Archive for Wednesday, January 4, 2006

KU science community mourns loss

Entomologist Steve Ashe was one of world’s foremost beetle authorities

January 4, 2006


Kansas University and the world's scientific community last week lost a brilliant mind and authority on beetles in Steve Ashe.

Ashe, 58, died Dec. 27 at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., after suffering from a stroke. Funeral services were Monday.

A KU faculty member since 1988, he was a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and also senior curator with the KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Center.

Leonard Krishtalka, the museum's director, said Ashe's zeal for science and evolutionary biology drove him to study the beetle, an insect group massive in number.

"Steve was a passionate idealist - a kind of idealist that the world could never live up to," Krishtalka said.

Ashe became an expert on the beetles known as aleocharines. Krishtalka said Ashe was one of five specialists in the world.

"And Steve was the purview of this group," he said.

Retired KU entomology professor Charles Michener, himself an expert on bees, worked as Ashe's colleague for years.

He also described Ashe's prominence regarding research of the beetles.

"In the world, maybe, there are people, but basically there's no one left in this country at least," Michener said.

But Ashe was not known only for his fieldwork, where he trapped the beetles with nets and studied them in his laboratory. In 2001, he won a W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence.

Ashe used clear thinking and communication skills to convey his own knowledge to undergraduate and graduate students, Michener said.

He saw Ashe in action during a discussion class they led together.

"I could give the general picture, and he would always do a better job of explaining it than I could," Michener said.

Craig Martin, chairman of the KU Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, said Ashe was one of the department's most widely respected faculty members. He trusted Ashe often with administrative tasks.

Martin said beyond Ashe's success in research and teaching, he was also friendly and humble.

"That combination is so rare," Martin said.

Krishtalka acknowledged the difficulty in replacing Ashe. But Ashe would want the museum and department to continue to advance its research, he said.

"He was not just a brilliant researcher and teacher, but we have lost a close family member," Krishtalka said.


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