Discoverer of Kent Bog and Herbarium Founder Dies

When living in a city with such a rich history as Kent, there’s bound to be areas left unexplored, such as the Kent Bog. Located off State Route 43, the bog represents the city’s legacy and that of one of its university’s emeriti faculty members.

The Tom S. Cooperrider-Kent Bog State Nature Preserve was dedicated due to Dr. Cooperrider’s contributions to advance Ohioan’s knowledge of local flora.

The bog was formed thanks to conditions at the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. For thousands of years, northeast Ohio lay beneath a thick mantle of ice. As the glacier melted, it formed a depression which became a 50-acre kettle hole lake.

In the summer of 1961, biology professor Tom Cooperrider discovered the bog and collected specimens in the area. Over the next two decades, Cooperrider and his colleagues collected samples of spaghnum moss, leatherleaf, multiple varieties of bog shrubs, and rare and endangered species of cranberry and sedge — all of which are still housed at the Kent State Herbarium.

The Kent Bog also supports over 3,500 tamarack trees. Which is the largest southernmost stand of tamaracks in Ohio. This is significant because tamarack trees are more commonly found in naturally acidic, cool, wet areas.

Tom S. Cooperrider (far right) and colleagues pictured planting a tamarack tree in the spring of 1970. Courtesy of the KSU Herbarium archives.

Tom Cooperrider, the botanist who discovered the bog, died in July at the age of 94. He was a member of the Kent State biology faculty for 35 years and served as the curator of the Kent State Herbarium

He was not a known activist but helped Kent residents learn the importance of preserving their local wildlife through the 1980s when a mall was planned to be built on the Kent Bog. This prompted the “Save the Bog” movement.

Late in retirement, he wrote three non-technical books. “Botanical Essays from Kent” (2010), a collection of articles focusing on the nature and context of Kent Bog. “Soldier Days: At the End of the War” (2017), a memoir of his 1945-1946 tour of duty compiled from excerpts of letters written to his family. “Tamarack Needles” (2020), his final work, is a collection of his poetry. 

One of Cooperrider’s former colleagues, biology professor Richard Heath, said Cooperrider was an enthusiastic instructor. 

“He wanted everybody to be able to understand nature and enjoy being in it. His students thought highly of him … they learned a lot,” Heath said.

Robert Heath, via edithchasesymposium.com.

Barbara Andreas, a former student, said Cooperrider’s teaching made an impression on her life.

“I came to Kent wanting to study journalism and I took his local flora course as an elective. That changed the whole trajectory of my education and ultimately my career, she said. He was at Kent State during a time when Kent had the best teachers, and he was among them. He had high standards, he helped his students and was really old fashioned.”

Barbara Andreas in 2018. via kent.edu

Cooperrider is survived by his sister, Sue Cooperrider; children, Julie and John Cooperrider; grandson, C. Matthew Burns (Heather), and great-grandson, Hans Burns.