Herbarium Perpetuates Legacy of Man Who Helped It Grow

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Tucked away in cramped rows of metal cabinets on the fourth floor of Ward Beecher Hall are stacks upon stacks of folders filled with plants. It’s here in Youngstown State University’s herbarium, the fourth-largest in the state, that Carl Chuey spent 47 years, devoting his life and pouring his passion into amassing a collection of preserved plants from all 50 states and 90 countries on six continents.

For 47 years, Chuey worked at YSU, growing the herbarium from 200 specimens to nearly 115,000. When he died last year, he left $100,000 to “establish a program endowment to fund the herbarium in perpetuity.”

On Thursday, with colleagues, students and family on hand, the herbarium was dedicated as The Carl F. Chuey Herbarium, with a tree also planted in his honor just outside an entrance to Ward Beecher Hall.

“Carl was a driving force behind making this a research grade herbarium,” said Gary Walker, chairman of the biology department. “It was his persistence and his dedication to drag students into the field to teach them the laborious process of preserving materials and recording the data. He had a dedicated following of students over the years.”

Chuey also played a role in winning $130,00 in grants for the herbarium over the years. One grant was used to begin digitizing YSU’s collection. About 112,000 specimens have their textural information in a database for scholars around the world to access and about 40,000 have all associated data stored.

The endowment Chuey left will also be used to hire a curator for the herbarium, Walker said.

The speakers at the dedication told tales of Chuey’s time at YSU. Gregg Sturrus, interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, said Chuey often took students to area parks to find and identify plants.

“He told me the backbone of botany is to get students to, instead of memorizing the perfect specimen in their book, get out and see the real ones out in the field,” Sturrus said. “He was so focused on getting your hands on things and getting real experience, which we’re all proud of here in the STEM college.”

Throughout his nearly five decades at YSU, Chuey taught general education classes in addition to those specifically for biology majors.

“As a teacher, he was always approachable, inclusive in his classes and always wanting people to know that they could do it,” said Nick Karousis, a biology student at YSU who worked with Chuey in the herbarium. “Even from our very first meeting, he was unbelievably kind and interested in what I was doing as a student here and where I was thinking about going from here. He was always willing to joke around with faculty and staff.”

As Karousis walked through the herbarium after the crowd had departed, he noted how Chuey was partial to ferns.

“I don’t really know why,” he said. “I guess it’s because there are so many kinds, it’s not just one thing. Just like you can look at a patch of grass and have it be than just one type of [grass]. He liked showing people that there’s more to it.”

Chuey also served on the campus beautification committee to help determine which trees would be planted and helping families decide what to plant in honor of their loved ones. Today, some 2,000 trees dot the YSU campus, which has earned the university the designation of a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

“He was always dedicated to planting well, planting the right trees in the right place, but keeping a sense of this campus as an arboretum. Our debates over the years were very productive. I told my colleagues for years that it was the best meeting on campus,” said Jean Engle, a member of the beautification committee.

YSU President Jim Tressel, who read the proclamation dedicating the herbarium and tree, said that while he never met Chuey, he had heard remarkable stories about the long-time professor. His work, Tressel said, is something everyone at YSU should aspire.

“When you’re at an event like this, you’re reminded of the tradition we have across so many fields,” the president said. “Carl spent 47 years committing his entire professional life and a lot of his personal life to this passion. That’s a tradition that it’s up to the rest of us to uphold and appreciate.”

Closing out the dedication was Chuey’s brother, James Chuey. Just before Carl died, James said, the two were at a hospital in Cleveland. When James stepped into the hallway, an intern came up to introduce herself.

“She told me she had Carl when she was here. The tentacles reach everywhere. I’m proud of that,” James Chuey said. “I’d like to thank the university for honoring him. It’s truly heartfelt.”

Pictured: James Chuey, brother of the late Carl Chuey, Matthew Chuey, his son, and Jim Tressel, YSU president.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.