Perhaps they were not the first, and they surely are not the last, but nearly six decades later Ron and Judy Barrett’s Itasca love story is truly something to behold. Now, the couple who met at Itasca in the summer of 1965 are sharing that love by supporting students through full-tuition scholarships for summer courses at the Itasca field station.
After Ron Barrett’s service in the Air Force, he enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College through the GI Bill. He was the first in his family to pursue a college degree, graduating summa cum laude. At Gustavus, Ron vigorously pursued the liberal arts and also became fascinated by French existentialism and Zen.
It was through the lens of Zen that Ron was drawn to ecology and evolution, and the reason that he enrolled in graduate school at the University of Minnesota in 1962. Ron’s limited background in the biological sciences prior to graduate school ended up being fortuitous. It became his pathway for meeting Judy Barrett, an exceptional undergraduate student pursuing a zoology degree and his soon-to-be partner for life.
Ron first noticed Judy in large auditorium-style undergraduate courses in genetics and statistics. Unfortunately, Judy did not notice Ron, so they never formally met. Nevertheless, Ron thoroughly enjoyed his master’s program in entomology and published in two significant scientific journals. After completing his master’s degree in 1965, Ron continued his studies in a Ph.D. program under Dr. Bill Marshall, which included ruffed grouse radio telemetry research and living in a cabin at the Cloquet Forestry Station. Marshall was also the director of the Itasca Station and encouraged Ron to take courses in limnology and ornithology that summer at Itasca.
It was at Itasca where Judy and Ron finally met. It was Judy’s second summer at Itasca and Ron’s first. They met on the volleyball court and within 10 days were engaged. They went to a minister in nearby Bagley, Minnesota, who was reticent at first. According to Ron, he said he was not “running a marriage mill.” Nevertheless, love won the day and they got married that summer while Ron and Judy were still enrolled in their Itasca courses.
For their last weeks at Itasca, they lived in a trailer just outside Itasca State Park so they could finish up their courses in limnology and ornithology. Friends loaned them a 1961 Volvo so they could drive to the East Coast for their honeymoon. Afterward, they moved to Cloquet, where Ron continued his graduate research.
Judy graduated later that same year Phi Beta Kappa. She then worked in the Botany Department as a lab assistant, completed a master’s degree in botany in 1968, and then pursued graduate courses in limnology. Ron completed his wildlife management Ph.D. in 1970 and also did a postdoc in animal behavior through the Bell Museum, working with ornithologist Dr. Frank McKinney.
In 1970, Ron and Judy moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where Ron taught for decades at what is now called the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Fond du Lac campus. Judy completed a master’s degree in elementary education and taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades for decades in the Fond du Lac school district. Now retired, they still have powerful memories of their Itasca experience and its important role in educating students. Ron and Judy have decided to provide a legacy of opportunity for future generations of students by establishing full-ride scholarships at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories through their estate.
— Reede Webster