June 28, 1931 – May 28, 2021
Born in Fargo, ND
Resided in Lincoln, NE

Paul Austin Johnsgard

Paul Austin Johnsgard died May 28, 2021, in Lincoln, NE. He was born June 28, 1931, in Fargo, N.D., the son of Alfred Bernard and Yvonne Marguerite Johnsgard (née Morgan). He grew up learning the prairie plants of his grandparents’ farm in North Dakota near Christine, and roaming the woods of the Red River valley. After graduating from Wahpeton high school, and completing two years of junior college in Wahpeton, he transferred to the N.D. Agricultural College (now N.D.S.U.) in Fargo to complete majors in zoology and botany (B.S., 1953). In 1955 he completed a M.S. degree from Washington State College (now W.S.U.) based on his research on wetland ecology in central Washington, and that same year married Lois Miriam Lampe of Dubuque, Iowa. He completed a Ph.D. at Cornell University (1959), researching waterfowl evolution, and pioneering the application of egg-white protein data to avian taxonomy with his doctoral advisor, Charles G. Sibley. He then spent two years in England doing research on waterfowl behavioral evolution on National Science Foundation and N.I.H. postdoctoral fellowships. In 1961 he accepted a faculty position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He was promoted to full professorship by 1969, and in 1980 was named an UN-L Foundation Professor of Biological Sciences. Over a career of 40 years at UN-L he directed twelve students to Ph.D. degrees and twelve to M.S. degrees, and taught zoology, ecology, ornithology, and animal behavior to more than 7,000 students. After retiring in 2001, he was named UN-L Foundation Professor Emeritus.

Paul and Lois had four children, Jay Erik, Scott Kenneth, Ann Yvonne, and Karin Luisa. He was preceded in death by his parents, his son Jay Erik, and grandson Scott Kenneth, Jr. He is survived by his wife Lois and their other three children (who collectively have earned four M.S. and two Ph.D. degrees) as well as by six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

During his UN-L career and after retirement he published 90 scholarly non-fiction books and monographs, including nine world monographs on major avian groups. He also published four books exclusively in digital format, wrote six popular books of fiction and/or poetry, and edited or illustrated four additional books. He also published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, and wrote about 150 nature-related articles for magazines or similar publications. Nearly all his published works were illustrated with his own drawings and photos. His 100-plus books collectively total more than 20,000 pages, contain an estimated 2.75 million words, and occupy more than seven feet of shelf space. His writings have been downloaded over 450,000 times worldwide through the University of Nebraska’s Digital Commons library.

While at UN-L, Paul became the first faculty member to receive all of the university’s most prestigious awards: its Distinguished Teaching Award, its Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award, and an Honorary Doctor of Science degree. Major national recognitions included a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the National Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Achievement Award, the National Audubon Society’s Charles H. Callahan Award, and the American Ornithologists’ Society’s Ralph Schreiber Conservation Award, all in recognition of his ornithological research, writing, and conservation work. Much of Paul’s later writings concerned the biology and conservation of cranes. He also wrote sixteen books about Nebraska and its natural history, and some additional books on the biology and history of the Great Plains.

In 1999 he was chosen by the Omaha World Herald as one of 100 “Extraordinary Nebraskans” of the past century, and was similarly named one of the 100 outstanding Nebraskans of the 20th century by the Lincoln Journal Star. In 2015 he was chosen by Esquire Magazine to be among 50 Americans “with style”—he was 12 years older than any of the other individuals named. In 2017 he was included by the Lincoln Journal Star among 150 “Notable Nebraskans” in celebration of the state’s 150th anniversary.

A Celebration of Life event will be held June 20, 3 p.m. CDT, at the Lincoln Unitarian Church.

Virtual Service ZOOM information as follows:

UCL Zoom zoom@unitarianlincoln.org is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Johnsgard Celebration of Life
Time: Jun 20, 2021 03:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 931 4192 1447

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Cards may be sent to Ann Bouma, 5831 Sunrise Road, Lincoln, NE 68510-4050, or aybouma@gmail.com. In lieu of flowers, memorials should be directed to Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center P. O. Box 117, Denton, NE, 68339, or L. A. Rowe Sanctuary, 44450 Elm Island Road, Gibbon, NE 68440.

For additional biographical information see: “My Life in Biology” (in At Home and at Large in the Great Plains, Zea Books, Lincoln, NE) or http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/biosciornithology/25/

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