Former Curators: Leroy Kershaw Henry


by former curator Fred Utech


LeRoy Kershaw Henry was born 24 January 1905 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Robert Watson Henry and Margaret Freeman Henry. He attended Zelienople High School, 1920–1924. On 8 December 1933, he married Elinor May Schatz and they raised four children: Carol (b. 18 August 1939), Earl (b. 5 June 1941), Clyde (b. 2 May 1944), and John (b. 5 June 1948).

Henry's long association with Carnegie Museum of Natural History began when he was an undergraduate, and he spent his entire career with the museum and the section of Botany. All of his collegiate education was at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his BS in 1928 majoring in botany and minoring in zoology, his MS in 1930, and PhD in 1932.

During the summers between 1928 and 1932 at a Boy Scout camp on Long Island, New York, he acted as a nature study instructor. His masters thesis and doctoral dissertation were entitled Systematic and Ecological Studies of the Wading River Region, Long Island, New York and Mycorrhizae of Trees and Shrubs, respectively. His dissertation appeared in Botanical Gazette (1933) in an abbreviated form and was an early and significant contribution on the mycorrhizal association with woody species. He followed in the path at the museum of his friend and mentor, Professor Otto Emery Jennings (Henry 1964, 1965). Henry moved up the ranks under Dr. Jennings from Museum Assistant (1928-29, 1932-37) to Assistant Curator in 1937, to Associate Curator in 1946, and in 1947 to Curator of the Herbarium. He requested an early retirement in 1973 due to a lingering case of Parkinson's disease and died 19 November 1983.

In his capacity as Curator of Botany, Henry spent much of his time identifying all groups of plants, native or exotic, including his own collections from all over the United States and Canada as well as those left in the herbarium by earlier collectors and those brought in daily by the public. Henry's interest in the vascular plants of western Pennsylvania led to several co-authored county checklists: Allegheny County in 1951 with a 1964 update, Butler County in 1971, and Bedford County in 1978 as well as several regional monographs: Violaceae in 1953, Ranunculaceae in 1958, and Orchidaceae in 1955 and 1975. His interest in the ferns and their allies of the tri-state area lead to active collecting and photographing with hopes of producing a companion volume to The Wildflowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin by Jennings and Avinoff. Henry served several times as Treasurer of the American Fern Society.

With the establishment and development in 1956 of Carnegie Museum of Natural History's biological field station, Powdermill Nature Reserve, Henry was very active between 1957 and 1971 in producing educational and research reports on the various plants of the Reserve. For about ten years he and his wife, Elinor, and often their children as well, spent weekends almost monthly during the growing season searching and photographing the flora. He experimented with trial plantings of various legumes on spoil banks and learned that vegetative survival was not enough; unpalatability to deer was also required. Popular botany was further promoted by numerous articles which appeared in Carnegie magazine, many illustrated by Elinor. Gardening and photography were among his favorite pastimes and they complemented well his field and herbarium work. Associated with the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania for nearly 53 years, he held the offices of Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President, and President.

earthstarHenry's interest in native orchids caused him and his collecting companion, Werner E. Buker, to explore boggy areas throughout western Pennsylvania which were known to the Botanical Society, or reported to them. Henry's familiarity with such areas was most helpful to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in identifying small natural areas meriting preservation, such as Wattsburg Bog in Erie County.

Throughout his career, Henry concentrated on the taxonomy and ecology of the higher fungi of the tri-state area. He collected extensively in western Pennsylvania and identified thousands of specimens. Numerous popular and scholarly publications between 1933 and 1967 documented these studies. Voucher specimens were deposited in the herbarium of Carnegie Museum. In 1981, the fungus herbarium of Carnegie Museum comprising some 41,000 specimens, most collected regionally between 1900 and 1970, was exchanged to the New York Botanical Garden (Thiers, Desjardin, and Methven, Brittonia, 35:367-373, 1983) where it has been incorporated into their larger, international collection.

Photo: Earth stars (fungus), by Mary Wible, Annals of Carnegie Museum, 54; 533-540