Jackson Dan Webster, a member (1941) and Elective Member (1961) of the AOU, was born on 26 February 1919 in Tacoma, Washington, and died on 31 May 2010 in Hanover, Indiana. He spent his boyhood in Sitka, Alaska, where his parents served as Presbyterian missionaries and where he graduated from Sitka Territorial High School in 1935. His dad was a keen naturalist, hunter, and fisherman and was obviously a strong influence on young Dan.
After high school, Dan attended Whitworth College, in Spokane, then a small college with about 200 students. He then continued his studies at Cornell University, where he received an M.S. under A. A. Allen. His thesis work took him back to Alaska, where he studied the life history of the Black Oystercatcher. His Ph.D. research at Rice Institute (now Rice University) consisted of a systematic survey of the parasites of bobwhites, which resulted in the description of two new species of tapeworm. He also attempted to determine experimentally the life history of Mesocestoides latus, a parasitic tapeworm common to both opossums and raccoons. This study was inconclusive, and not until the 1980s was it discovered that an underground mite was the first intermediate host and a lizard the primary second intermediate host. Although Dan was best known as an ornithologist, he retained a lifelong interest in parasites.
During World War II, Dan served in the U.S. Army. After military training, he was put in charge of a medical lab at an army hospital in Ogden, Utah. The hospital was located at a camp for Italian, German, and Russian prisoners of war (POWs). Because of a shortage of regular army personnel, Dan trained POWs as lab technicians. During the war, Dan wed Juanita Ross, who had been a student in his lab at Rice; they remained married for over 60 years and had three children. “Nita” was a biologist in her own right and taught biology labs at Hanover College for three years in the 1960s. Their two sons, Jack Webster and Marcus Webster, are both professors of biology, Jack a stream ecologist and Marcus an animal physiologist. Their daughter, Marjorie Webster Underwood, met her future husband while on a field trip to England to study Shakespeare. They live in England and are retired from careers in education.
Dan's first appointment was as assistant professor of biology at Jamestown College in North Dakota. Soon, Dan was offered a position as zoologist by the president of Hanover College. Dan and his family moved to Hanover, where Dan had a long and productive 35-year career, retiring in 1984.
Dan considered himself a field biologist, not an experimentalist. Although the primary mission at Hanover was teaching, Dan kept up active field work in Alaska and Mexico. Birds were his primary emphasis, but his interests extended to mammals, parasitic worms, and general ecology. Dan worked principally on the distribution, systematics, and natural history of sparrows (Emberizidae) in Mexico. I think that it is fair to say that most of what we know about Worthen's Sparrow is based on Dan's field observations.
Dan lived life to its fullest. In addition to his teaching and research, he was an ardent conservationist, concerned not only about birds but about biodiversity in general, water, and land. He worked with the Indiana Audubon Society for years and was its president in 1963. He was on the state board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy, and served on the board of the Oak Heritage Conservancy, a land trust he helped found to protect southeast Indiana's natural heritage. He was honored by being elected a fellow of the Indiana Academy of Sciences (1959), a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences (1962), an Elective Member of the American Ornithologists' Union (1961), and president of the Indiana Academy of Sciences (1979). Dan received the Brooks Award for conservation in 1985 from the Indiana Audubon Society. Dan also had a lifelong association with the Presbyterian Church and was elected an elder of the church in 1961.
His record demonstrates that he could have done well at an institution that stressed research, but he elected to teach at Hanover College because he wanted to teach undergraduate students, and apparently he was very good at it! Many of his students went on to study biology or to do well in other areas. His son, Jack, writes me to say they participated in the local Christmas Count, shortly before Dan turned 91, with the temperatures in the low 20s. A full life, indeed, and he was still doing what he loved best when he died.