You are viewing the print version of this article. Click here to view the full version.
Columbia Missourian

For William 'Bill' Dierker, a passion for birds touched all facets of life

By Riley Simpson
April 9, 2013 | 7:19 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The drive from Tempe, Ariz., to Tucson, Ariz., took about two to three hours in 1968.

William "Bill" Dierker and his family made the trip in eight hours.

Every time Mr. Dierker spotted a bird or a plant on the side of the road, he'd stop the car, put it in reverse and get out to spot the bird or take a picture of the foliage, his daughter, Carol Janes, said.

Janes remembers her father taking impressions of desert flowers in his plant press, layers of paper on a wooden board used to flatten plants. Mr. Dierker's wife, Jean Dierker, said he always carried his press in case he came across any new or interesting plants.

Mr. Dierker died on Monday, April 8, 2013, in Harrisburg. He was 91.

He was born in St. Louis on March 13, 1922. As a child, his fondness for birds and the outdoors was apparent in his drawings and photographs.

"He was a bird watcher since the time he was able to hold binoculars," Jean Dierker said.

Mr. Dierker served in World War II. He started in demolitions but eventually ended up as a medic, serving mostly in the Philippines.

He started studying wildlife biology at MU in 1946, but was forced to return home to take care of his family when his father, George Conrad, died. He got a job sketching mechanical equipment and enrolled in night school at Washington University.

He met Jean Dierker in their geology class in the fall of 1947. She thought he was a serious and studious young man. The two married in August of 1948 and moved to Columbia, where Mr. Dierker earned his master's degree in wildlife biology at MU in 1951.

At their house in Springfield, where the couple soon moved, the handy Mr. Dierker built a swing set, gym bars and a treehouse in the the backyard for his children, Janes and Mike Dierker.

Family vacations and activities almost always included bird watching. 

"You didn't have a choice," Janes said. "Whenever we went hiking, the binoculars went with."

Jean Dierker said she and her husband went on several National Audubon Society bird counts, trying to see and record the calls and chirps of as many birds in an area as possible;Jean Dierker recorded, and Mr. Dierker spotted.

Once, while driving north through Colorado, they spotted a man who was looking through a big scope on top of his truck. 

"Of course Bill had to find out what he was looking at," Jean Dierker said.

It was a golden eagle, the bird that probably came closest to Mr. Dierker's favorite, his wife said.

"It's exciting, as a birder, to see something you don't expect and something you'll never see again," she said.

From 1965 to 1975, Mr. Dierker taught every discipline of science except chemistry at Hannibal-LaGrange University, his wife Dierker said.

"It seems a crime to get paid to do something you love so much," he told his wife.

After returning to MU to get his doctorate in the late 1970s, Mr. Dierker ended up working on an MU Extension Integrated Pest Management project with his former student at Hannibal-LaGrange, Don Huckla.

Huckla, a pest management supervisor for the project, and Mr. Dierker regularly shared car rides over the state to identify weeds in crop fields and train crop scouts.

Huckla remembers Mr. Dierker's book in which he recorded the flora of every Missouri county. Every time he'd spot a plant that was new to the county, he'd add a dot in the book.

Mr. Dierker retired from the MU Extension project in 1989, but Huckla still brought him plants to identify for Huckla's business, Missouri Valley Agri-Services, Inc.

Janes said her father discovered and developed a mile-long trail while teaching at Hannibal-LaGrange. Today, college students use the William Dierker Nature Trail for science classes. Even Janes and her friends sometimes hike the trail.

"He was proud of it, and I am, too," Janes said.

The current Dierker home in Harrisburg has a bird in almost every picture in the house. A painting of a chickadee hangs in the kitchen, where two windows overlook bird feeders outside.

Janes said her father would sit at the kitchen table with coffee or tea — in a cup with either a blue bird or some ducks on it — and watch the birds every day.

Mr. Dierker taught his daughter a lot about birds, like their chirps and what they ate, but also practical skills, like how to climb their treehouse.

"His family came first," Jean Dierker said. "Science was a close second."

Mr. Dierker is survived by his wife, Jean; his daughter Carol Janes and husband, Bud, of Hannibal; his son Mike Dierker and wife, Susan, of Harrisburg; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life service will be held for family and friends at a later date.