Jack A. Wen­ner­strom

The Ran­dall­stown au­thor, poet and nat­u­ral­ist wrote about Sol­diers De­light and the Up­per Po­tomac River

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD | OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen

Jack A. Wen­ner­strom, a Ran­dall­stown au­thor, poet and nat­u­ral­ist who wrote about Sol­diers De­light and the Up­per Po­tomac River and was also a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor to Bird Watcher’s Di­gest, died Dec. 30 at Si­nai Hos­pi­tal from com­pli­ca­tions of a mas­sive stroke. He was 71.

“Jack was very an­a­lyt­i­cal and he liked hav­ing a plan. He was pleas­ant to work with, and we worked well to­gether,” said Frank A. Wis­niewski, a pho­tog­ra­pher who worked with Mr. Wen­ner­strom on his book, “Sol­diers De­light Jour­nal Re­vis­ited: A Pho­to­graphic Ram­ble.”

”He had a gen­eral vi­sion of what he wanted to con­vey. It just wasn’t about cold facts. He liked to ro­mance the de­tails. It was his an­chor. He let him­self dream be­cause he was hum­bled by th­ese things,” he said. “This is a key to his per­son­al­ity. He was a very hum­ble guy who loved learn­ing. He was stu­dious. He was a sponge. He had a won­der­ful way of rub­bing off on peo­ple.”

A. Mac­Don­ald “Mac” Plant, an at­tor­ney, botanist and birder, is an old friend.

“Jack was a fab­u­lous per­son in so many re­spects. He was a poly­math,” said Mr. Plant, a mem­ber of the Worth­ley Botany Club. “I knew him mostly through our in­ter­est in the nat­u­ral world. He was an ex­ceed­ingly thought­ful, wise and a very kind per­son. He tended not to put him­self for­ward.”

Jack Alan Wen­ner­strom, son of Jack Allen Wen­ner­strom, A.C. Nielsen Co. CFO, and his for­mer wife, Lorene Wen­ner­strom, a home­maker, was born and raised in Evanston, Illi­nois. He was the step­son of Nancy Wen­ner­strom, also a home­maker.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Deer­field High School in Deer­field, Illi­nois, in 1966, he earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in English in 1970 from Lake For­est Col­lege in Lake For­est, Illi­nois.

Mr. Wen­ner­strom held a va­ri­ety of jobs, some of which in­cluded work­ing as a high school English teacher at Bar­ring­ton High School in Bar­ring­ton, Illi­nois, as­sis­tant book­store man­ager at Lake For­est Col­lege, news­pa­per re­porter for the Pi­o­neer Press in High­land Park, Illi­nois, and text­book co­or­di­na­tor for Fol­lett Book Corp. in Evanston.

He met his fu­ture wife, Donna Shoe­maker, in 1976 at a party in Pitts­burgh and mar­ried her the next year in Dol­gel­lau, Wales. In 1976, he moved to Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, and worked as the in­ter-li­brary loan co­or­di­na­tor for Ho­gan and Hart­son, a Wash­ing­ton law firm.

He worked as an in­struc­tor at Har­ford Com­mu­nity Col­lege and an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola Univer­sity Mary­land, and also taught classes at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, Univer­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County, Tow­son Univer­sity and Roland Park Coun­try School, but found his true call­ing as a writer, nat­u­ral­ist and lec­turer.

From 2002 to 2006, Mr. Wen­ner­strom was pres­i­dent of BioTrek Nat­u­ral­ists Inc., a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that of­fers “ad­vanced nat­u­ral his­tory ex­pe­ri­ences for am­a­teur nat­u­ral­ists’ through­out Mary­land,” ac­cord­ing to a 2003 Sun ar­ti­cle.

Sol­diers De­light Nat­u­ral En­vi­ron­ment Area, a 2,000-acre ser­pen­tine grass­lands near Owings Mills — the largest ser­pen­tine grass­land and oak sa­vanna ecosys­tem in the United States, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources — be­came a fo­cus for Mr. Wen­ner­strom, who served as its staff nat­u­ral­ist for a year and was pres­i­dent of the board of di­rec­tors of Sol­diers De­light Con­ser­va­tion Inc., a ci­ti­zens sup­port group.

“He was a walk­ing en­cy­clo­pe­dia of knowl­edge about the flora and fauna of our unique ecosys­tem and its rare and en­dan­gered species,” Lynell Tobler, the group’s vice pres­i­dent, wrote in an email. “Our group is dev­as­tated to lose such a good friend and fan of our trea­sured and frag­ile wild land.”

His fas­ci­na­tion with Sol­diers De­light led to the pub­li­ca­tion of his book “Sol­diers De­light Jour­nal: Ex­plor­ing a Glob­ally Rare Ecosys­tem,” pub­lished by the Univer­sity of

Pitts­burgh Press in 1995.

“I be­came fas­ci­nated by the cryp­tic beauty of it,” he ex­plained in a 2000 in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post. “You have to no­tice the small things to un­der­stand it.”

“There is a luster and res­o­nance in wilder­ness that is be­yond form, be­yond func­tion,” he wrote in the book. “Each time one goes afield it is re­vealed that much more and stored up in the soul. It mostly de­fies trans­la­tion, so few even bother to try. For a long time I didn’t try ei­ther. But, if you’re a writer, the need to at­tempt such trans­la­tions gets un­der your skin. I fi­nally got a note­book and jot­ted a few things down.”

Wrote noted Amer­i­can nat­u­ral­ist, or­nithol­o­gist, il­lus­tra­tor and teacher Roger Tory Peter­son in the fore­word to Mr. Wen­ner­strom’s book: “The au­thor, in his jour­nal year, does not pur­sue just the rare or ex­otic; he de­lib­er­ately seeks out the ev­ery­day in na­ture, the abun­dant aliens as well as the fa­mil­iar na­tives — the pheas­ants and chick­adees, fungi and chicories, that are the stuff of ev­ery­one’s ad­ven­tures in the woods and fields not far from home, wher­ever they live.”

Mr. Wen­ner­strom told The Sun in a 2003 in­ter­view: “By the mid­point of my jour­nal year, I be­gan to feel sti­fled when more than a few days passed be­tween vis­its. … I formed the kind of bliss­ful ad­dic­tion to ob­ser­vant wan­der­ing that Thoreau knew so well.”

In 2016, Mr. Wen­ner­strom and Mr. Wis­niewski col­lab­o­rated on “Sol­diers De­light Jour­nal Re­vis­ited: A Pho­to­graphic Ram­ble,” a self-pub­lished book.

“We did a lot of bush­whack­ing. Jack was 6 feet 4 and much taller than me, and to ev­ery one of his strides I had to take two,” Mr. Wis­niewski re­called with a laugh. “I en­joyed be­ing out there, but it was rough keep­ing up with him — and this was a guy who was in his late 60s.”

As the two friends wan­dered through Sol­diers De­light, they rev­eled in its flora, fauna and mys­ter­ies.

“He was truly in his el­e­ment, and you could tell he was aware, lis­ten­ing and ob­serv­ing,” Mr. Wis­niewski said.

Said Mr. Plant: “When you joined him on a walk through Sol­diers De­light, you re­al­ized how ex­cep­tional his knowl­edge and sen­si­bil­ity to the nat­u­ral world was.”

Mr. Wen­ner­strom was also the au­thor of “Lean­ing Sy­camores: Nat­u­ral Worlds of the Up­per Po­tomac,” pub­lished by the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity Press.

“An es­sen­tial plea­sure in the nat­u­ral world is this ground­ing in de­sign and de­tail. It doesn’t do to in­vent too much, for na­ture has in­vented it for you, in far more in­ter­est­ing ways,” he wrote in the book. “Scru­ti­nize the struc­ture of a beaver or bass and you need not fool with fic­tion.”

For years, in ad­di­tion to his own work, he was a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor to Bird Watcher’s Di­gest.

An adept writer who could work in other gen­res, Mr. Wen­ner­strom wrote three pub­lished nov­els, “Black Cof­fee,” “Home Ground” and “Pheas­ant Al­ley.” He also wrote po­etry, “After­words,” and at his death un­pub­lished works in­cluded four travel di­aries and mem­oirs and two nov­els.

Since 1986, Mr. Wen­ner­strom and his wife lived on Samost Road in Ran­dall­stown. From their ranch home they en­joyed the pass­ing wildlife and nearby woods.

As he grew older, he was con­cerned about the “fu­ture of his species and his planet,” wrote his wife, who re­tired in 2008 from the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, where she was the ed­i­tor of the Alumni Mag­a­zine Con­sor­tium.

“Your ash may rise and fuse with light, with ether and with earth, but ‘you’ will not be there, nor, some day, will our species,” Mr. Wen­ner­strom wrote in “Light and Shadow,” a three-vol­ume un­pub­lished me­moir-au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “Ac­cept that you are star-dust and to star-dust will re­turn.”

Plans for a me­mo­rial gath­er­ing this spring at Sol­diers De­light are in­com­plete.

In ad­di­tion to his wife of 42 years, he is sur­vived by an aunt and two neph­ews.

Jack A. Wen­ner­strom, a Ran­dall­stown au­thor, poet and nat­u­ral­ist, wrote about Sol­diers De­light and the Up­per Po­tomac River and was also a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor to Bird Watcher’s Di­gest.

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