Mary Baldwin Honors ‘A True Higher Educator’

December 17, 2009

A photograph from the 1968 BluestockingIt doesn’t matter if they graduated in 1971 or 2001. Students of Bonnie Hohn share stories of her unique enthusiasm, dedication, and sincere generosity that have inspired an awareness that extends beyond the classroom.

When news broke that Hohn, a longtime member of the biology faculty, passed away December 10, the Mary Baldwin community was flooded with accounts of her influence. Many of those memories are captured on the college’s Facebook page.

“She loved the natural world and teaching, and both those loves changed my life, ” wrote Ellen Holtman ’71. “I started teaching as a lab assistant with Miss Hohn upstairs in the old science building in 1969, and I still love teaching. I write from my office at school this Friday afternoon.”

Associate Professor of Biology Eric Jones recalled that Hohn compiled the Mary Baldwin Academic Catalog for many years and once lost entries from art to psychology because her dogs had played tug-of-war with the floppy disk containing that critical information.

Several former students and colleagues remember her love of exotic animals — she was known to have brought large parrots, chinchillas, ferrets, and pygmy hedgehogs to campus — as well as her compassion for people. Hohn cared for critically ill friends; her elderly mother; and her sister, bedridden for life after being stricken by polio as a child. Her prized pets are now in the loving care of friends.

“She was a wonderful professor, person, and champion of students and animals. A true higher educator, ” wrote Mary Margaret Marshall ’99. “She elevated her students’ awareness of much-needed information for women.”

Hohn received a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan and a master’s degree from University of Minnesota. She continued her postgraduate studies at Duke University, Central Michigan University and University of Virginia.

A professor of biology from 1966 until 2003, Hohn was recognized with emeritus status upon retirement and made contributions to Mary Baldwin that helped shape academics at the college. Her marine science summer program was a forerunner of May Term and her Biology of Women class was one of the most popular at Mary Baldwin. At one point, about 20 percent of enrolled students at Mary Baldwin took the course.

“Bonnie took over that course and made it her signature course, teaching generations of Mary Baldwin students about women’s health issues in her characteristic breezy and intentionally shockingly direct manner,” recalled Lundy Pentz, associate professor of biology.

“Biology of Women: The most eye-opening class I’ve ever had. I still have my textbook. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Bonnie Hohn,” wrote Hallie Trimmier Gibbs ’95.

In addition to teaching a wide range of biology courses — from botany to animal behavior — Hohn also dabbled in gardening, an interest she shared with her father, who cared for the greenhouse in Pearce as a gift to the college until his death. She eventually developed a horticulture course and designed several plantings around the campus and in the community.

Hohn’s research was determined by her student’s interests — ranging from the genetics of snail shell color variations to the self-anointing behavior of pygmy hedgehogs — and did not tend to form a single, continuing program on a narrow topic.

A founding member of the Daffodil Society, Hohn was instrumental in bringing world-renowned marine biologist Charles “Stormy” Atkins Mayo III to Mary Baldwin for the 1995 Mary E. Humphreys Biology Lecture. In 2001 she established the Hohn Family Memorial Endowment for Study Abroad, which has allowed students to broaden their interests in countries such as Cyprus, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Japan.

Memorials may be made to the study abroad program that bears Hohn’s name or to organizations she supported, including the Mosby Foundation, Cockatoo Rescue and Sanctuary, Wildlife Center of Virginia, and Primate Protection League. To make an online gift, please use the online giving form, indicating in the comments section on the second page that the gift is for the Hohn study abroad scholarship.