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DAVID M. BIGELOW, PROMINENT NATURALIST AND NATURALLY COLUMNIST, IS DEAD AT 70

Western New York's naturalist emeritus -- David MacDonald Bigelow -- is dead at 70.

A memorial service for Bigelow will be held at 10:30 a.m. next Saturday at the Buffalo Museum of Science, where a memorial fund has been established in his name.

Bigelow, who died Thursday (December 13, 1990), taught thousands of children and adults on the Niagara Frontier the importance of treasuring and developing a respect for nature.

His greatest contribution, admirers say, may be the nature walk he created for the blind and handicapped at Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in Java.

But his legacy extended far beyond New York.

His 35 years in museum work included stints as curator of natural history for the Fort Worth Children's Museum in Texas, as exhibition designer for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and as director of education for the Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences in Indiana from 1952-1963.

A county commissioner in Indiana once called on Bigelow's talent for training falcons in a war against pesky starlings in downtown Evansville. Bigelow also led two excavations involving the well-preserved remains of an American mastodon in Indiana.

He traveled the world, too, plumbing the depths of rain forests in Ecuador and the wilds of New Guinea in search of his beloved birds and butterflies.

Bigelow was also a talented pen-and-ink and watercolor artist, adorning his own homemade Christmas cards with nature's wonders.

He became the nature columnist for The Buffalo News in 1981, weaving colorful stories of his encounters with creatures of all kinds in his Naturally column.

"He loved to tell stories," said Lester W. Milbrath, a University at Buffalo political science professor and director of research program in environment and society.

"He had the ability to tell a story in a way that captivated people," said Milbrath, who sometimes invited Bigelow to lecture to his students. "The class wouldn't want to leave."

Born April, 28, 1920, in New York City, Bigelow was the son of an attorney who was the founding president of the National Association for the Prevention of Blindness -- Mason Huntington Bigelow.

He graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., in 1939 and received his bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1943. During World War II, he served in the VIII Army Corps, attaining the rank of sergeant.

Bigelow moved to Buffalo from Indiana in January 1963 and became administrator of education at the Buffalo Museum of Science, a post he held for 10 years.

He began collecting moths and butterflies as a boy, rearing them and investigating their life histories. His absorbing interest in these winged insects led him to work with Dr. Frank Lutz in the Department of Insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Subsequent studies and professional experience led to collection expeditions into the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming and nearly a month-long journey to the eastern rain forests of Ecuador. In 1984, he set out for a three-month expedition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution to study and collect butterflies and moths.

"He was a very gentle person who was deeply interested in and concerned about nature," said Ernst Both, director of the Buffalo Museum of Science, where Bigelow was head of the education programs from 1963 to 1973.

Bigelow's love of animals led him to rehabilitate a number of injured creatures he found in the forest, including a red-tailed hawk, Both recalled.

"David told me he was going away for a few days and asked if I would mind baby-sitting his hawk, Cal, for a few days," Both recalled with a laugh. The bird was at that point recovered and living free on Bigelow's 60-plus acres of woodland property in Eden.

"He told me, 'Oh, there's nothing to it: just hold a piece of raw meat in this heavy leather glove, hold it up over your head and call to him.' "

From the Museum of Science, Bigelow moved on to become the director of Beaver Meadow from 1973 to 1978.

"He was about the most generous man I ever have known," said Beaver Meadow's David Junkin. He said Bigelow gave countless time, lectures and slide presentations to nature groups of all kinds.

As the first director of what was then known as Beaver Meadow Environmental Education Center, Bigelow chaired a fund-raising drive that built a visitor's center and residence there and gave shape to the center's programs. Junkin said Bigelow later conceived of the idea of a walk for the handicapped and blind after his sister brought her handicapped son to visit Beaver Meadow.

Bigelow donated land for the project, which was named Jenny Glen after his late daughter, Jenny, who died at the age of 21.

Surviving are his wife, Janice Ernst Bigelow; a step-daughter, Marilyn Ernst, and a sister, Katherine Doman of New York City.

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