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Dow V. Baxter
LSA Minutes


When Dow Vawter Baxter joined the faculty of the Department of Forestry at The University of Michigan in 1926 he was by far its youngest member; nearly forty years later he was its oldest. By the time of his normal retirement he would have equalled the record for length of service set by veteran Leigh J. Young.

During this period Dow distinguished himself as teacher, investigator, explorer, author, and photographer. He was not one of those who think the campus would be a fine place if it were not for the students, with whom his relations were always close and friendly. He often invited them to join in his coffee breaks; he participated enthusiastically in their fall campfires and Paul Bunyan Balls, his "May Musicales" were gala events for current and former members of his classes in forest pathology; he took selected students with him on his Alaskan expeditions not merely as assistants but for their companionship and to broaden their horizons.

As a scientist, his interest centered on diseases of forest trees, wheth¬er these were due to physiological factors or to parasitic organisms. In particular, no resupinate polypore was safe from his inquisitive eyes. But study of diseases was not an end in itself; it was a means of acquiring and applying information that would result in more effective forest management. It is significant that his textbook on the subject is not entitled "Forest Pathology" but "Pathology in Forest Practice." He was first and last a forester, who always insisted that the best approach to specialization in pathology or any other field is through a broad program of education in forestry as a whole.

Dow's two chief outdoor laboratories were far apart in character, size, and location--the man made Saginaw Forest of 80 acres near Ann Arbor and the untamed wilderness of 365 million acres in Alaska. Together, they provided a wealth of complementary information from which he developed pathological and managerial philosophies and principles of general application. These, rather than mere facts, he constantly stressed in his teaching, writing, and lecturing.

Although Alaska was his favorite summer resort, he traveled widely in northern latitudes. His many expeditions led to the coveted distinction of election to the Explorers Club. He greatly enjoyed the stimulating contacts with its distinguished members, and he was particularly pleased last spring when a public lecture before the Club, followed by leadership of a seminar for high school students, brought a personal commendation from Lowell Thomas.

As an author, Dow was well known both for his scientific writings on tree diseases and for his more popular accounts of his travels. "On and Off Alaskan Trails," his first venture in the latter field, was followed by many articles with such intriguing titles as "Arctic Twilight," "A Toast to Skagway," "The Chilkoot Trail," "I'll Take the Byway," and "Three for the Gander." His latest contribution, "Our Land Speaks (Dena' -Nena' -Henash)," which is in essence an argument against construction of the proposed Rampart Dam, closes with this paragraph that is eloquent of his concern for unspoiled nature and its Indian denizens:

"The lure of Alaska and the Yukon comes in the form of unfenced space, the game, the fish, the wildness. The land speaks out through its poet friends, and the Americans who have lived on it as long as we have records of man in Alaska. They say: As long as the trout and salmon are in the streams, there will be freedom."

Dow's photography displayed his dual talent as scientist and as artist. His pictures of fungi and their environment are meticulously accurate; those of scenery and of people are outstanding from the standpoints of composition and of human interest. Both stills and movies, whether shown privately, at exhibitions, or in lectures, have provided a thrill for those so fortunate as to have seen them.

As a person, Dow was essentially an individualist. He liked to do things his own way. Routine he found not only boring but stifling. Originality and novelty were cardinal virtues. He was ever in search of new ideas, of new ways to present old ideas, of a striking title for a film, an article, or a lecture. He realized that attractive presentation as well as solid substance is necessary to get and to hold the attention of auditor or reader.

Friendliness and sociability were among Dow's most prominent characteristics. He visited frequently with colleagues throughout the University, many of whom in fields far removed from forestry he knew well. He just naturally liked people, including those with whose views he disagreed or whose competence he questioned. Though not a hero worshipper, three men he set on pedestals: "Daddy" Filibert Roth, beloved and respected master, whose long hand lecture notes were one of Dow's treasured possessions; C.H. Kauffman, pioneer forest pathologist, kindly mentor, and director of his graduate studies; and E.J. Kraus, eminent botanist, inspiring teacher, and intimate friend from the early days of their association at the University of Wisconsin.

Dow was a bundle of physical and nervous energy, which was well exemplified in his famous laugh. He enjoyed roughing it in Alaska; the strenuous game of handball was his favorite sport. He was always exuberant, always on the go, unfailingly cheerful. For instance, both the weather, no matter how unpleasant to the rest of us, and his health, no matter what its real state, to him were invariably fine. Even his first heart attack did little to dampe his spirits or to slow him down. We can be sure that he left this world as he would have wished, without fuss and without becoming a burden either to himself or to others.

Dow Baxter's life is aptly described by his own favorite phrase: "Mighty Fine!"

Samuel T. Dana