Ross Shoger

Ross Shoger

  • Funeral Date: 4/25/15
  • Funeral Time: 11:00 a.m.
  • Date of Birth: 1/14/30
  • Date of Death: 3/16/15
  • Funeral Location: First United Church of Christ, Northfield

Ross Shoger, biology professor, researcher and pre-med advisor at Carleton College for 35 years, died at age 85, March 16, 2015, at Reflections Care Center. Many felt they had lost the vital Ross they had known, in July 2010, when a severe stroke followed by many more strokes left him with debilitating progressive vascular dementia. The things he loved in his adventure filled life, become the lasting legacy to the many his life touched: hundreds of students, many of whom became doctors, science colleagues, and his friends and family.

Ross lived lifelong with curiosity, awe, and love of the natural world, persistent in what he could discover, learn and teach others to discover about the complex systems of organisms. It began in his early years growing up on a farm in Illinois during the depression learning from his father Oscar, mother Orma, and three considerably older brothers, Paul, Stuart and David. It meant planting and harvesting fields, growing a wide array of vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers, gathering eggs, making cottage cheese, butchering meat, or coming upon nests of snakes while mowing. Science was not part of the education in the one room country school that Ross attended for 8 grades nor did they offer life science in Oswego high school in the 1940’s so it was at North Central College that Ross first gravitated to biology. It quickly became his passion. Fascinated with research in biology, Ross set aside earlier thoughts of becoming a doctor or a minister. He headed to Purdue University to pursue a M.A. in Endocrinology. At the University of Minnesota in 1953, Ross studied and conducted research in Embryology with chick embryos working with Dr. Nelson Spratt, leading to his PhD in 1959. He was also able to study summers at Itasca Park Biological Station and Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, Cape Cod, MA. Ross, as a grad student, discovered he had a gift for teaching. His enthusiasm for biology was contagious. He made plans to make college teaching and research his career choice. While at the University he met his wife Jan Rutherford at the Presbyterian Student House on campus. They were married in1957and raised three sons, Tim, Kris and Kirk.

Ross felt honored to be offered a tenure track position at Carleton College in Northfield MN by President Larry Gould and Biology Chair Thurlo Thomas in the fall of 1959. Students flocked to his courses in intro biology, comparative anatomy, developmental biology, and bio-ethics seminars despite knowing the courses would be rigorous. Ross was a charismatic, intelligent, challenging, and a well organized teacher known for his wit, wisdom, generosity and love of students and all things biological. Over a cup of coffee or at his home for dinner, Ross created opportunities for students to talk about their lives and dreams. Many grants from National Institutes of Health permitted him to invite students to do research with him in his lab in summers. Other NSF grants allowed him to do summer research at Woods Hole Marine Biology Labs, and Duke University Marine Biology Laboratory in Beaufort N.C. Gerry Hill, Towsley Professor of Biology Emeritus, a Carleton colleague, states, ”I was so grateful for Ross as my mentor when I came to Carleton. He made clear the important differences between lecturing university style and teaching in a liberal arts educational system.” Ross was head of the Pre-med Committee for years, mentoring all at Carleton who went on to become doctors all over the country. The lives of Ross’ wife and their three sons were transformed by these long periods at the ocean’s edge as well as by the year long sabbaticals Ross had in Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan and Cambridge University, England where he collaborated on developmental issues of sea urchins, horseshoe crabs and chick embryos. Appointed a Danforth Scholar for several years, Ross met with students in his home to discuss social issues and mentor the Carleton SNCC on campus during the Civil Rights Movement. Ross kept in correspondence with many Carleton alums right up to 2010. The trip to Chile, Cape Horn and the high Andes in Patagonia to celebrate Ross’ 80th birthday was prompted by an enticing postcard from alum Dr. Sanjay Rao.

Many opportunities to make and listen to music in diverse forms gave Ross great joy. Gifted with a rich baritone voice and parents for whom music was a major part of their lives, Ross played flute, saxophone, piano and organ while in Oswego. At the U of MN, he was in a group that sang German Liebeslieder and he ushered at Northrop Auditorium for all symphony concerts, ballets and operas. He greatly enjoyed singing in church choir at First UCC, Northfield, and was in numerous musical theater productions at the Northfield Arts Guild.

Ross’ life long spiritual journey was always set within his chosen faith community. There he worshipped, participated in faith and social justice study/action groups, was a deacon, a confirmation mentor and active member of the Congregational Care Committee. Ross helped plan a year long study involving plays, speakers, films, attending the Gay Pride parade and discussions around GLBT issues. It was a liberating time for many as First UCC Northfield voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation in 1994 . He organized the first men’s group, which discussed faith and social justice issues pertaining to men’s lives as well as teaching a course at Holden Village Retreat Center in the Cascade Mountains on Men’s Issues.

Ross’ creative spirit led him to make many things, working with his hands. His talents ranged from being a bread baker, pizza chef preparing pizza for 50 at the Presbyterian Student Center, maple cradle maker for his grandson Owen, every year gardener of many vegetables and flowers, wreath maker, and last but not least photographer extraordinaire. Having acquired his first Nikon in Japan in 1968, his eye for exquisite composition and light quality produced compelling photos the rest of his life especially as he traveled in Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, Norway, Peru, China, Thailand, Spain and Chile or right at home in the Carleton Arb. He and Jan were honored to be given the Carleton alum, Leo Lum trip around the world in 2002.

After retirement from Carleton in 1995, Ross offered community service in many venues, his favorite being his volunteer work in Same Day Surgery at the new Northfield Hospital and teaching in the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium courses on Developmental Biology and breakthrough stem cell research.

On his 85th birthday, January 14, while dressing him, caregivers asked Ross what he wished for on this birthday. Ross having been mainly unresponsive and inarticulate in his last years, paused and smiled, then gave a totally unexpected reply, “to be remembered”. Thus it is we remember Ross’ vital, generous life.

Ross is survived by his wife, Jan Shoger, sons and daughters in law, Tim and Suzanne Shoger, Kris and Wendy Shoger and Kirk Shoger. Ross’ grandchildren are Erik, Brad, Jordan, Karsen, Marika, Owen, Gavin Shoger and Reid Welsh.

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Ross Shoger will be held Saturday, April 25 at 11 a.m. at the First United Church of Christ in Northfield with visitation 1 hour prior to Services. A lunch reception will follow.

Memorials may be directed to Ross Shoger Scholarship Fund, Carleton College, 1 North St., Northfield, MN 55057 or First United Church of Christ, 300 Union Street, Northfield, MN 55057

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