Lytle Creek Day to Recognize Frank Hazard's Lasting Legacy

Professor's Untimely Death 50 Years Ago Led to the Establishment of WC's Arboretum

October 2, 2013

Frank Hazard

Frank Hazard

Frank O. Hazard’s untimely death 50 years ago led to the establishment of Wilmington College’s “natural treasure,” the 13.4-acre Hazard Arboretum on the southeast edge of campus.

Hazard will be recognized posthumously as the Lytle Creek League of Conservators’ Pioneer Conservator of the Year during Saturday’s (Oct. 5) annual Lytle Creek Day observance at the arboretum.

Wilmington resident James Ramsey recalls the first day Frank O. Hazard appeared in his freshman biology classroom at Wilmington College.

“He was very well dressed and entered with an air that exuded confidence and self-sufficiency — there was a lot of class about him,” he said. “My first impression was, ‘This is somebody different.’”

Ramsey, a 1948 WC graduate, quickly realized there was substance behind that style as Hazard displayed a mastery of the subject material and proclivity for teaching. He refers to that first course with Hazard as his personal “awakening.”

Indeed, Ramsey, a veteran of the Navy Medical Corps when he started college, had always done well in school, but his professor of biology motivated him like no other and set him on a course for his own distinguished career in science.

“He was demanding and I’d never been challenged like that before,” he said. “He was a tough grader, his exams were tough. There was a rumor that he’d flunk his own mother if she deserved it — that’s probably true.

“That woke me up. I took it as a challenge and I took every class he ever offered,” Ramsey added, noting that Hazard rewarded his protégé’s dedication to learning by making him a lab and field assistant. In fact, he left Ramsey, as a junior, alone to instruct a summer field class for three weeks while he went fishing in Canada.

“Frank was my mentor all the way through and, eventually, I got to know him personally. That launched me on my career path.”

Ramsey, now 89 years old, went on to earn a Ph.D. and have a celebrated career as a professor and researcher at the University of Dayton. This summer’s 50th anniversary of his mentor’s death at 57 years of age brought back many memories of his, at first, intimidating professor that became a friend and peer.

“I’ve never encountered anyone quite like him. He had a brilliant mind and different personal qualities,” he said.

Ramsey also assisted Hazard in his professor’s insecticide testing laboratory, where he offered corporations independent evaluations of their products. An entomologist, Hazard kept a supply of houseflies, lice, bedbugs, mosquitoes and cockroaches at his Wilmington facility.

Hazard grew up in Wilmington, where his parents operated the children’s home on U.S. 68 North. He graduated from Wilmington College in 1927 and joined the faculty in 1928. Hazard earned his Master of Science degree and Ph.D. from Ohio State University, where he wrote his master’s thesis surrounding his research on lightning bugs and his doctoral thesis on a protozoan parasite.

Hazard’s talents went well beyond the realm of science as he played string bass in a five-piece band and wowed audiences with a soft-shoe dance routine.

He married Barbara Brandon, Class of ’37 and they have two daughters, Rebecca ’61 and Susan. Hazard died June 15, 1963, from a serious arthritic condition. His widow lived another 50 years and passed away in July at age 97.

Clifford Hardie, emeritus professor of English, shared recollections of the Hazards in a 1996 Wilmington College LINK article.

“Frank Hazard was the nattiest dresser I ever met in the academic world. Bar none,” he said. “Together with his strikingly attractive wife, Barbara, they were Wilmington College’s answer to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.”

The English professor learned from his students how impressive his faculty colleague was in the classroom.

“Yes, he had standards,” Hardie said. “He believed biology was a discipline you either knew or you didn’t. If students were willing to work, he was more than willing to work with them.”

Hazard was known as one of the era’s “Big 3” in the sciences that featured Wilmington College legends Oscar F. Boyd in chemistry, W.R. Pyle in physics/mathematics and Hazard in biology.

“They were all outstanding,” Ramsey noted.

The College conferred upon Hazard an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1958 in recognition of his highly regarded work on the faculty and reputation gained from his well-known research with insects (he once stumped the panel when appearing on the CBS game show To Tell the Truth).

Hazard, who also served as dean of personnel and assistant to the president under his biology mentor, the College’s 11th president, Sheppard A. Watson, taught at WC for 34 years when his illness forced him to retire a year before his death.

Following the campus memorial service for Hazard in fall 1963, Ramsey, along with Barbara Hazard, Boyd, President James Read and several of Hazard’s former lab assistants, walked to the site of the present-day Hazard Arboretum and planted three trees, a green ash and two oaks, all from Hazard’s farm.

“Those three saplings really started the arboretum,” Ramsey said, noting the ash and an oak survive a half-century later. The next fall, the College held a formal dedication of the 13.4-acre arboretum as a “living memorial” to one of Wilmington College’s most outstanding professors and idiosyncratic personalities.