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Memory of Bio legend Prof. Lindsey honored with portrait


Before Google, there were Alton and Elizabeth Lindsey.

In West Lafayette, they were known as the “neighborhood naturalists.” A strange insect? Let the Lindseys identify it. Is that snake in the garden poisonous? Al and Elizabeth would know.

To their neighbors the Minchella family, the Lindseys were always giving the Minchella children “natural specimens” to check out, look up and learn about.

“Al always gave them lessons on the specimens,” said Lindsey Minchella, former neighbor of the Lindseys and wife of Dennis Minchella, Biological Sciences professor and associate dean of the College of Science. “Our kids opened a ‘nature museum’ in our house.”

Al Lindsey and wife of 60 years, Elizabeth, were institutions in the College of Science as well. Al was a longtime professor of Biological Sciences and Elizabeth was by his side at numerous college functions and worked on Purdue campus as the assistant to the registrar. The life of the Lindseys was celebrated at a memorial event May 2 at Purdue’s Ringel Gallery inside Stewart Center. Friends, family and former students of Al Lindsey congregated and spoke about the late ecologist’s amazing career.

Lindseys painting

A detail of Elizabeth (left) and Al Lindsey's portrait.

Among Al Lindsey’s amazing accomplishments:

  • He founded the Ross Biological Reserve, a piece of land in rural Tippecanoe County used as a living laboratory by numerous faculty and students from Biological Sciences and other departments.
  • The Ecological Society of America named him an Eminent Ecologist. He also edited all of the society’s publications in the early 1970s.
  • He published hundreds of articles and several books, including his memoirs “Naturalist on Watch” and “Limericks for Land Lovers,” a humor piece he wrote under a pseudonym.

Marion T. Jackson, one of Lindsey’s many former graduate students, spoke about his experience learning the field with Lindsey. An Indiana State University professor emeritus of ecology, Jackson wrote about Lindsey’s life in various pieces and he always admired his former professor.

Jackson gave amusing anecdotes about Lindsey’s career at the memorial. He revealed that Lindsey always wrote his work with stubby, small pencils. His assistants somehow transcribed the scrawl into type and then sent to editors to be published as more groundbreaking, award-winning research.

He also spoke of Lindsey’s thrilling stint in Antarctica.

Stuffed penguin

Lindsey came to Purdue as a highly touted young biologist in 1947 after stints at American University, University of Redlands and University of New Mexico. From 1933-1935, Lindsey served as a vertebrate biologist on Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s second expedition to Antarctica. While the youngest member of the team and the last living member of that trip at the time of his death in 1999, Lindsey made a huge impact with the admiral. Twelve islands off the continent’s coast are named the Lindsey Islands. Lindsey also shared a dog sled with the old admiral.

Jackson spun the yarn of when Lindsey and Byrd’s dog sled hit a bump. The treacherous, freezing terrain is fraught with obstacles but Lindsey was jostled only for a second. The dogs trekked on. Several seconds later, Lindsey turned around to find no more Admiral Byrd. The expedition’s leader was nowhere to be seen. Lindsey turned the sled around and soon found Byrd in the snow and OK.

Among the artifacts brought back were some penguins, which were donated to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. When one of the birds died, it was stuffed and given to Lindsey. When the Lindseys moved to West Lafayette, the large, stuffed bird became quite the conversation starter for visitors for decades to come.

OK retirement

Lindsey retired from Purdue in 1973 but he remained an active presence in the Department of Biological Sciences for many years after. But as Al and Elizabeth reached their 80s, they moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to be closer to their children, Louise and David Lindsey.

Both extremely active retirees, the Lindseys quickly fit in, made friends and were pillars of their new adopted community. Elizabeth did work with her sorority’s local chapter and Al became “The Professor” in his church’s men’s group, The Romeos. Just like he did for the Minchella’s, Lindsey was the go-to ecologist, identifying creatures big and small and regaling his fellow Romeos over coffee and breakfast about his decades in the field.

Al Lindsey passed away at the age of 92 in 1999. Elizabeth died in 2012 at the age of 93.  but the Lindsey name still rings loudly through Lilly Hall and especially Ross Reserve.

“Al and Elizabeth represented our best traditions in science and community,” said Kerry Rabenold, a professor of Biological Sciences at Purdue. “They were serious, energetic and people of integrity who set the bar for us.”

Incredible likeness

After tales of the Lindsey family were shared at the May 2 reception, a large portrait painting of Al and Elizabeth Lindsay was unveiled. Underneath a black tapestry was brilliant oil work by Gabriela Sincich, West Lafayette artist and wife of Biological Sciences Prof. Esteban Fernandez-Juricic.

The image was taken from a photograph of the couple during their 50th anniversary trip to Trinidad-Tobago for bird watching. Ever the ecologists.

Donated by Louise and David Lindsey, the painting currently hangs in Lilly Hall but will be a centerpiece in the soon to be built new education center at Ross Reserve.

The Lindsey legacy is further preserved – so much that the Minchella’s young grandchildren are learning about the neighborhood naturalists.

“Our kids said we need to set up the museum again for their kids,” Lindsey Minchella laughed.


The Lindsey children, David (from left) and Louise Lindsey, pose with the painting's artist, Gabriela Sincich.

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