Dr. William A. Niering passed away on August 31, 1999. Bill began teaching botany at Connecticut College in 1952 and was Arboretum Director from 1965 to 1988. His career and accomplishments were very much interwoven with the land and programs of the Connecticut College Arboretum.
College memorial service in the Arboretum
In addition to the funeral and burial service near his home in Gales Ferry, there were two College memorial services. The first, a gathering of remembrance, was held in the Arboretum Outdoor Theater on September 24. On a warm, sunny, very windy day approximately 400 people paid respect and remembered this unique individual. Speakers included President Gaudiani, Professor Emeritus Richard H. Goodwin, Professor R. Scott Warren and former students Keith Bowman '99 and Natalie Hildt '97. Bill's wife Catherine gave an eloquent and moving address that might have been titled "Where Did a Man Like This Come From?" The local Flock Theater offered a beautiful and unusual performance "Grasslands Chant," complete with very large bird puppets and long stalks of Phragmites. Members of the music department provided soothing musical selections and the College's a cappella group The Shwiffs sang "Lighthouse" by James Taylor. College Chaplain Father Larry Lapointe officiated and Rabbi Aron Rosenberg led a responsive reading of Psalm 104. Floral arrangements from plants gathered on campus were organized by Jeff Smith and created by Arboretum volunteers. The function ended with a smorgasbord of tasty desserts, in honor of Bill's well-known sweet tooth.
The second event was tailored for alumni and took place on Homecoming Weekend, October 23. Titled "A Celebration of the Life of Bill Niering." Dr. Marjorie Holland '69, University of Mississippi Biology Department spoke about him as a teacher and a conservationist. Other former students, including Dr. Gregg Hartvigsen '84, Dr. Zell Steever '72, and Glenn Dreyer '83 shared memories with the group and spoke about the inspirational nature of their relationship with Bill.
Connecticut College and the outside world will officially remember William Niering in a number of different ways. Some of the memorials are:
- A parcel of College land south of the Arboretum Native Tree and Shrub Collection was named the William A. Niering Tract in 1983.
- The College's Center for Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies was endowed thanks to the generosity of Drew and Helen Mathieson '52 and other friends and alumni. The Mathiesons chose to name it the Goodwin-Niering Center, and Bill was present at the naming ceremony in May 1999. He thought it was to be named for Dr. Goodwin only and was quite surprised and rather embarrassed by this honor.
- In the photo at right, RTT forester Rolando Camacho kneels in front of the sign dedicating the new Connecticut College Klinki Plantation to the memory of Dr. William A. Niering.
- The William A. Niering Memorial Forest, a 37-acre plantation of about 10,000 trees, has been planted in Costa Rica. The forest is calculated to be the proper size to absorb and sequester an amount of carbon (as airborne carbon dioxide) equal to the amount emitted from the generation of energy used in the annual operation of the College's Crozier Williams College Center. One of Bill's final adventures was a trip to Costa Rica to sign a contract with the farmer growing the trees.
- A special session at the 1999 International Estuarine Research Federation Conference in New Orleans was dedicated to Dr. Niering. Titled "Dike/Levee Breach Restoration of Coastal Marshes," the session's published proceedings will also be dedicated to him.
- The William A. Niering Arboretum Student Research Endowment was established to support student field research. The idea was Bill's, and he started making generous contributions to it a few years ago. During 1999, many alumni and friends contributed to this endowment in his memory.
- On Monday, December 4, 2000, with Connecticut Governor Rowland presiding, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection renamed the Goshen Cove Marsh at nearby Harkness Memorial State Park in the memory of Dr. Niering. The marsh had been dedicated as a nature preserve in 1999.