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Professor presents college herbarium at farewell gathering

Dr. Ralph Thompson, a Berea College professor for 30 years, will be retiring this year after a career of achievements.

Dr. Ralph Thompson

The author of 80 scholarly articles and the winner of many prestigious awards, including the Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Paul C. Hager Advising Award, Dr. Thompson remarks that he is most proud of seeing his students go on to achieve their college and career objectives.

On April 12, 2010, the museum room of Bruce-Trades was filled with people who sat in chairs, tables and the floor, and stood throughout the room to hear Dr. Thompson present the Berea College Herbarium, a project he has worked on throughout his time at Berea.

And as evidenced by the crowded room, his students will remember him fondly. The large assembly of Berea students, faculty, staff, community members and colleagues from Eastern Kentucky University and Maryville College came to wish Dr. Thompson well, to share a meal of beans and corn bread, and to learn more about the Berea College Herbarium.

The Berea College Herbarium is a museum collection of dried vascular plant specimens representing species of native and exotic plants found in various geographical regions of the United States, with emphasis on Kentucky.

The plant collection has grown from 600 specimens in 1980, when Dr. Thompson came to Berea, to over 22,000 today. It is the largest private plant collection in Kentucky.

Herbarium specimens are useful for plant identification, teaching and research. Scientists can consult a herbarium to confirm the identities of dubious plant species.

In a botanical PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Thompson used his herbarium specimens to demonstrate distinct types of plants -- from the medicinal to the poisonous, to the exotic and the invasive.

Dr. Thompson is making it easier for conservation work to occur in Berea and in the United States. The leading conservation association around the world, the Nature Conservancy, has called South and Central Appalachia one of six biodiversity hotspots in the United States. Berea, Ky. is included in a map of this region of biological diversity.

Dr. Thompson integrates a reverence for plant life with his determination to encourage students to acquire similar botanical passions.

Though he is leaving Berea as a professor, Dr. Thompson will be close by.

When he retires in May, he will continue working on the Berea College Herbarium for the following four years.

“I have met all my career goals at Berea. Berea has been good to me,” he closed the event.

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