New downtown mural memorializes professor and birder Charles Ziegenfus

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Ziegenfus mural
The mural faces the East Water Street parking lot.

SUMMARY: The artwork features the American Kestrel Project, a tribute to the late professor Charles Zigenfus’ involvement with conservation efforts to install, maintain and monitor kestrel nest boxes in Virginia.

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The Arts Council of the Valley has sponsored a mural on the side of Magnolia’s Tacos and Tequila Bar in downtown Harrisonburg honoring the late Charles W. S. “Zig” Ziegenfus, professor emeritus of math and biology.

Christy Baker, lead artist and founder of Charlottesville, Virginia-based GreenYellowBlue, painted an open hand with an American kestrel — a falcon that Ziegenfus loved to observe.

The late biology professor Charles "Zig" ZigenfusTitled Release, the hand-brushed mural took about three weeks to complete due to rain delays. “This mural was a collaborative process in terms of design, placement, all that,” Baker told the Daily News-Record. “It has, just some deeper meaning to it. It’s not just something that is beautiful. It is meant to be beautiful, but it is also meant to create a connection, to tell a story and to honor someone who was, and continues to be, a very important part of this community.”

Ziegenfus’ career spanned more than half a century at JMU. He joined the faculty as a math professor in 1961. Years later, he started teaching ornithology, and it became the favorite course of those who appreciated the outdoor classroom and birding field trips. Several of his former students attributed the class and his passion with inspiring their careers in ornithology and biology.

Among his math students were all three of his daughters, Erika Z. Byrd (’85), Jennifer Z. Collins (’86) and Karla Jean Z. Scanlan (’88). His many accolades and teaching honors include being named a recipient of the Jaime Escalante Mathematics Teacher Award for motivating math-challenged students to excel.

“Ziegenfus had an incredible following outside of JMU,” said Pam Brock, senior director of Advancement Marketing. “People flocked to him. Bird-watchers from all over would call him for information all the time.”

For his community work in leading bird counts, his involvement in the Rockingham Bird Club and his contributions to research (including his work at Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia), he was recognized with a 2021 Valley Treasure award by the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley.

In March 2023, Ziegenfus received the Virginia Society of Ornithology’s Mitchell A. Byrd Award. That same month, he died at the age of 88, leaving a rich legacy of countless lives impacted through his gift of teaching mathematics and ornithology.

The Virginia Society of Ornithology said, “Zig’s encouragement, his effort and his generosity in sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm has been a gift to birders in the Shenandoah Valley and across the Commonwealth.”

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by Amy Crockett (’10)

Published: Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Last Updated: Friday, July 12, 2024

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