Paul Jensen

14 May 2012
Paul Jensen
Paul Jensen

It is my sad duty to inform you of the death of Paul Jensen, age 91, on May 12. Paul had moved from Northfield just in the past few months to be closer to his son in Santa Rosa, Calif.  

Paul taught biology at Carleton for 31 years, arriving as an instructor in 1955 and retiring as professor emeritus in 1986. Paul was an ecologist before that was a common word. He cared deeply about the environment and communicated his passion for nature to his students and on alumni reunion nature walks. As one former student noted, “On field trips, he had a unique ability to walk fast while talking nearly non-stop, pointing out observations and revealing information, and not getting out of breath!” He was especially concerned with restoring natural systems, such as prairies, and he engaged students in prairie burns and planting. After finding the area in 1956, he succeeded in having the college buy McKnight Prairie in 1968. Paul was known to his students as a “Renaissance Man” with a wide range of knowledge and interests that went beyond the syllabus into philosophical explorations, such as “the evolution of joy.” His passion and commitment inspired many students to become field biologists and they are now scattered across the country.  

Paul was also a caring colleague and a faithful friend and neighbor. He was married to Marie Jensen ’47, who taught piano at Carleton and who died this past October. Together they had three children, Katherine (deceased in 1963), Niels, and Karen

A more complete obituary will be forthcoming in the Northfield News. Paul had asked that there be no memorial service, but that friends could gather for an hour of “silence and contemplation at the McKnight prairie or another natural area”–and surely he wouldn’t have objected to those friends talking a bit, too.   

Please keep all of Paul’s family, friends, and former students in your thoughts and prayers.

In sorrow and faith,
Carolyn Fure-Slocum ‘82

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  • 2012-05-17 10:24:58
    Gary Wagenbach

    Paul and Marie helped welcome my wife Linda and I to Carleton and Northfield. Paul’s keen intellect, and knowledge of the big ideas in genetics, ecology, and evolution were among his traits supporting his teaching. Paul was a reader, had an extensive library, and after retirement could often be seen walking to the Northfield Public Library to read daily newspapers. His knowledge of plants, animals, and insects to be found in and around this area was legendary. He knew where on the landscape to look for, and often find rare plants. He strongly supported land conservation by acquisition and organizing. I am thinking of McKinght Prairie, and the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Northfield and Faribault. Paul loved canoeing, and would take paddling trips to the BWCAW at least once per summer. Spring breaks sometimes found him traveling to Big Bend National Park, TX for a taste of spring and the plants and birds of that area. Paul even published a small book about the economist, Adam Smith and wrote a short piece about ancient trails used by American Indians of the area and one that passed through the Arb, across the Cannon River and on to the village now known as Waterford. Paul encouraged me to apply through the budding Office of Off-Campus Studies to take students somewhere interesting to study - that step lead to a 1972 trip to Bermuda to focus on marine biology, and the rest is history as they say, thinking of the nineteen off-campus programs I directed. Paul helped arrange distinguished academic guests to visit Carleton. Two examples: G. L. Stebbins (evolution) and Adam Lomnicki (from Poland, an evolutionary geneticist).

  • 2012-08-08 20:00:01
    Gretchen Gund '60

    Yes, indeed, I first heard the word ecology from Dr. Jensen in biology class in the fall of 1956!

  • 2012-10-06 09:42:19
    David Evans '60

    One of my best moments at Carleton: an oral exam over a collection for Ecology, during which Dr. Jensen said, "Well, Evans, you know what you're talking about."

    Took courses from him and worked as a research assistant, and will always be grateful for those opportunities.  He was such an important part of my own personal and professional background.

  • 2012-10-21 14:08:54
    Jacki Clipsham '58

    I was a zoology major in 1956 and choosing my classes for the spring semester. I saw 'ecology' and asked what was that? Out of curiosity I took the class and it both expanded and changed for ever the way I think about everything , not just zoology. I remember that we had to go on an overnight field trip to count and record the nightlife of insects and animals at a certain place in the Arb. Dean Hazel Lewis had a caniption, boys and girls in the Arb overnight!!! That nearly upended Prof Jensen' s plans. The other incident was checking out a vernal pond and that meant up close and wet. We were warned that ecologically we might find poison sumac (cousin of poison ivy). Said vernal pond was wet and getting deeper all the time. I being 3'10" had to go piggy back on some strong classmate. We were also lost in said vernal pond and sinking. Prof Jensen and others found poison sumac to hang onto ( with subsequent nasty dermatological consequenses) while we found our way out of the great vernal pond. He later offered me a job to stay on after graduation, I was very flattered but turned the offer down because I was heading to France and Italy to study fo a year. That year moved my career to become an artist.

  • 2012-11-25 22:27:23
    Chris Bowen '70

    I was a biology major and took Ecology from Dr. Jensen in '68 or '69.  The subject captured my attention as no other course at Carleton had.  I happened to take a course in computer programming at the same time (one of the first times it was ever taught at Carleton) and was encouraged by Dr. Jensen to combine class projects I had to do for both classes.  The result was one of those inspiring learning experiences which we all hope for and in which Carleton excels.  Ecology became my passion and lead me to study it in grad school.  I also remember Dr. Jensen engaging some of us in a discussion during some of the protests against the Vietnam War which occurred on campus during those years, pointing out other viewpoints such as those of staff members who were refugees from Soviet dominated eastern Europe.  Dr. Jensen invited me to spend the summer after graduation on campus writing computer teaching programs to illustrate ecological principles which I happily did.  He was truly one of the most influential people in my life.  I just read a brief obit in the Voice which lead me here.  I am very much saddened and especially so because I live in Santa Rosa, CA and had I known he was living here I would have loved to talk to, and see him again after all these years