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April 22, 2020
In the World

#EarthDay2020

Remembering Sustainability Advocate and Professor Emeritus of Biology Lou Laux

As the world celebrates Earth Day 2020, the Wittenberg community is remembering Professor Emeritus of Biology Louis J. Laux Jr., a passionate advocate for environmental sustainability and the namesake of a prestigious campus award. He died April 10, 2020, at the age of 90.

Born in Hempstead, New York, Laux earned his B.A. and M.A. at Hofstra College and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Michigan. He joined the Wittenberg faculty in 1959 and taught courses in ecology, ornithology, evolution, and environmental topics until his retirement in 1991.

An educator dedicated to active learning and an avid gardener and birdwatcher, Laux engaged his students in studies on local bird and reptile populations that led to scholarly presentations and publications. His teaching and research took him to England, the Galapagos Islands, and Costa Rica, where he took a group of students in the summer of 1987 to study the flora and fauna of diverse ecosystems, as well as human impacts on the environment. He also was instrumental in the establishment of Cedar Bog Nature Preserve in Urbana, Ohio.

In the 1980s, Laux’s interest in an environmentally sustainable lifestyle led him to create an urban home food production system on his property in Springfield, raising vegetables, chickens, and rabbits and using solar panels as an energy source.  

Laux and his wife, Ann, spent the first part of their retirement in northern Georgia, where they built a home that was energy and resource efficient. They also participated in classes at Young Harris College, and Lou taught class sessions through the college’s Institute of Continuing Learning. When they returned to Springfield to live at Mercy Health Oakwood Village, the couple spearheaded efforts to replace a mown field on the property with a prairie that, according to his family, “gave [Lou] much joy as it bloomed over the years.” With its proximity to a woodland, he was able to enjoy his favorite pastime – birdwatching.  

In 2010, Wittenberg established an annual award in Laux’s name to celebrate the efforts of those who have promoted broader understanding and good practices in an effort to encourage environmental sustainability on campus and in the community. The award is given to one student and one faculty or staff member each April at the annual Honors Convocation.

Meredith Zajac, a geology major from the class of 2013, was the first student recipient of the award.

What a wonderful man. I loved the limited time we had together. He definitely was a catalyst in my pursuit to teach environmental education.
Meredith Zajac, currently serving as a Climate Corps Fellow through AmeriCorps

Rick Incorvati, professor of English and past recipient of the award, had the following words of remembrance about his friend and former colleague:

“Through many phases of his life, Lou Laux was remarkable for his vision of sustainable living, for being an example to the rest of us when it came to responsible choices, and for the joyful and deeply humane spirit that he brought to so much that he did.

His curiosity and good humor were infectious, and when in 2010 Wittenberg instituted the Lou Laux Environmental Sustainability Award, he took pleasure in having lunch with the recipients every spring so that he could learn about the particular passions that young environmentalists had for sustainable living. The Sustainability Task Force wanted to honor Lou’s work in naming the award after him, but for him, I think this namesake recognition primarily served as an opportunity to connect with kindred spirits.

Lou was a treasure, and he left a lot of us feeling grateful that he found so many opportunities, generation after generation, to share his gifts with others.”

Professor of Geology John Ritter got to know Laux after he returned to Springfield and discovered they shared many common interests. While flipping through a 1976 yearbook a few years ago, Ritter came across these words that Laux penned in memory of Dr. Martin Johnson: “Martin Johnson was a steward of the earth. We will honor him by understanding and caring for the earth as he undoubtedly did. We will honor him each time we resist those who would exploit our heritage of resources and land without regard to future generations. We will honor him by our posture and acts of resource stewardship and wise use of land.”

Reflecting on these words in the context of Laux’s passing, Ritter said, “You could say that Lou was just a man of the times when he wrote this – not long after the original Earth Day and at a time when we were passing some of the most breathtaking legislation related to clean air and clean water – but that he stayed true to these ideals for his entire life, that he put them to practice in his own life every day since, is what is truly remarkable about the man.”

An active member of the Springfield community, Laux participated in Wittenberg’s Upward Bound program, taught in-service and outdoor workshops for the public schools, and served on Springfield’s Board of Park Trustees, Youth Symphony Orchestra, and Clark County’s Solid Waste Committee. He is survived by his wife, Ann; his three children Renate (Neil) Bernstein, Chris (Gail) Laux and Erica (Bob) Parnisari and his four granddaughters and two grandsons-in-law, Anya Bernstein (Brandon Wlosinski), Sarah Laux Mace (Daniel), Lexi Bernstein and Caroline Parnisari. He was preceded in death by his granddaughter Samantha Laux.

Sustainability At Wittenberg
Named one of America's Top Green Colleges by The Princeton Review, Wittenberg has been "going green" by emphasizing sustainability in its academic programs, co-curricular activities, and opportunities for student research and internships.
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Debbie Ritter
Debbie Ritter
Writer and Content Editor

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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