• Last modified 1718 days ago (Oct. 10, 2019)



Claire L. Schelske

Claire L. Schelske passed away Aug. 20 in Gainesville, Florida.

He was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas on April 1, 1932, and often took good-natured kidding about being an April Fool. His parents soon moved to Peabody, Kansas.

Claire was both academic and athletic in high school where he lettered in four sports and graduated class valedictorian in 1950.

In the summers, Claire worked as a typesetter at the Peabody Gazette Herald. This is where he developed his uncanny ability to read the text upside down and backwards.

Claire attended the University of Kansas for a year, and then transferred to Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas (now known as Emporia State University).

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1955 and a master’s degree in 1956, mentored by Ted Andrews, biology professor. It was during his time working as a teaching assistant at ESU that he met his future wife Betty. She was in a biology lab and asked Claire (the TA) for help with a microscope. She liked the smell of his aftershave (a positive), but thought he was very strict when grading one of her tests. Although she argued and was convinced she was correct and should have had an A-, he still gave her a B+ (a negative). Betty’s father, John Breukelman, was chairman of the biology department and seems to have approved of Claire, as demonstrated by inviting him, as one of the select students to help build a patio.

As a humorous note — Claire passed the Breukelman dribble test, where a guest was offered a drink from a gag dribble glass. The glass seemed normal but had an etched slit in the decorative rim which caused the drink to dribble down the victim’s chin. Claire took it in good humor and was “approved.”

Claire was accepted at the University of Michigan in 1956 as a doctoral student to study under David Chandler and finished his dissertation, “The Availability of Iron as a Factor Limiting Primary Productivity in a Marl Lake,” in 1960.

Because of his typesetting skill, Claire was able to get a job in 1956 at the University of Michigan paper, The Michigan Daily, to earn money for Betty’s engagement ring. In May, 1957, Betty graduated from Emporia State; and she and Claire married a week later.

Claire did post-doctoral studies at the University Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, Georgia, from 1960 to 1962. Following Sapelo Island, Claire worked at the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in Beaufort, North Carolina, from 1962 to 1966, and then on the President’s Science Advisory Committee in the Office of Science and Technology, Washington, D.C. (1966 to 1967).

In 1967, Claire took a position at the University of Michigan Great Lakes Research Division.

In 1987, he accepted an appointment as the Carl Swisher Eminent Scholar and Professor of Water Resources at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Upon retirement, he moved to the Department of Geological Sciences at the Land Use and Environmental Change Institute, University of Florida where he continued research activities. After retirement, Claire and Betty spent their summers at the family cabin in South Dakota’s Black Hills where they were members of the Rochford Community Chapel.

Comments made during conversation with the family: The name “Claire,” perceived as female, caused him consternation many times, but he accepted it with his normal low-key humor.

When he made reservations for a room at conferences, he was, more than once, booked in women’s dorms.

Claire was very active as Associate Editor, Editor and President of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography. ASLO work was a family affair where Betty and the children stapled, stuffed, attached address labels, and sealed and stamped thousands of envelopes for the journal mailings.

University of Michigan note: Claire, a devout U. of M. football fan, shared a birthday with iconic U. of M. football coach Bo Schembechler. Claire humorously noted the one place Schelske was ahead of Schembechler was the faculty directory.

More observations by Rick Aldridge: When I first started working and studying for my Ph.D. under Claire at the University of Florida, my background was in fisheries, not limnology.

I was brought on to start a study of primary productivity and nutrient limitation in Lake Apopka. I asked Claire if he realized how little I knew about doing this study specifically and limnology in general? His response was, “Well, are you learning? That is what we do at a university.” Over the years I observed that Claire did not “teach,” he guided and enabled you to learn.

On first impression, one would think Claire low-key and very nonexpressive. You had to be around him to realize a slight smile and a chortle were his expressions of approval, enjoyment and humor. I think he often was silently laughing within. The only exception to his low-key personality was sports, when he became most animated, even cheering and raising his arms!

Claire was a distinguished scientist, a great educator and a true gentleman who projected decency and fairness.

He played a huge role in the academic development of many and served as a wonderful mentor, leading by example, especially about how to conduct oneself professionally. He was an unparalleled role model.

Claire is survived by his wife of 62 years, Betty; daughter Cynthia Vavra and husband, Bill; sons John and his wife, Mary, Steve and his wife, Stella; grandchildren Michael Schelske, Claire Elizabeth Schelske, Joseph Vavra, Quinn Schelske, Stanislaw Schelske and Elizabeth Schelske; brother Leroy and his wife, Deanna; cousin Dolores Robinson; and a number of nieces and nephews.

Memorial contributions may be made to Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, 23695 W. U.S. Hwy. 27, High Springs, FL 32643; John & Ruth Breukelman Scholarship Fund, Emporia State University Foundation, 1500 Highland Street, Emporia, KS 66801-5018; or an environmental organization of the donor’s choosing.

The family is deeply grateful to Rick Aldridge, former student and longtime friend, for writing this tribute.

Last modified Oct. 10, 2019