chimes, Portland.