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Birds of a Feather
by Tom Thomson

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Lawrence E. Hicks

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Lawrence Hicks was another mentor of mine; not to the extent Ed Thomas was, but nevertheless a big influence. I got to know Lawrence when I was 15 years old - shortly after I became interested in birds. At the time, my family lived on West Eleventh Avenue, right across the street from the big Ohio State University campus.

Those were Depression days. My father was dead and my mother took roomers to make ends meet. She was Nashville-born, a graduate of Ward Belmont, a finishing school for young ladies, where she had gained a solid education in grammar and etiquette but precious little practical experience in making her way in the world as a widow with two boys .

My brother. David, was something of a prodigy and during his high school years Mother eked out the money to send him to the old University School at the corner of Woodruff and High. The special attention paid him proved to be something of a blessing for me. I more or less came and went as I pleased, which might have accounted for my being in the informal gardens behind the Botany and Zoology Building one April afternoon where I walked up to within a few feet of a ruby-crowned kinglet displaying his fiery crest.

I went to Everett Junior High School and North High School on Arcadia Avenue. North High had a bird club which I joined. My overwhelming interest in bird study not only saved me back then but was to prove to be "the big wave" which I was to ride the rest of my life.

When I say "saved," I don't mean like a born-again Christian. What I mean is it lifted me out of the humdrum everyday world and transported me into an unbelievable magical realm of beauty, song, and mystery without having to sell my soul to do so.

Better yet, it wasn't long before I heard about all the ornithological opportunities that were located right there on the OSU campus. And if you have guessed that pretty soon I was knocking on a few doors-and the doors were opening-you are exactly right. Just how lucky can one kid get?

One of those doors was opened by Lawrence E. Hicks, a big burly man with a ready smile; a wrestler in college, a tireless field biologist and accomplished ornithologist in later life. After graduating from Otterbein College, Lawrence earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at OSU from research done on the duckweeds and the original vegetation of Ashtabula County.

When I got to know him he was a professor of Wildlife Conservation and director of the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit which was crowded into the basement of the old Veterinary Clinic building on Neil Avenue, a building no longer in existence.

The late Floyd Chapman, who was a student of Hick's, remembered when the Wildlife offices were a center of feverish research activity. One year the group received national recognition for its work on the Ring-necked Pheasant. Chapman went on to relate how the tiny rooms they occupied in the building became so filled with file boxes, books, and specimens that there was little room for the students to work.

Lawrence was a restless man and his greatest love was to be outdoors roaming the state of Ohio. He used to say that he had done field work in every township in the state and there were few that doubted his boast. I still remember how excited I was when I got to go to Ashtabula with him and several other students to take a Christmas Bird Count. I was still in high school.

His big car was mud-splattered and in the back seat there was a supply of crackers, cheese, bologna, and candy bars to reduce the need to stop anymore than necessary. On the floor of the car and in the trunk there were blankets, extra clothing, shoes and socks, shotguns, cameras, binoculars, field guides, and notebooks.

I had already heard from some of his students of his fondness for singing while driving along , but I was nevertheless surprised when he burst into a loud basso-profundo rendition of "Waltzing Matilda." This was on the way to Ashtabula, somewhere in the vicinity of Mansfield. He urged us to sing along with him and after I got over my initial timidity, we had a merry old time singing one song after another.

Lawrence left the Wildlife Research Unit in 1945 and devoted the rest of his life to beekeeping which afforded him time to look for birds and collect plants. As the owner and operator of Buckeye Apiaries, he maintained 2,000 hives in eight counties.

He was only 52 years old when he died on January 20, 1957 following a cerebral hemorrhage. In the preceding weeks, he had taken part in six Christmas Bird Counts, including one at Hoover Reservoir that I had participated in, another centered around Sugar Grove, which is just up the road a couple of miles from Clear Creek, and one at Ashtabula. On that census he had shot a white-winged scoter (he had a collecting permit), and when the bird failed to drift close enough to retrieve, he shed his clothes down to his undershorts, jumped into the icy water, swam out to the dead duck, got it in his teeth and swam back to shore.

That was Lawrence E. Hicks. They don't make them like that anymore.

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