2007-05-17 / Front Page

Wohlschlag leaves legacy

BY DAN PARKER SOUTH JETTY REPORTER

Not many people achieve so much in their lives that the U.S. government decides to name a 10-mile-wide bay after them.

WOHLSCHLAG WOHLSCHLAG Dr.Donald Eugene "Curly" Wohlschlag, a longtime Port Aransan who died at the age of 88 on Tuesday, May 15, achieved that much. And more.

Wohlschlag, namesake of Antarctica's Wohlschlag Bay, took part in bombing missions over Japan during World War II. He made groundbreaking discoveries as a marine scientist. He served as a director of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in the late 1960s, when the die was cast to more than double the size of the Port Aransas facility.

Wohlschlag also is remembered as a downto earth man known for his friendly banter, his banjo performances at island parties and the Calabash pipe that seemed forever attached to his mouth.

"He was a Renaissance man. He could do all kinds of things," said Dr. Richard Watson, a Port Aransan who worked alongside Wohlschlag at UTMSI for years. "Curly was my favorite person at MSI the entire time I worked there. I just liked him. He was really real, and real friendly."

In Antarctica COURTESY PHOTO Donald E. "Curly" Wohlschlag poses for a photo while on a research expedition in 1958 at McMurdo Station, a scientific outpost in Antarctica. Wohlschlag went on to become director of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. He died Tuesday, May 15. In Antarctica COURTESY PHOTO Donald E. "Curly" Wohlschlag poses for a photo while on a research expedition in 1958 at McMurdo Station, a scientific outpost in Antarctica. Wohlschlag went on to become director of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. He died Tuesday, May 15. Wohlschlag died at an Aransas Pass medical facility. No specific cause of death was announced, but he had been suffering from a variety of age-related ailments for the past few years, according to friends and family.

Wohlschlag was born on Nov. 6, 1918, in Bucyrus, Ohio. He played trumpet and trombone in jazz bands to put himself through Ohio's Heidelberg College, according to his wife of 64 years, Marjorie Wohlschlag, a retired longtime kindergarten teacher in Port Aransas.

Wohlschlag earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Heidelberg College in 1940. Later, during World War II, Wohlshlag was a flight navigator stationed for a time in Monroe, La., where, among other things, he taught students how to get around through celestial navigation.

Wohlschlag earned a Ph.D. in zoology at Indiana University in 1949 and became a professor at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. He moved to Port Aransas in 1965 to become director of UTMSI.

An ichthyologist, Wohlschlag made important contributions to science in the study of fish along the Texas coast and in the Antarctic Ocean, according to former colleagues.

"He and another fellow discovered some aspects of the blood chemistry of fish that allowed them to live in the very cold water of the Antarctic without their blood freezing," said Dr. Patrick Parker, a retired scientist who worked for many years with Wohlschlag at UTMSI. "That was a pretty good discovery at the time."

Wohlschlag outfitted the biology labs at McMurdo Station in Antarctica from 1958 to 1964. His work was so extensive that the U.S. Board on Geographical Names named a large bay on the west side of Antarctica's Ross Island after Wohlschlag in 1964. It is called, simply, Wohlschlag Bay. Wohlschlag also did scientific research in the Arctic Ocean.

Having a talent for gadgetry, Wohlschlag built much of his own lab equipment. During the 1950s, he pieced together a "metabolism chamber" out of plexiglass and parts from a hand-cranked record player, Watson said. The device measured how much oxygen fish used while swimming.

At UTMSI, Wohlschlag was director when the decision was made to conduct a multi-million-dollar expansion that more than doubled the size of the institute's facilities in the early 1970s.

Wohlschlag recruited highly respected scientists to work at UTMSI, including the late Dr. J.A. Colin Nicol, an eminent scientist who wrote several books on marine animals and became a fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Wohlschlag led dozens of studies on marine life along the Texas coast. Areas of research included the effects of salinity and freshwater inflows on fish in South Texas. Depending on the project, he at times studied either red- trout, mullet or other species.

Wohlshlag supervised eight Ph.D. students and nine master's degree students during his time at UTMSI.

In 1993, Wohlschlag won the prestigious Oscar E. Sette Outstanding Marine Fishery Biologist award from the American Fisheries Society for excellence in marine fisheries biology through research, teaching and administration.

But he didn't inhabit an ivory tower.

"He had very broad interests," Parker said. "He was interested in the (UTMSI) library and books more than most administrators, and he was also interested in the shop and maintenance, down to the level of picking out tools and having his own tools down in the shop, which was pretty unusual compared to most others."

Wohlshlag retired from UTMSI in 1986, but he didn't stay away. He stopped in to chat about science with former colleagues most every week for years after he retired. In addition, Wohlschlag and his wife regularly attended seminars and public lectures at UTMSI.

"That's a testament to his true love of marine science," said Lee Fuiman, current director at UTMSI.

When John Thompson thinks about Wohlschlag, it's not Wohlschlag's achievements as a scientist that immediately come to mind.

"The main thing about Curly is, he was a gentleman," said Thompson, a longtime colleague from UTMSI. "He was a fair man and an honest person. That's what I think Curly was. An easy-going fellow. He was someone you could count on. I never had to worry about Curly going behind my back. Curly was just Curly. There wasn't a hidden Curly or a secret Curly. It was just Curly. He was a gentleman and a scholar, and a fine fellow."

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