Iowa Academy of Science




Dr. Bohumil Shimek

President, 1904-1905

Professor Bohumil Shimek, member of the University of Iowa Botany staff for the last 46 years, died at Iowa City , Iowa , January 30, 1937 aged 75. His death was caused by heart complications following influenza. At the time of his death he was the second oldest member of the University staff. Professor Shimek was born in Shueyville, Iowa, June 25, 1861 , the son of Maria Theresa and Francis Joseph Shimek, political refugees who had immigrated to America from Bohemia in 1848. Professor Shimek's youth and education were closely bound up with the University of Iowa which he entered in 1878 as a student in engineering. After attaining the C.E. degree, Professor Shimek was a railroad and county surveyor for two years. This early training and experience as an engineer resulted in unusual precision and exactitude in his later work in biology. In 1888 he accepted an instructionship in zoology at the University of Nebraska but returned to his alma mater in 1890 as a member of the Botany staff. Professor Shimek's academic rise was rapid as he soon became professor of Botany, head of the department of Botany, director of the Lakeside Laboratory, curator of the herbarium and later research professor. The high esteem in which Professor Shimek was held personally and as an educator was attested by the testimonial celebration tendered him by the University and state of Iowa at the time of his retirement in 1932 at which time he had completed a fifty-year teaching career. The University in publishing his biography recognized his outstanding services as a pioneer, engineer, geologist, zoologist, conservationist, educator, patriot and citizen.

As a zoologist Professor Shimek found his chief interest in the study of snails and from his original interest along these lines developed his well known work on fossil forms for which he was long been recognized throughout the world. His study of fossil malacology gradually developed into a broad interest in the Pleistocene geology of Iowa . He published a number of papers on loess and its fossils and he is the author of the term Nebraskan, applied to the till sheet which underlies the Aftonian interglacial deposits. Many of Professor Shimek's highest honors came in recognition of his geological work. He was a member of the Iowa State Geological Board and in 1911 was chairman of the geological Section of the International Scientific Congress held in Europe as a tribute to his important contributions. The Geological Society of America had awarded him a research grant in 1936.

Professor Shimek's botanical contributions were in the field of ecology in relation to prairies. He strongly championed the concept that prairies were definite associations of species with common tolerance of intense light and rapid evaporation and that their treelessness was attributable to the high summer temperatures and drying winds. His notes comprise over fifty years of meticulous, quantitative observations which have followed the transitions of Iowa ns surrounding prairies from pioneer times to the year of this death. He was at work in his office a few days before his final illness overtook him, studying herbarium material and completing a report of the plant geography of Iowa . Few scholars were able like Professor Shimek to knit together vividly and accurately the whole story of natural history. His was a life spent largely out-of-doors in direct contact with the things about which he wrote. He was known for his insistence upon study in the field and the synthesis of the entire natural environment. In 1901 Professor Shimek took his first class of students to Lake Okoboji where in 1909 the Lakeside Laboratory was established.

Professor Shimek labored ardently in behalf of the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and with his personal friend, Thomas G. Masaryk, the historian, he planned during the latter's exile in American, much of the strategy which finally result in Czech independence and Masaryk's election as the first president of Czechoslovakia. As president of Czechoslovakian Council of Higher Education from its very inception he contributed greatly to the establishment of American standards and ideals of higher learning in the now independent nation of his forebearers. He was called to the Charles University of Prague, Bohemia, as exchange professor in Botany in 1914 and awarded the Ph.D. degree, honoris causa, in recognition of his scientific contributions. As a testimonial of his patriotic services he was warded a special Czech medal of honor in 1927. His services to the state and education were memorialized by the Iowa legislature in an unanimous resolution of tribute passed February 1, 1937 .

Professor Shimek was long a leader in the educational development of the Middle West. He served as a member of several school boards and other educational organizations. He was president of the Iowa Academy of Science in 1904 and later president of the Botanical Society of America, Ecological Society, Washington and Iowa Academy of Science, Sigma Xi, national and state president of the Isaac Walton League,

Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Geological Society of America, Botanical Society of Bohemia and Natural History Society of Prague. His name and work were inseparably linked with that of his noted naturalist colleagues, Thomas Huston Macbride, Charles C. Nutting and Samuel Calvin. His passing is an irretrievable academic and civic loss to the state. He was the last of the elder statesmen of natural history in the Middle East .

-Memorial of Dr. Shimek (1861-1937) published in the Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science, 44:31-33. All rights reserved.

More about Dr. Shimek:

  • The Shimek Photographic Collection (University of Iowa)
  • Bohumil Shimek Papers, 1878-1936 in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7082 (list and access information, includes photographs by Shimek)
  • Oil Painting by Cloy Kent, on display at the University of Iowa Herbarium
  • Nature Conservancy article on the Iowa Pleistocene Snail, first collected by Shimek
  • Bohumil Shimek Elementary School in Iowa City, Bohumil Shimek Environmnetal Educator Award, Shimek State Forest, and Discus shimekii (a snail species) were all named after Dr. Shimek

Affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the American Junior Academy of Sciences (AJAS), the National Association of Biology teachers (NABT), the Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) and the Iowa Mathematics and Science Coalition (IMSC).

The Iowa Academy of Science is a 501c(3) non-profit. Donations to the Academy are tax deductable.

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Last Updated:
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009