Dr. Martha Christensen, of Madison Wisconsin, 85, died on March 19, 2017.
Born on January 4, 1932 in Ames, Iowa to Eva (Patterson) Christensen and Dr. Leo M. Christensen, she had most of her education in the public schools in Lincoln, Nebraska and attended the University of Nebraska (B. S. and M. S. degrees) and the University of Wisconsin (Ph. D. degree). She joined the University of Wyoming Faculty of Botany as a mycologist in 1963 and remained there as a teacher and investigator until her retirement in 1989 to care for her ailing mother in Laramie and at Miller, NE, her ancestral home, returning to Madison after her mother’s death in 1999.
In her research, she studied the ecology of the soil microfungi, the source of antibiotics. She examined relationships within soil microfungal communities, and variations in those communities in different types of soils and in different kinds of plant communities, finding many new species. Grants mainly from the National Science Foundation and from the pharmaceutical industry funded her research throughout her whole career. She published over 60 major research papers and served as mentor for 25 graduate students in mycology. She collected soil samples for analysis from over 100 native plant communities (deserts, grasslands, bogs, forests, tundra) in the US, Europe and Africa. She reviewed papers for professional journals in botany and mycology and she reviewed grant proposals for the National Science Foundation, the National Park Service, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Department of Energy.
She held several offices in the Mycological Society of America, including that of president, as well serving in the Wyoming Outdoor Council and in the Laramie chapters of the Audubon Society and Phi Beta Kappa. Her honors included the Weber-Ernst Award from The University of Nebraska Department of Botany (1953), “Woman of the Year” from the University of Wyoming Student Association (1971), Woman Faculty of the Year from the University of Wyoming Mortar Board (1971), the Teaching Effectiveness Award from the University of Wyoming (1973), a Faculty Merit Award from the University of Wyoming College of Arts and Sciences (1982), the William A. Weston Award for teaching excellence from the Mycological Society of America (1991), and the Outstanding Former Faculty Award from the University of Wyoming College of Arts and Sciences (1997). In 2013, she received the prestigious Johanna Westerdijk Award from the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
She enjoyed the outdoors, hiking and birdwatching not only in Wyoming and Wisconsin but also in Africa, South America, Australia, and Europe. A violist, she also enjoyed classical music, especially chamber music and opera. In Madison, she worked actively in SAIL (Sharing Active Independent Lives), a volunteer organization serving the needs of the independent elderly.
She is survived by her twin brother, Dr. James Christensen (Carol) of North Liberty Iowa, by two nieces, Laura Ellen Christensen (Paul Muhly) and Martha Ann Nussbaum (Philip) and her family of Iowa City, Iowa, and by one nephew, James Martin Christensen and his family of Mt. Vernon Iowa. She was preceded in death by her parents, an older sister, Dr. Ruth Ellen Christensen, and a younger brother, Dr. Richard Martin Christensen.
A memorial service for Dr. Martha Christensen will be held on Saturday afternoon, April 1, 2017, at the Heritage Congregational Church, 3102 Prairie Road in Madison. Family members will greet her friends at 1:00. A service of remembrance will begin at 2:00. Her friends are encouraged to bring photographs of Martha. In place of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to The Nature Conservancy-Wisconsin Chapter, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, or the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. Please share a memory.
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