Peter Oberhauser

2015Vol28No3 JournalBy Karen Oberhauser

Long time Wild Ones member Pete Oberhauser passed away on September 27th, 2014.

His daughter, Karen Oberhauser, an Honorary Director of Wild Ones, wrote this tribute to her father.
My interest in conservation, monarch butterflies, native plants, and prairies is not surprising, given all of the time my parents (Pete and Sanny Oberhauser), three sisters, and I spent in nature when I was a child. As a working parent, I came to understand more clearly the competing pulls for family time, and appreciated the choices that my parents made even more.  However, it was really after his retirement that Dad’s devotion to the natural world became a driving force of his life (perhaps only equaled by his devotion to his children and grandchildren). I am lucky that these interests had so much overlap with what I was doing. In 1997, my students and I started the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP), and my parents are part of a group of four MLMP site teams that have been collecting data over that entire time. As an adult, I’ve hiked over prairies, both native and restored; canoed down wild rivers; and backpacked in gorgeous mountains with my dad. All of this time involved careful attention to the wild things that were in these spots, and, even after I’d earned a PhD in ecology, frequent lessons from my dad about the things we were seeing. He and Mom put a conservation easement on their land on the Embarrass River in central Wisconsin, where they created an incredible prairie, home to eagles, countless bee and butterfly species, and their MLMP site.

Dad was born in Mason City, Iowa and grew up in Minneapolis. After earning a degree in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1956, he practiced as a large-animal veterinarian in Berlin and Clintonville, Wisconsin, until retiring in 1985. After they retired, he and Mom volunteered in the schools, teaching Junior Great Books and sharing their love of the environment with elementary school children. They established the Natural World for Kids Fund to support environmental experiences for students in the Clintonville Public Schools.

Dad was on the board of the Wisconsin Nature Conservancy. He and mom are very involved in nearby nature centers, and are strong supporters and members of the Carleton College Arboretum and dozens of other conservation organizations, including Wild Ones. I think all of this stems from his sincere love of nature; his frequent letters to me always included a summary of the birds and blooms that he was seeing. And once, as my father and I were walking along the river, we sat and listened to a yellow warbler – he turned to me and said, “I think that’s my favorite warbler.” I’m pretty sure that not many people have a favorite warbler.

On my 43rd birthday, my dad wrote a card that I’ve kept. He said, “As we  cruise down the river in our inner-tubes, we have some control over where we go. The harder we paddle, the fewer rocks we hit, but all cannot be avoided.” He ended the letter by saying, “happy birthday to a person who paddles hard.” My dad paddled hard; he hit some rocks along the way, but they just made his life, and the lives of people who knew him, more exciting and fun.