Family and friends of the late Leon Eubanks came together Tuesday to honor his memory and love of nature, both of which continue blooming at his beloved Lake Thoreau in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Located on Thoreau Road off of West Fourth Street in Hattiesburg, the property was donated to the University Foundation in 2000 by the Eubanks family with the intention that it be utilized as a nature preserve for scientific, educational and aesthetic purposes. It is managed by the Southern Miss Department of Biological Sciences.
A ceremony introducing the Lake Thoreau Environmental Center (LTEC) at the Eubanks Preserve demonstrated to the public how it serves as an invaluable resource for biology research, teaching and outreach for students at the university as well as area high schools.
The property was once owned by Eubanks, an alumnus of The University of Southern Mississippiand a member of its English faculty for 22 years, and his wife Fay. It was enjoyed for many years as a hiking, fishing and hunting area by family, friends and members of the community.
“The Center builds on Leon Eubanks’s vision of a nature preserve for scientific, educational and esthetic purposes. It will provide an experience-based learning environment for students of all ages and improve environmental education, contribute to teacher preparation, and support field-oriented research,” said Dr. Frank Moore, a Distinguished University Professor of Biological Sciences who played a key role in developing the LTEC.
“As we approach the celebration of Earth Day 2011 (April 22), it is appropriate we recognize this kind gift from the Eubanks family and the important impact the LTEC will have on faculty and student research, education and community outreach,” said Dr. Glen Shearer, chairman of the Southern Miss Department of Biological Sciences.
“On Earth Day, people across the globe will pause to consider not only the amazing complexity and beauty of nature, but the fact that the health of the environment is absolutely vital to our very own survival. The LTEC is a tremendous resource for our efforts to better understand how the complex web of nature works and how we can better protect the environment.”
Shearer said the more than 130-acre property, along with the adjacent 160 acre Longleaf habitat owned by Southern Miss since its founding, helps meet the need to improve science literacy, increasingly important as technology advances rapidly. Like Moore, he believes it will also be a resource for children, more-and-more isolated from the natural world, to get “back to nature” and experience fresh air, exercise and the thrill of discovery.
“We hope to soon build a research and education building at the site that will be integrated into the natural setting of the preserve, which will help faculty and graduate students pursue field research,” he said. “Additionally, this facility will serve as an education center for students of all ages across the Pine Belt region and beyond.”
“This is an exciting time in the sciences, and public understanding of science is essential to responsible decision-making,” Moore said. “And as science educators, we must make a difference in science literacy through science teacher training. The LTEC provides us an invaluable resource to reach that goal.”
Becky Rutter Manning, a 1973 Southern Miss alumna and niece of Dr. Eubanks, attended Tuesday’s ceremony along with her husband Richard. She recounted fondly her visits to Lake Thoreau as a young girl, where her uncle and Aunt Fay would take her around to see its many gardens.
“Uncle Leon was an environmentalist when it wasn’t cool,” Manning said. “He was a devoted botanist and gardener who worked his own compost piles long before it became a popular practice.”
Dr. Eddie Holloway, dean of students at Southern Miss, recalled going with his mother to plant roses at the property when he was growing up in Hattiesburg in the early 1960s. Leon Eubanks allowed local community members to make such enhancements to the property, clearing brush or planting in its many gardens, for example, in exchange for access to fish at Lake Thoreau or walk the property’s nature trails.
“I’m so pleased to see the Eubanks honored in this way,” Holloway said. “It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the beauty of the natural world, and of course it brings back fond memories for me personally. I know they would want community members to continue enjoying it and for students to take advantage of the educational opportunities it offers.”
Moore said the university welcomes support from local residents and businesses to help the LTEC at the Eubanks Preserve reach its potential. Recent contributions include volunteer work from members of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and a donation of $6,000 from its philanthropic arm Push America. A donation of $8,000 from the Pine Woods chapter of the National Audubon Society funded construction of an observation deck at the lake.
For more information on the Lake Thoreau Environmental Center (LTEC) at the Eubanks Preserve and how to support its development, contact the Southern Miss Department of Biological Sciences at 601.266.4748; online, visit www.usm.edu/biology/lake_thoreau_center.htm.