Katherine Rill – Shooting Star

Katherine D. Rill is a long-time member of the Fox Valley Area (WI) Chapter. Her life illustrates how an ordinary person who is committed to one idea over a lifetime can have an extraordinary impact.

Katherine spent her early years in Milwaukee. Even though living in the city, she became passionate about nature at an early age, watching butterflies in her back yard, and learning the secrets of the inhabitants of the vacant lots that dotted her neighborhood.

She attended the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and earned a master’s degree. Her thesis, “A Vascular Flora of Winnebago County, Wisconsin,” is available through the Wild Ones Library.

As a teacher, botanist, and friend of taxonomy and herbaria in the service of plant conservation, Katherine collected her first specimen at Girl Scout camp in 1947. In October, 2001 she donated her private collection to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Herbarium – a total of more than 8,600 specimens collected throughout North America over the last 50 years. This invaluable collection includes some important county and state records, including voucher specimens for comprehensive floristic surveys of Winnebago County. Her collection also includes several specimens collected in the early 1900s by her mother (http://www.uwosh.edu/biology/department-facilities/neil-a.-harriman-herbarium).

By doing what was interesting to her, she shared her passions with the Oshkosh community, participating in organizations that planned for and promoted land and wildlife protection, and the civil rights of landowners. She was active in the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology, the Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor, and served on the Nature Conservancy advisory board. Two nature centers and an environmental charter school were special projects of hers.

Her article titled “What Is an Herbarium?” appears in the November/December 2003 issue of the Wild Ones Journal, and she has written numerous articles on wildlife for The Lake Flyer, the newsletter of the Winnebago Audubon Society of the Oshkosh area, a group that Katherine helped form.

Other achievements include, in 1984, the receipt of the Citizens Natural Resources Association (CNRA) Silver Acorn award which honors special conservationists. The award reads, “CNRA president from 1981 to 1984, former secretary.” Established in 1951, CNRA works “militantly” for wise use of the state’s natural resources, following the principals set down by Aldo Leopold, and to this day remains a small group of committed and active conservationists. (See the July/August 2003 issue of the Wild Ones Journal.) Most recently she received an environmental award from the Fox Valley Sierra Group.

Jan Scalpone, also a past president of CNRA and member of Fox Valley Area (WI) Chapter of Wild Ones, was asked to comment on her friend Katherine’s achievements. Jan wrote, “I think the whole point is not that Kay has done anything spectacular – instead, she illustrates how an ordinary person who is committed to one idea over a lifetime can have an extraordinary impact. Her ‘one idea’ is a close identification with the natural world. It defines her life. Check out her luggage for a two-week trip to Florida – one suitcase and four plant presses.”

Katherine recently received an honorable mention from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, Inc., through the Ellis/Henderson Outdoor Writing Award for her book,Canticle of the Birds, (Xlibris Corp.). Katherine’s book contains stories, written over a period of years. It represents a culmination of years of living close to nature, and a sharing of observations and reflections about the familiar plants and animals that surround us. It was illustrated by Janet Wissink, Fox Valley Area (WI) Chapter (www.wisconsinwriters.org).


Article by Katherine Rill, What Is an Herbarium?