A budding legacy

Professor's dream turns into an outdoor living classroom
By Emil Rampacek Jr. ('76)

Originally published in Spring 2008, this is just one of many stories from Madison magazine's award-winning Professors You Love series, written by JMU students and alumni, about the professors that have made the most impact on their lives — then, and now.

Professor emeritus of biology and Edith J. Carrier Arboretum educational coordinator Norlyn Bodkin

Professor emeritus of biology and Edith J. Carrier Arboretum educational coordinator Norlyn Bodkin

I met Dr. Norlyn Bodkin in the summer of 1973 after a dismal freshman year. I needed to attend summer school, and one of the classes I took was his Biology 102. Since that seven-week session, I have known Dr. Bodkin to be a very down-to-earth, personable and dedicated teacher. He is, in my opinion, one of the most innovative professors in the history of Madison.

On a class field trip that summer of '73, we traveled to Dolly Sods, W.Va., in Dr. Bodkin' s home state. We spent the entire day examining and probing the wild fields. Dr. Bodkin pointed out how important the ecosystem is in relationship to our existence on this planet. He showed us the various plant and animal inhabitants native to the Dolly Sods area. As always, he concerned himself with seeing that each student achieved his or her maximum potential.

Dr. Bodkin's teaching philosophy, which emphasized the importance of hands-on learning, was probably the impetus for his proposal in 1977 that JMU establish an arboretum. Throughout his academic career he led students into the fields, woods and mountain habitats of the region to study plant life. He has also led botanical trips to the Galapagos Islands, upper Amazon rain forests and Ireland.

His arboretum dream blossomed into the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum in 1985, and he served as director until his "semiretirement." He still teaches courses for the arboretum as an educational coordinator.

Now the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens hosts hundreds of educational and recreational field trips and tours for schoolchildren, senior-citizen groups, civic groups and community clubs. Visitors learn about nature, botany, horticulture, plant species native to the Appalachians and ecology, thanks to Dr. Bodkin's legacy.

Outside the arboretum and the biology department labs, Dr. Bodkin also served as a shining example to JMU students. He published nine articles in the Scientific Journal during his career, and he has been named to the highly regarded Linnaeus Society of London, England.

Following my introduction to Dr. Bodkin in 1973, my personal interactions with him both academically and socially have made him one of my closest friends. His influence is one of the reasons I never left the Shenandoah Valley.

Arboretum founder Norlyn Bodkin discovered the rare Shenandoah Wake-Robin, a trillium variety.

Norlyn Bodkin discovered the rare Shenandoah Wake-Robin, a trillium variety.

The JMU Alumni Association recognized professor Bodkin with its 1997 Distinguished Service Award for his leadership and dedication to developing Madison's educational facilities — especially the arboretum. Community gardeners, nature buffs and flower fans all have a place to learn and enjoy natural beauty thanks to Dr. Bodkin.

About the professor
Professor emeritus of biology and Edith J. Carrier Arboretum educational coordinator Norlyn Bodkin's career at Madison has been a "labor of love." As a dedicated professor of biology, his enthusiasm inspired many in his classroom, who, with his mentoring and support, have gone on to successful careers and are now inspiring students of their own. Among the many research projects Bodkin has conducted with his students and colleagues, one resulted in the discovery and naming of a new variety of trillium, which drew national acclaim for Bodkin and a colleague.

About the author
Emil Rampacek Jr. ('76) is a "proud Madison graduate of the nation's bicentennial year" and a sous chef at Mr. J's Bagels in Harrisonburg. He has been with the restaurant since it opened 15 years ago. He was recruited to Madison by the soccer coach, but ended up serving as the first football team's kicker. He worked with the JMU catering team under President Ronald Carrier's administration and served governors and other officials visiting campus.