George Ware, former director of research at Morton
He was instrumental in expanding the arboretum’s research department
When student researchers would arrive at Morton Arboretum for the summer, veterans at the 1,700-acre outdoor tree museum in Lisle would tell the new arrivals to take George Ware for a walk in the woods.
“Or he’d take them for a walk,” recalled Gary Watson, the arboretum’s head of research and Ware’s longtime colleague and friend. “He was extremely personable and kind, and he loved to tell them all about the trees here.”
Mr. Ware, 86, of Batavia, who died on Sunday, July 4, of complications from pancreatic cancer, had a wealth of knowledge to share about trees. Proof stands in thousands of urban trees across the country that Ware, the arboretum’s former research director, helped develop over more than four decades of work at the institution.
“He was so passionate and generous in sharing his knowledge,” said Kunso Kim, head of collections and curator at Morton Arboretum. “He was almost like a child talking to his parents, and so inspirational. He certainly inspired me greatly.”
Born in tiny Avery, Okla., Mr. Ware fell in love with trees in large part because they “were a wondrous, exotic thing on the plains where he grew up,” said June Ware, his wife of 54 years. Mr. Ware traced his passion for trees to a playful boyhood fight he and friends waged with catalpa tree pods near the railroad tracks in Norman, Okla., she said.
“They were throwing all these pods back and forth at each other,” she said. “The next year, George went back and saw these trees sprouting where they’d broken all those pods and he was enthralled.”
About the same time, Dutch elm disease had arrived in the United States, and for the next four decades, it destroyed hundreds of thousands of elm trees. Mr. Ware made it his life’s mission to settle the score on behalf of trees.
After receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dendrology from University of Oklahoma, Mr. Ware received a doctorate in forest ecology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and was teaching science at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., when coed June Gleason saw him descend the stairs at an academic building.
“I took one look at him and told myself, ‘I’m going to take courses from him,'” his wife said. They were married in 1955 in Shreveport, La., and raised four sons. By the late 1960s, Mr. Ware was still teaching at Northwestern State, when he got a call from former colleague Marion T. Hall, director at Morton Arboretum, who offered Mr. Ware a job.
In 1968, Mr. Ware became a dendrologist at the arboretum. He retired in 1995 as research director. During those 27 years, Mr. Ware established a reputation for finding and developing trees that could survive and thrive in challenging urban conditions.
“Tough trees for tough places” was a definitive George Ware quote and one that led him to make five expeditions to China and three to the former Soviet Union in search of seeds and specimens that could withstand harsh environments in the U.S.
During those trips, he fostered professional relationships that yielded additional research and cooperation among tree experts from many countries.
Gerard Donnelly, president and CEO of the arboretum, said Mr. Ware was “a phenomenon among those who care for trees and the environment. He has been a trusted source of expert knowledge and inspiration to countless other scientists, arborists and tree-loving citizens alike who have come to share his dedication to the planting and conservation of trees.”
He was instrumental in expanding the arboretum’s research department, which today totals 22 Ph.D. scientists and research associates working to promote and conserve trees. Over his career, he received dozens of awards and served on many tree-related commissions.
Among his most enduring legacies are several species of trees he helped develop that communities across the country now use along boulevards and in parks. They include three elm species, two London planetrees and two maple species. A hybrid oak, Quercus x warei, is named for Mr. Ware, who, despite his lofty status, remained notoriously humble.
“People would tell him that he was extremely modest,” his wife said, “and he would say, ‘but then, I have a lot to be modest about.'”
After his retirement Mr. Ware continued working at the arboretum five days a week as a research associate until his illness became acute last year, Watson said. Mr. Ware enjoyed books on ecology, philosophy and finances, she said, and he loved to drive around to check his trees.
“He’d say, “See that tree over there? That’s mine. Look over there. That’s mine too,'” his wife said. “He was very enthusiastic and optimistic. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most about him — sharing our joy and our enthusiasm.”
Mr. Ware is survived by four sons, Charles, Daniel, Patrick and John; a sister, Geraldine Fisher and three grandchildren.
A service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Friday in United Methodist Church of Batavia, 8 N. Batavia Ave., Batavia. Visitation will be held from 1 p.m. Friday until the service begins.
Source: July 08, 2010|By Ted Gregory, Chicago Tribune reporter