Emeritus biology professor Bob Black dies

January 13th, 2012

Bob Black, emeritus professor of biology and longtime assistant men’s basketball coach, died on Friday, Jan. 13. He was 61.

Visitation will be held at Brosh Chapel in Solon on Jan. 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. A Celebration of Life service will be held at  King Chapel on Jan. 22nd with Bob’s favorite music being played beginning at 2 p.m. with the service to follow at 2:30 p.m. with Chaplain Catherine Quehl-Engel presiding. A family inurnment will be held at a later date. You can read the obituary published in the (Iowa City) Press-Citizen here.

Biology Professor Emeritus Bob Black

Joe Dieker, dean of the college, announced Black’s death to the Cornell College community in a message that stated, “The entire Cornell community will miss Bob’s caring and enthusiastic approach to teaching, mentoring, and life.”


Black, who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and earned a Ph.D. from SUNY Stony Brook in Stony Brook, N.Y., started teaching at Cornell in September 1987. He taught biology for 23 years, and retired in fall 2010. At the 2011 Commencement ceremony, he was made an emeritus professor.

The citation read at the ceremony follows.

For 23 years, you have been a mentor, a coach, and a valued friend to students, advisees, and fellow faculty; in the field, on the court, in the classroom, and in your office chair. While being an exemplary family man and navigating the demands of a career that saw you contribute meaningfully to every aspect of the life of the college, you always managed to keep your students near the top of your list of priorities. Your caring, encouraging, and enthusiastic nature has made you a lifelong friend, not only to your colleagues, but to a plethora of students who have continued to make you a part of their lives long afler they left the Hilltop.

Early in your career, you were an expert on the ecology of small invertebrates, including tropical ants and

Black taught at Cornell for 23 years, starting in 1987.

zooplankton. At Cornell, you adopted research programs on larger, more charismatic species that drew many students—and colleagues—into your research. You developed three long-term studies, one on raptor migration in featureless terrain, and two others that continue today under the supervision of your colleagues, one on the ecology of ornate box turtles and the other on ecology and evolution of fire coral. Each of these projects provided a remarkable number of students their first opportunity to conduct biological field research. Two of these projects continue as major research emphases of other Cornell biology faculty.

Your conviction that biology is best studied in natural settings led to the development of a still-growing number of off-campus programs. The suite of courses taught at the Gerace Research Center in the Bahamas and the Wilderness Field Station in Minnesota arose as a direct result of your work at these facilities and your inspiration of others to join you in teaching there. You are outstanding as a teacher in the outdoors, but that is not all. You are remembered by many as an excellent partner in a canoe or a mask and snorkel. You are also remembered for your backcountry culinary skills. Now your Quetico Cookbook that is nearing completion will serve to share those skills—as well as basic canoeing, camping, and people skills—with future generations of campers in the North Woods and elsewhere.

You exemplify the liberal arts ideal. Your pursuits have been collaborative, interdisciplinary, extracurricular, and have extended beyond the Hilltop to the broader community. You helped develop the team taught interdisciplinary courses Environmental Ethics for Cornell College and The Northwoods Course for the ACM. For many years you were courtside as Cornell’s assistant men’s basketball coach. You served on numerous committees to bring positive change to our campus, such as the Minority Task Force and the Sustainability and Energy Committees. You served as an advisor to student organizations such as the Environmental Club and off campus programs. Your work to develop the successful Mount Vernon-Lisbon solid waste program that has increased recycling and diverted untold tons of waste from the landfill.

In sum, your career has benefited the college, its students and faculty, taxpayers, the environment, and future generations. We —students and colleagues alike—all thank you.

51 Responses to “Emeritus biology professor Bob Black dies”

  1. Peter Thompson says:

    I was so saddened to read this news about Bob in the Cornell Report. Bob arrived at Cornell two years after me, and immediately he became an active partner in the Environmental Studies program, which I coordinated from the Geology Department. Our conversations ranged from the importance of getting students out in the field, to whether chemistry should be required of all our majors, to how one can avoid stem borers in summer squash plants. . . and the best time for watching a fox family on the back road to Solon. His enthusiasm was infectious. I remember a delightful few days with Bob in the Boundary Waters, where he tried to entice Thelma and I into teaching a field geology course – – we should have done it! My heart goes out to Susan, Bob’s family, and all his friends.