Fred H. Tschirley, topical ecology and genealogy expert, passes away at 93

Fred H. Tschirley, PhD, retired university professor and researcher and expert on defoliation in Vietnam and topical ecology, passed away in Fort Collins, CO.
Fred H. Tschirley, topical ecology and genealogy expert, passes away at 93

Press Release ( - FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Oct 10, 2019 - Fred H. Tschirley, PhD, retired university professor and researcher and expert on defoliation in Vietnam and topical ecology, passed away in Fort Collins, CO, on September 19, 2019, at age 93.

Mr. Tschirley earned his BA in 1952 and his MA in 1954 at the University of Colorado. He earned his doctorate in plant science in 1963 from the University of Arizona.

In 1954, he went to work for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and held a variety of posts, his last being coordinator of environmental quality activities in the office of the Secretary of Agriculture.

In 1974, Mr. Tschirley moved to Michigan State University, where he was chair of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology until 1979 and Professor of Botany until 1984. At that time, he became executive director of the Michigan Agriculture/Business Council.

His research was published in journals such as Ecology, Science, Scientific American, and Weed Science/Weeds. Mr. Tschirley’s book, An Assessment of Ecological Consequences of the Defoliation Program in Vietnam, was published in 1968.

He also was a genealogy expert.

“Everyone called him ‘Tish,’ and he was my beloved uncle, publishing and genealogical colleague, and younger brother of my biological mother, Ollie Tschirley Nordhaus,” said his niece, Anne Nordhaus-Bike, an artist, astrologer, and author of the book Follow The Sun: A Simple Way To Use Astrology For Living In Harmony.

“My mother died when I was born, and my father remarried before I was a year old, and so we had little contact with Ollie’s ten siblings when I was a child, except for her few sisters who lived in northern Illinois and occasional birthday cards from a couple of them from out of state,” Nordhaus-Bike recalled. “In 1983, however, one of my aunts asked me to accompany her to a Tschirley family gathering in Sauk Centre, Minnesota (birthplace of novelist Sinclair Lewis), where another aunt was celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary. I went, and a new world opened before me. I met all the extended family I’d never known, heard stories, and put faces with names I’d heard over the years. Among those I met were Fred ‘Tish’ Tschirley and his wife, Mary, along with most of their children and their families.”

The Tschirleys held a family reunion in Mitchell, South Dakota, every other year in even numbered years, “so after my husband, Bill, and I married in 1986, we began attending these gatherings,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “At that first reunion, I saw a copy of the 1974 family history and noticed my first name was misspelled, a fact that launched a multiyear project that Tish and I spearheaded to research, write, and publish a new Tschirley family history. Also joining the team were Bill as well as Tish’s older sisters, my aunts Nelda Blech and Mag Bender (the latter of whom lived in Mitchell and served for many years as the family’s President). This idea mushroomed into a major undertaking – and became my opportunity to get to know my biological mother’s clan.”

Over the next two years, the family history project became a second job for Mr. Tschirley, Bill Bike, and Anne Nordhaus-Bike, “as we were all still working at full time jobs,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “Mag was the ultimate expert on all things family, and we relied on her experience and memory continually as well as her Cancer Sun sign’s devotion to family. Nelda, a dedicated Capricorn with high standards, upgraded the mailing list and translated old German documents, and the team issued questionnaires and fundraising appeals to every family member we could find to assemble birth, baptism, marriage, and death data and made a list of older relatives from whom we wanted to obtain oral histories.

“Tish, a fiery, ‘big picture’ Sagittarius born December 19, 1925, bought genealogical software, entered the data, and conducted additional research (including traveling to locate documents) to trace the family back to the late 18th century in central Europe and later Germany,” Nordhaus-Bike said. He also organized the family photographic file and archives. “Each of us interviewed some of the older relatives to compile the oral histories, and then I researched and wrote a lengthy family history that included both European and U.S. historical information to place the family’s experiences in historical context,” Nordhaus-Bike added. “I also edited and assembled the oral histories into a cohesive series of recollections organized by themes such as the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and grasshopper plagues, making a living, and the importance of the German language and culture. Nelda, Mag, and Bill reviewed everything and made sure it was accurate – their dedication saved us from several gaffes.”

Through summer 1988, the researching and writing team made multiple trips every year for “mini reunions” to meet concerning the family history. “Tish and Mary came to Chicago for one of those meetings, and we went to Michigan and Texas for other multi-day working sessions,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “Toward the end of the writing process, Tish created a list of holdings in the family archives, I wrote the bibliography, and I created a day by day calendar of all family events; although I wasn’t working as an astrologer at that time, something in me must have realized how very handy such a calendar would become. Meanwhile, Tish created numerous genealogical items: pedigree charts, ahnentafel charts, descendant charts, and heredity statistics for each family line descending from Maria Maskus Tschirley and Daniel Tschirley, the first ancestors to come to America.”

When everything was ready, Bike took over to proofread, create the layout, and arrange for everything needed to publish what became The Tschirley Family In America, a softcover book issued in 1988, with copies now held in the Library of Congress. That was before the days of online publishing, so Bike worked with his connections to have the book typeset and printed by firms that went above and beyond to provide a professional product “all of us could read with pleasure and pride,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “Together, Bill and I reviewed the page proofs, and when the galleys were close to final, we spent one very loooooooong and HOT summer weekend creating the index BY HAND at our little (un air-conditioned) apartment on Damen Avenue in Chicago.

“We even had t-shirts made for the family history team,” Nordhaus-Bike noted. “We designed them with the same royal blue shirt color as the main color on the history’s cover, and the front of the shirt said “Tschirley You Jest” – the family name is pronounced like “Shirley,” and this was our way of signaling that. Everyone loved the shirts, and we later offered them for sale at the reunion in 1988, where we presented the fruits of all our labors by bringing published copies, making a formal presentation, and offering the book for sale to family members. The book was a hit and sold briskly, and all of us were thrilled at our success (and at finishing the book on time).

“After the presentation that day, Tish’s wife, Mary, asked Bill if he was going to do a family history for his side and he laughed uproariously,” Nordhaus-Bike recalled. “After all the work – and that hot summer weekend doing the index – that was the last thing either of us wanted to do. To this day, the 1988 Tschirley Family In America stands as the history of record, as the unique mix of talents that created it couldn’t be duplicated to do all the work involved.

“In the years after, we stayed in close touch with Tish and Mary and the rest of the Tschirleys, going to reunions, visiting at other times, and always exchanging Christmas cards and enjoying phone calls,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “When their eldest daughter, Ann Tschirley Gunatilleke, passed away at an early age, Bill and I mourned her loss deeply (Ann was a Libra, like me), and we started a scholarship in her name at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. Each year, we’d send Tish and Mary an update on which student had won this honor, along with a photo of us with the recipient.

“A true Sagittarius, a sign that prizes higher education and travel, Tish earned a doctorate, worked in numerous high positions at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and traveled to and lived in various places overseas before landing at Michigan State University, where he taught and served on various committees and published several papers,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “His Sagittarian restlessness also showed in his extensive travels in the U.S.: he and Mary thought nothing of hopping in the car to take extended road trips for weeks at a time, often during much of the summer, to visit family and friends and sites of interest. Also, while Tish was a hard science guy, as a Sagittarius he was open and curious. So when I became a professional astrologer and published my book, Follow The Sun: A Simple Way To Use Astrology For Living In Harmony, Tish not only applauded my efforts but bought a book. He sometimes made references to his Sun sign, once commenting that he liked doing things in a big way, thanks to Sagittarius and his ruling planet, Jupiter.”

When Mr. Tschirley’s longtime wife and sweetheart, Mary, died in April 2019, “it was the beginning of the end of an era,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “And now that era has truly ended with Tish’s passing. What good fortune to meet this wonderful couple, who offered a doorway into my extended family through their kindness, intellectual curiosity, and dedication to research and hard work. Thank you, Tish, for everything.”

Mr. Tschirley’s siblings were sisters Lena, Margo, Nelda, Helma, Magdalene, Margaret, Olga (“Ollie”), Claudine, and Susan; and brothers Alvin, Norman, and William. He and his late wife, Mary, were parents of the late Ann (Nimal) Gunatilleke as well as Jon (Pauline), Jeffrey (Paola), David (Claudia), and Adele (Matthew) McCullough.


Tags : genealogy


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