Chesterton Tribune

Service planned for naturalist Emma 'Bickie' Pitcher

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Emma Bickham “Bickie” Pitcher, a former Tremont resident who was a birder and naturalist, passed away on Thursday, April 15, 2010 at Bronson Hospital in Michigan. She was 94.

Born September 20, 1915 in Chicago, she was the daughter of Martin Hayes and Edith (Reid) Bickham. Emma grew up in the northern suburbs close to Lake Michigan. She graduated from New Trier High School in Winnetka, spent two years at Grinnell College, Iowa, graduated from the University of Chicago in 1937, and married Alvin Pitcher in 1938. After five years in Buffalo, N.Y. and then five more at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, the couple returned to Chicago, establishing their four children in their alma mater area.

In 1962-63, the family lived in Germany, studying and traveling. In 1964, Emma started office work, retiring in 1981 as Dean of Students at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Vacations were spent learning bird banding, writing and teaching about birds and flowers, traveling around the west coast and in Arizona, Florida, and the New England Coast. A particularly happy experience was an intensive summer of study in ornithology and botany at MSU’s Kellogg Laboratory. Door County Wisconsin was another favorite study site.

After her retirement in 1981, she moved to the Dunes area, where she wrote articles for “Dunebeat” and became a well-known and respected area naturalist. “She is the lecuturer, the birdbander, the tour guide. And she is the photographer who worked with one simple camera and refused to use tripods or special lenses,” read a 1987 story about Emma in the Chesterton Tribune.

Shortly before moving to Kalamazoo, her collection of dunes essays was published in a book, “Up and Down the Dunes,” which made its debut at the Save the Dunes Council’s fall dinner. She was also a former board member of the Save the Dunes Council and was credited with being a driving force behind getting the classic “Dunes Boy” book reprinted.

In 1987 she moved to Friendship Village at Kalamazoo, teaching and participating in the Michigan Botanical Club, Wild Ones, The Kalamazoo Nature Center, and the Audubon Societies of Kalamazoo, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. She also was active in the the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, publishing three small books of nature study and writing columns for the Kalamazoo Gazette. During the 1990s, she spent seven weeks each summer in nature study at Iqaluit, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. One special experience there was two weeks of watching Arctic birds while tent camping on sea ice 100 miles from land.

In 2001 she traveled to Midway Atoll in the far western Pacific, studying albatrosses, petrels, seals, and sea turtles. Beginning in 1998, Village residents began establishing their five acre woods, and Emma relished that activity. Emma’s arts interests included close-up photography of birds and flowers, poetry of Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver, paintings by Tasha Tudor and Georgia OKeeffe, and woodcuts by Albrecht Durer.

Emma is preceded in death by her parents, two infant sisters, three adult sisters and their husbands, and her former husband. She is survived by four children, Hugh (wife Carol), Betsy, Charles (Rhoda), and Cathy (husband Cameron); nine grandchildren; three great grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

In accordance with her wishes, cremation has taken place. A memorial service at Friendship Village will be announced at a later date. Arrangements are being handled by the Langeland Family Funeral Homes, Memorial Chapel, 622 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo, Michigan. Memorials may be directed to Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy or to the Kalamazoo Nature Center. See www.langelands.com

Posted 4/19/2010