Former professor of botany, Howard Reynolds, leaves $800,000 gift to Sternberg Museum

FHSU University Relations and Marketing

HAYS, Kan. — Dr. Howard Reynolds, a former professor of botany, left an estate gift of more than $800,000 that now supports the management and preservation of botanical collections at Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History. The gift also supports the Dr. Howard Reynolds Arboretum, which is located on three acres of property immediately west of the museum.

Reynolds named the FHSU Foundation as the beneficiary of his estate, and by doing so became a member of the Lyman Dwight Wooster Society, which recognizes individuals who make a deferred gift to the Foundation. These generous and visionary individuals ensure a strong future for Fort Hays State and the education of western Kansans.

University and museum officials gathered for a news conference at the museum today to talk about the impact of the gift.

“Dr. Reynolds was one of our own, a beloved instructor and renowned botanist,” said Tim Chapman, president and CEO of the Foundation. “In 2011, Dr. Reynolds made public the legacy gift of his estate to Fort Hays State. In addition to his profound impact on our university, we are honored to announce that his estate gift, including his scientific collections, total more than $800,000. While we miss his unique personality, we are grateful that of all the institutions and museums that he could have left his remarkable collections to, he chose Fort Hays State because it was his home.”

Dr. Reynolds was a professor of botany and curator of the Elam Bartholomew Herbarium at Fort Hays State from 1957 through 1984. He was especially proud of his role in directing many students in plant studies, especially in the taxonomy of plants. In retirement, he continued collecting specimens and educating the community on the diversity of flora found on the High Plains.

He died April 10, 2014, at HaysMed from complications of pneumonia at the age of 99.

“I did not arrive here quite in time to meet Dr. Reynolds, but I understand he was a larger than life gentleman, and the many stories I’ve heard make me feel as though I knew him,” said Dr. Mirta M. Martin, who became FHSU’s president in July 2014. “I know that Dr. Reynolds was the very epitome of what it means to be one of our people of excellence. He touched the lives of so many students, and now with this generous gift, he will continue to impact young lives as an enduring part of the Tiger family.”

Dr. Joe Thomasson, a former-student-turned-colleague, caregiver to Dr. Reynolds and retired FHSU botany professor, shared some of his personal memories:

“Of all the mantras that Howard Reynolds lived by, ‘Learn as if you are going to live forever. Live as if you are going to die tomorrow,’ most accurately reflected his life. He lived by that mantra, and I can remember looking through a garden log of mine from 2001 and coming across my reflections on how truly amazing the depth of Howard’s knowledge really was. His breadth of knowledge on many topics was astounding, but of plants, there was no equal.

“He was one of the few, maybe the only, instructors that I had throughout my life that never embellished anything. You could count on what he said to be true, without exaggeration. If he said it, that’s how it was.

“He kept meticulous diaries of his WWII experiences as a malarial control officer that are in the archives at Forsyth Library. I wanted them to go to the national archives, but Howard was insistent on making sure that they were kept local. He wanted them to be accessible, so they will be available to read at the library for those who are interested. It wasn’t until I read through many of his journal entries that I realized that in addition to being a very gentle person, he was also a real-life war hero. Many people have no idea the depths of human depravity that he saw during WWII. He was a remarkable man.”

Dr. Reese Barrick, director of the Sternberg Museum, also shared his recollections of Dr. Reynolds:

“I first met Howard in September of 2009 at an Optimist Club meeting in the Golden Corral. After my presentation, 95-year-old Howard walks up to introduce himself and begins to inform me about the fossil flowers that he discovered just down the road from Hays and how they were the earliest fossil flowers ever found in North America. I didn’t know exactly what to make of this introduction other than this was a very pleasant (dare I say optimistic) and articulate gentleman. I soon came to learn how true this story was. One of these flowers is in our collections.

“In the history of Fort Hays State, there have been only four curators of the herbarium. In 1929, Elam Bartholomew became the original curator. It was in 1957 that Dr. Reynolds became the curator of the Elam Bartholomew Herbarium, a position that he kept until 1982.

“Dr. Reynolds taught at FHSU and served as curator for 25 years. The number of students that he infected with a love of learning and of plants during this time is astounding, as are his contributions to both the herbarium collections and to the paleobotany collections. Half of the gift that he has given the museum will serve to create a new 3-acre arboretum on the grounds of the museum’s nature trails that bear his name, providing a valuable resource for FHSU students and the Hays community.

“The other half of Howard’s gift ensures the resources to protect and grow the herbarium and paleobotany collections at the museum and spur on botanical research. There are 50,000 specimens of vascular plants in the herbarium and there are more than 10,000 unmounted specimens that are in need of curation. His gift will also provide a seed to endow a curator or collections manager position.”

Dr. Reynolds received the Excellence in Botany Award in the state of Kansas in 2008. A number of fossil plants, Nasella reynoldsii (a grass seed), Prisca reynoldsii (a flowering stem) and Reynoldsiophyllum nebrascense (a leaf), have been named for him by his professional colleagues in recognition of his contributions to teaching, discovery, and research in botany and paleobotany. For many years, area grade school students received a Red Bud sapling from his arboretum on Arbor Day. In addition, his wildflower tours were a popular summer activity.

A member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Dr. Reynolds served in the South Pacific, where he was a participant in the amphibious invasion at the Gulf of Leyte in the Philippines on October 20, 1944. He spoke several languages, including Russian, French, German, Spanish, and as he liked to say, “some English.” He was also an accomplished pianist and dancer and was a volunteer and longtime member of several civic groups, including the Optimist Club and Red Cross.

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