Norden, Beth B. (Active)
Pollination Ecology
Snow, milk, and beer are three items for which Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is famous. But there is a lesser known gem native to that city. On a very cold and icy day, January 31, 1952, Beth Ball ventured forth into the world. And thus, began a tradition of less than optimal timing. She grew up the consummate tomboy in spite of her mother having been a professional ballerina. Everything about natural history fascinated her, and to her mother’s horror, she often collected insects in old cigar boxes. Neighboring woods, fields, pastures, and ponds were her teachers and playgrounds. Unfortunately, this was during a time when “nice girls” didn’t play with bugs! Nevertheless, she survived, and even thrived, obtaining a BS degree in 1974 in environmental education (a major she helped create at Towson University). However, she never made it to undergraduate commencement, because on June 1st, graduation day, she and Arnold (Butch) Norden were married. Having met her husband in a botany class just might have sparked her passion for studying pollination ecology. She went on to earn an MS degree in biology in 1979 with a thesis devoted to the biology of ground-nesting bees. However, yet again, she missed her graduation ceremony due to an obligation to her science teaching position in the Maryland public school system. While Beth loved teaching, she could not deny her growing passion for stinging insects. Persuaded by Butch to pursue her interests in entomology research, Beth enrolled at the University of Maryland and began part-time work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bioenvironmental Bee Lab. Within her first year, daughter Heather (note botanical name) was born. Although a welcome surprise, the timing created a few difficulties. Happily, a Department of Agriculture Small Farm’s Grant was obtained in support of Beth’s cucurbit pollination research. And then, a year later, she was awarded a Smithsonian pre-doctoral fellowship in entomology. However, being a Smithsonian Fellow, and conducting melon pollination experiments caused her no end of bad jokes, for Beth was again with child. She went into labor in a cantaloupe field on Maryland’s Eastern shore and was lucky to make it back to College Park for son John’s arrival (note NO botanical name). Her PhD degree was conferred in 1985, during a ceremony she actually attended with her parents, husband, and children. Was her timing getting better? Beth accepted employment with the Smithsonian’s Department of Entomology. And as Heather and John have grown and matured, so too has Beth’s understanding of aculeate Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants) and their often complex relationships with plants. Her roots in education probably compelled her writing of two award winning children’s books: The Bee (1991, Gold Design Award) and Magnification (1993, Children’s Book Choice Award). From 1996 to 1997 she was selected for a Fulbright Senior Research Grant. This funding was used to travel to Sri Lanka with Butch and their melon patch kid to conduct research with her mentor, Karl Krombein (Washington Biologists’ Field Club member), on the myrmecophyte, Humboldtia, and various hymenopterans. While Sri Lanka is a country with an active, on-going war, fortunately none of the team was killed or even wounded (except by land leeches). Her timing had certainly improved. Beth was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1996, and in the process, she and Butch made Club history by holding the first husband/wife memberships. She is now convinced of two things -- first, that with age one’s timing improves, and second, that “nice women” do play with bugs! Postscript: In August 2000 while working in Amazonian Brazil, Beth contracted Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. While she was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time (the path of a virulent mosquito) she did make it back to Georgetown Hospital in time to survive. Timing is everything when “nice ladies” play with bugs!