Dr. Jim Opsahl: a legacy of knowledge Jim Opsahl was an extraordinarily versatile, dedicated and generous teacher who got along with everyone. He taught twenty-three different courses while at Winona State University and in the early days often taught four courses per quarter. Although his primary interest was teaching, he believed that his teaching must be supplemented by research which involved students.
Jim was born in 1924 in Wauzeka, Wisconsin. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, mainly in intelligence units in Ceylone and Singapore. He received his B.A. degree in biology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1949. His M.A. degree (zoology, 1951) and Ph.D. degree (animal ecology, 1959) were awarded at the University of Illinois. He was a professor of biology for 30 years at Winona State University and was held in the highest regard by his colleagues and his students. His career with WSU ended along with his life on August 19, 1987.]
Much of Opsahl's research concerned a 20-year study of Alaskan small mammal populations. He stayed in Alaska for two months each summer and took along two or three biology students, paying all their travel and living expenses and supplying each with up to $500 spending money. These trips included bush pilot trips into the interior and canoe trips. He occasionally paid for the students' trips home and back during the summer and once he took an inland passage by boat. One year he could not make the trip at the last minute but sent two students anyway paying all their expenses.
When he suffered a stroke, he lost most of his vocabulary and was unable to remember the word "robin" even though he had taught ornithology for many years. Through extensive therapy and hard work, Jim regained most of his vocabulary and continued teaching.
Hard work was a standard for Jim. In his personal statement for his doctoral candidacy he wrote: "I feel that research must accompany my teaching in order to keep the teaching materials (and me) fresh. I have felt that inclusion of data still unpublished added immeasurable zest to a course, gave it a sense of timeliness."
His philosophy on teaching and research also carried an element of timelessness. Jim left a legacy of knowledge and respect for education and research. Jim developed WSU's extensive museum collection of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians, as well as a large collection of mammal skulls. He also bequeathed $5,000 to the WSU Biology Department. The money will be used to establish scholarships in Opsahl's field of expertise - zoology and animal ecology.
The James F. Opsahl's Scholarship Fund will be administered by the WSU Foundation.