A tribute to Barb Stinnett

Barb Stinnett passed away Sunday, July 6, 2014.

Barb helping out during a tour of the Bug House. Photo by IHM-St. Casimir School.

Barb Stinnett passed away Sunday, July 6, 2014. A cherished member of the Department’s outreach efforts, we asked Gary Parsons to describe how Barb made a difference through her work with MSU Entomology, which is shared below. You can donate to the Bug House in Barb’s honor. Send your check made payable to Michigan State University to the Entomology Business Office, Attention: Kayley Grubaugh, Natural Science Building, 288 Farm Lane Room 243, East Lansing, MI 48824. Please include a note that it’s for the Bug House in Barb’s memory and we will make sure the family receives acknowledgement as well. 

Barb was assigned to cover the outreach aspects of the Department. In 1998, the Bug House and the Butterfly House opened, Bug Camps began and Cathy Bristow started Bug College. We had a very active group of faculty, staff and students who were making all these things happen. I arrived in 1999 and was aware of the activity, but had collection matters to take care of so I wasn’t too involved at first. It soon became apparent, that even with no formal entomology training, Barb was seen as the go-to person in all these programs, whether it was scheduling, ordering supplies, and organizing. I had been doing an entomology outreach program at Oregon State, so it was natural for me to get involved, too.

As I had more interaction with Barb and really got to know her, it was obvious that all the entomology students began to see her as the Mother Hen of outreach, or “Momma” as her family referred to her. They would come to her with problems or issues, outreach-related or not, and even though she may not have had the “entomological” answers, she was always there to listen and offer encouragement and advice.

After about five years, retirements, graduations and budget cuts began to have an impact on outreach activities and personnel. By then Barb had made the Bug House and Bug Camps her babies, and she wasn’t about to see them go away. We reorganized the Bug House facilities to make it easier and more efficient to run, as well as spruced things up. She came up with the idea of the Insect Emporium store as a means of taking in money to support the Bug House. She did the organizing, scheduling and guide recruiting while I oversaw the care of the live animals and facilities.

In a way, all the kids that came to visit the Bug House were Barb’s kids. She did everything she could to make their experience as fun and exciting as it could be. When guides could not make scheduled tours, Barb found last minute replacements, or even filled in for them. She never felt comfortable giving a talk about bugs, but she would get out the cockroaches and walking sticks and soon have every kid in the room holding one. She treated those kids as if they were her own grandchildren and most of them related very well to “Grandma” Barb – it’s hard to be afraid of a bug when grandma’s holding it!

While the Bug House took up most of our efforts, it was Bug Camp that Barb was most proud of and considered to be the most important aspect of outreach, and her legacy. Bug Camp started out as half-day, fun activities for younger kids, but Barb wanted to really offer something to the older kids that were really into bugs. There were few opportunities other than 4-H Entomology, so she came up with the idea for a residential four-day camp on campus. The idea was to give kids a fun and educational entomology experience with the goal of setting them onto a path for eventually coming to MSU and becoming entomology students.

Bug Camp became a big hit – so much so that many of the campers were repeat enrollees in subsequent years. After three years, Barb came up with a Junior Counselor program, where kids that had been in the program before could now get an extra pre-Bug Camp, two-day collecting and training experience, and then they would act as assistant counselors with the younger kids for the rest of camp. Again, this became so popular that we didn’t have enough slots for older kids that wanted to continue. A few years later, Barb created a Senior Bug Camp program where senior campers could visit various labs and programs in the Department and learn about opportunities and what an entomology career was about. By now, some of these kids had been in the program for almost eight years, and they really had become Barb’s surrogate children – and this didn’t pertain to just the campers. The student counselors were part of that family too. They had as much fun and continued to keep coming back just like the kids. The program eventually bore fruit. Several Bug Campers did come to MSU as undergraduates and at least one enrolled and graduated from the Entomology Department. Whether they went on to become entomologists or not, Barb really had an impact on their lives. They loved her and she loved them.

This was all happening in a time of economic downturn. While camp was still relatively cheap, some parents were having a hard time affording it. Barb started a scholarship program, soliciting donations from faculty and staff and contributing a good deal of her own money to help subsidize the costs of coming to camp for those who had trouble affording it. When budget cuts finally caused the cancellation of Bug Camp, the parents and students were shocked and saddened. But for Barb, it was like losing her second family, and without Bug Camp, she just really didn’t have the heart to continue on and decided it was finally time to retire.

Barb will really be missed. She impacted so many people in the Department and at MSU, including faculty, staff and students alike, especially all the guides who worked and volunteered over those years in the Bug House, at camps, and other outreach events. And school children, parents and others from all over Michigan who visited the Bug House and came away a little less fearful and more excited about insects owe her a debt of gratitude for what she accomplished. 

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