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Friends, colleagues remember Neil Schanker

By Sibyl Walski

Amidst tears and laughter, friends, students and colleagues shared their memories of College of the Siskiyous biology instructor Neil Schanker, who died August 1 in a fall during a hiking trip in Oregon.

A slide show of his life - and looking through his eyes via a collection of his nature photographs - and a video of a hiking trip with Schanker went some of the distance to capturing the spirit and vision of the man.

To the large group gathered on the college lawn to remember once again the man who walked among them, befriended them and taught them for 12 years, he was still very much a presence.

Schanker had been hired to replace the head of the biology department. Ken Goehring, who had been on the hiring team, was looking for a “true naturalist” to replace another one, apparently not an easy find.

Schanker passed the test on many counts. He loved nature - all of nature - and learning about things - all things, and in microscopic detail.

A master birder, he once took a trip to Belize for the pleasure of spotting a single bird.

Pared to the essence, their experience of him is of an enthusiastic student who delighted in discovery, a gifted teacher, active volunteer in humanitarian and environmental causes, nature photographer, climber, hiker extraordinaire and engaged friend who encouraged the interests of others, and remembered them when he made related discoveries.

One man will remember “how unencumbered he was from all the things we stress about.”

A woman wept when she realized she would never see him smile at her again. Yet others remembered his positive and friendly energy.

Lynda Zehsazian observed, “This was a man who might have died doing what he loved, but after listening to what everyone has been saying, I see that he also lived doing what he loved, and that is his gift to us - his example. It is the lesson I will carry with me.”

A teacher to the end, was Neil Schanker. He would have liked that.

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