Giant Sea Bass, Stereolepis gigas, by David Wang

Charles Congden (Chuck) Carpenter passed away 10 January 2016

Posted on Jan 13, 2016

Charles Congden (Chuck) Carpenter died January 10, 2016. Chuck was born June 2, 1921, in Denison, Iowa, the third and youngest child of Harry Alonzo and Myrtle Barber Carpenter. He grew up in Marquette Michigan where he graduated from Northern Michigan University in 1943 and immediately entered the Army Medical Corps. After the war, Chuck attended graduate school at the University of Michigan where he received his MS (1947) and PhD (1951) in Zoology. It was at the University of Michigan Biological Station, on a blind date on a Saturday night, that Chuck met the love of his life, Mary Frances Pitynski. They married in the fall of 1947 and were married for 68 years.

Chuck was a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma from 1952 until his retirement in 1987. He was the Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Stovall Museum of Natural History (now the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History). He also taught summer courses at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station at Lake Texoma for 35 summers. Chuck was a wonderful mentor to his graduate students, to whom he was known as “Doc”. He trained 26 PhD, 22 MS and three MNS students.

Chuck firmly believed that students learn best in the field and led his students on “safaris” to Mexico and the southwester U.S. every spring.

Chuck was a world-renowned herpetologist and animal behaviorist. He and his students studied a broad array of taxa, but his passion and focus was reptile behavior. Notably, he pioneered the study of head-bobbing and pushup behavior as a form of communication in lizards. He published over 150 scientific papers. A highlight of his career was two expeditions to the Galapagos Islands in 1962 and 1964 to study the behavior of lava lizards, marine iguanas and land iguanas. He received many awards for his work including the first recipient of the W. Frank Blair Eminent Naturalist award from the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, the Oklahoma Academy of Science Scientist of the Year, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Northern Michigan University and the University of Oklahoma Regent’s Award for Superior Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity.

Chuck was a talented musician and artist. He could not read music, but played guitar, piano and accordion by ear, and played tuba in the Army band. He had a fine tenor voice and loved to sing barber shop quartets in college and later with several of his Zoology faculty colleagues. He sang his daughters to sleep every night when they were young, always ending with “Good Night Ladies” as he left the room. His children cherish his paintings of reptiles. He was an avid collector of stamps and coins. He was a natural athlete and an absolutely fearsome competitor on the volleyball court. He walked his beloved German Shepard five miles a day until well into his 80s.

His eldest daughter, Janet, preceded Chuck in death. His wife Mary, daughter Caryn and husband Joe Vaughn of Norman; son Geoffrey of Bosque Farms, New Mexico; grandson Andrew and wife Mona Vaughn of Norman; and granddaughters Katherine Vaughn of Norman and Emile Carpenter of Bosque Farms survive him. Donations may be made in Chuck’s honor to the Charles and Mary Carpenter Endowed Fund care of the University of Oklahoma Foundation. This fund will provide support for graduate students in the Department of Biology to conduct research in the areas of natural history, ecology, animal behavior and/or conservation. A memorial in Chuck’s honor will be held at a later date.

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