Theodore M. Sperry Memorial
Kansas Ornithological Society
Theodore M. Sperry
(1907 - 1995)
by Thomas Kreissler
Dr. Theodore M. Sperry, professor emeritus of Botany and Ecology at Pittsburg State University, died 29 March 1995. A charter member of the Kansas Ornithological Society, Sperry was honored recently, along with his wife Dr. Gladys C. Galligar, by the new Pittsburg Audubon Society chapter, which has chosen to name itself the Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society. In addition to conducting Christmas bird counts and bird breeding surveys for several years in southeast Kansas, Sperry and Galligar banded thousands of birds at Paradocs, their residence in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Sperry was born in Toronto, Ontario, on 20 February 1907. After completing a B.S. in 1929 at Butler University in his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, he entered the graduate school of the University of Illinois, where he earned an M.S. in 1931 and a Ph.D. in Botany in 1933. He married in 1935 Gladys C. Galligar, also a Ph.D. in botany at Illinois. In that same year, Ecology published a condensed version of his dissertation about root systems of prairie plants. At the University of Wisconsin, Aldo Leopold read the article and arranged for Sperry's transfer from the Civilian Conservation Corps within the United States Forest Service in Illinois, where Sperry had landed a job after earning his degree, to the CCC under the National Park Service in Madison, Wisconsin. Under the auspices of Leopold, Sperry was given sixty acres of old farm land near the Madison campus on the University's research land. A small crew of CCC boys and Sperry were given long-handled shovels and a truck and told to "go make a prairie." Curtis Prairie became the world's first restored prairie. Sperry considered his work and research at the Curtis Prairie his greatest professional achievement. The Second World War, however, suspended Sperry's work at Madison, and in 1946, after having served as a weather forecaster in England during the war, he accepted a teaching position at Kansas State Teacher's College. Galligar, who had been teaching since 1936 at James Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, joined him in Pittsburg in 1948. During his professorial career, Sperry taught Botany, Ecology, Plant Taxonomy, Conservation of Renewable Resources, Phycology and Birds of Kansas. He also served as curator of the University's herbarium, which was named for him.
Shortly after Galligar's move to Pittsburg, the couple purchased a one-acre lot in residential southwest Pittsburg. Paradocs, the couple's name for the property, earned its name because the two were a "pair of docs" and the site, complete with a pond, woods and a prairie seeded by Sperry, became a paradox to the neighbors. In 1954 they moved to Paradocs and into Lyrrose, a house designed by Galligar for both wildlife observation and storage of the couple's research material. For decades Galligar and Sperry recorded the biotic activity of Paradocs in several volumes of journals that are now stored in the Special Collections of Axe Library at Pittsburg State University, to whom Sperry, who survived Galligar by twenty years, bequeathed Paradocs and Lyrrose.
Besides the Kansas Ornithological Society, Sperry held membership in several organizations, such as the National Parks Association, The American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy, of which he was a founding member, and the Kansas Academy of Science, for which he served as President in 1959. In 1990 the Society for Ecological Restoration named an annual award in Sperry's honor for his unprecedented work at the Curtis Prairie.