David Baumgartner

David Baumgartner, Class of 1965, 1966, 1969

Forestry alum David Baumgartner
David Baumgartner, June 1965

As a newly married graduate student at Michigan State, I needed a summer job.  One day in the “rustic” faculty coffee room in the basement of the old forestry building, Dept. Chair and a wonderful person Lee James was discussing that he didn’t have anybody to teach logging at MSU’s 10 week forestry summer camp.  I told him “I can do it”.  Kind of with a sense of relief to take over that course, he said “OK you are on”.  I thought “Wow!” – I didn’t see that coming, but was glad for the opportunity.  All of my professional career, I can’t remember how many times I said “Thanks for the opportunity”.

Delores Baumgartner, Dunbar Forest

I had bitten off quite a bit but it worked out.  Turned out to be Delores and my “honeymoon summer” in Michigan’s upper peninsula with a neat cabin on the St Maries river.  I had attended the summer camp as an undergraduate so it wasn’t all foreign to me.  But I was basically in charge of the camp for the summer – another graduate student was there to help, but basically it was me.  Three other MSU faculty came to teach their class and then left, but I had all 41 students for the summer.  Maurice Day, another fine person, was the resident superintendent of the Dunbar Experimental Forest.  He was great and employed my wife Delores as a summer secretary to do typing and other office stuff for him.  It was an idyllic, wonderful summer.

Delores Baumgartner, office assistant at Dunbar Forest Experiment Station Office

 cabin at dunbar forest

cabin from across the lake

Dr. Vic Rudolph, my major professor for my MS and PhD – truly my mentor and Dr. Hudson, a character but a really good teacher came up to teach classes.  It was a privilege to work with them on a somewhat coequal status.  They were good and added to a good summer experience for the students.  Out of respect, I never could call them by their first names and always addressed them as Dr. Rudolph, Dr. Hudson, and Dr. James.  Not too long before Dr. James died, I went to visit him and his wife Janice in East Lansing.  I think I still addressed him as Dr. James.  And at summer camp and MSU on campus, I got to drive one of the open bed “stock” trucks on field trips.  Thank god no one was killed – it would never be allowed today.  One of my brothers told a story of, on a dare, hitting a faculty member in the head with a snowball from the back of one of those trucks.  Two brothers ahead of me at MSU, I arrived with a bit of a reputation.

David Baumgartner May 1967
David Baumgartner, May 1967

John Mathias, my fellow graduate student coworker was a good guy and had done his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington.  He added a lot.  But two weeks of John and me alone with the students all day everyday was something.  We had a small Caterpillar tractor, chain saws, surveying tools, etc.  We laid out roads, cut trees, everybody got to use the Cat and we constructed roads.  The students got to watch every logging movie I could get and they got every class assignment I could think of and read the logging text book from beginning to end.  We all survived.  And I was an easy grader.  I don’t know what became of John.

 Daev Baumgartner takes a class into the field

Being a great prankster myself, it was fun/interesting to be on the receiving end of some great student pranks – I admired their creativity.  And it was only after the students arrived at Dunbar did they and I learn that it was MSU’s last summer camp.  Had they not paid their summer tuition and attended, they could have been getting paid for summer work experience somewhere.  But it was fun keeping the whole thing under control.  We had some firecrackers down student chimneys;  one day at the end of camp a 20’+ fir tree appeared growing at 2nd base of the softball field and other good stuff.  Students stayed in their cabins apart from the faculty – thank goodness.  A cook house and cooks for meals and an adequate classroom building. 

classroom at dunbar forest


After camp ended, Delores and I stayed.  I helped Mr. Day with inventory plots and did tree measurements on genetics studies for Dr. Johnathon Wright, world class, leading forest geneticist. 

I was never really excellent at anything, but pretty good at a lot of things.  And as a graduate teaching assistant, in addition to logging, while at Michigan State I co-taught dendrology and helped with silviculture, forest measurements, forest management, forest economics, forest soils, and forest genetics among others.  There were so many subjects that were fun to learn about.  My minors for my PhD were wildlife management, agricultural economics, community resource development, and silviculture/forest management.  And I just skated by on my French proficiency exam.  And I seldom missed a football, basketball, or hockey game.   When I graduated, Dr. James said “we will probably never have another student take as many credits as you did”.  It was great preparation for my career at WSU.

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