We Miss Her Already

Yesterday afternoon, Esther Gatewood Allen, naturalist, teacher, gardener and photographer passed away after suffering a stroke on June 13.

She took with her 93 years of experience outdoors, her great love of nature, her irrepressible curiosity and enthusiasm for plants, and her generosity in passing along her knowledge to everyone.

Active to the last, Esther had a “Keep going, Don’t stop” attitude that inspired everyone who knew her.  Perhaps she inherited it.  She grew up on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio, one of 11 children of Emma Rowena Gatewood who in 1955 at age 67 became famous as Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail alone.  By 1963 her mother had hiked the AT three times, the first person ever to do so.

Esther’s don’t-stop attitude gained her some fame including an interview with the Allegheny Front’s Justin Hopper and a chestnut tree planting on her 92nd birthday.  And she kept hiking too, though her goal was nature not mileage. Here she is chatting with George Bercik on an outing last summer.

Esther loved to teach.  I first met her in 1994 when I took her wildflower class at the Rachel Carson Institute.  I continued to learn from her by joining the Wissahickon Nature Club which she helped found in 1942 and where she taught at every meeting through her exhibits (pictured at top).

Esther knew everything about native plants — everything!  She was especially active in the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania whose members knew her better than I did.  Her home garden, which she tended by “letting it go,” was a joy and treasure trove to her fellow botanists.  If you needed to examine an unusual flower, chances are Esther could show it to you in her garden.  And any time we were stumped by a plant on an outing the cry went out, “Ask Esther!”

In the days before digital photography Esther took beautiful photographs which she used as slides while teaching and contributed as illustrations for the Botanical Society’s Wildflowers of Pennsylvania.  As in all things, Esther passed on this knowledge too.  Her photographic legacy is on this blog in beautiful photos by Dianne Machesney.

Esther leaves behind not only her family but a host of men and women she inspired with her enthusiasm for nature in western Pennsylvania.  We are Esther’s living, breathing legacy — people who love nature and want to pass it on.

I hope we can live up to her example.

We miss her already.

(Esther Allen teaching at a Wissahickon meeting, photo by Chuck Tague.  Esther chatting with George Bercik on a Wissahickon outing, June 2010, photo by Monica Miller)

11 thoughts on “We Miss Her Already

  1. She was a wonderful, sharing lady and a great mentor…I hope I can grow up to be like her. I was honored to have her visit our new habitat, even in the beginning stages and she very much enjoyed the visit (and me with her). Her “seeds” will grow even though she isn’t here.

  2. Kate – Thank you for the tribute to one of my favorite people. She was a joy to have known. How is her trail at the Wildflower Reserve?

  3. Great job, Kate. I am so proud to say that Esther was my teacher, mentor and friend for 14 years. I was sincerely hoping for 14 more years of her fellowship, knowledge sharing, and encouragement. There is going to be a big hole in my universe without her.

  4. Hi Kate. It’s difficult to think of the Wissahickon Nature Club without Esther. As someone once said to me: “Esther is the Wissahickon Nature Club.” I regret that I’ll not get to know her better. Thanks for your kind remembrances of her.

  5. Well said Kate. I walked with her at North Park at the nature center in the afternoon on June 12th. Little did I know that it would be the last time I would be able to enjoy a walk with my good friend. I was privileged to have know her for 30 years and walk many miles with her.

  6. As Mr. Parker said, she was one of my favorite people, too. She taught me a lot about everything in life. I will miss my Mother, but treasure her memory forever. Your tribute is great and I appreciate it.

    Her son, David

  7. This is my grandmother .. she was amazing!!!! I wish I could be the person she was!!! WOW!! I am so glad I got to spend some of the last days with her and I hope that she is in the big wildflower bird santuary in the sky!!! Love ya Grandma!!!!

  8. Having grown up on a farm in southern Ohio Esther was an avid nature lover from an early age. When she retired from the law firm of Moorehead & Knox she spent her spare time learning more about wild flowers {including the common and botanical names}. From then on she had no “spare time”. Her days were spent learning, collecting, photographing, hiking and making many, many friends along the way. Her family is very proud of her dedication and devotion to her “hobby”. Those of you who receive or have access to her materials treasure them. They were put together with love, and left for your education and enjoyment.

    I miss my sister, and I thank my nephew, David, for going out of his way to take me to see Esther in her last days. Knowing that she would never be able to work with her flowers or hike the trails again she was ready to leave this earth for a better place. Peace be with you, Esther.

    Louise LaMott. sister

  9. Esther is my sister. She and Dave came to our hill farm in Ohio often and even Wissahickon members joined us. We explored the hills and valleys in Hocking and Fairfield counties identifying every plant we saw. I was good, but she was the expert and I am very proud of her. I’m the youngest of Grandma Gatewood’s eleven children at 83. Four of us still live, Rowena 95; Nelson 87; Louise 85. Esther was Mama’s favorite and the prettiest of us all. She was a legal secretary before she retired and very talented. I’m so glad that she went peacefully while still enjoying her life. She loved her friends and her many hours with them hiking, discovering new plants and teaching. She liked birds also and some came to her window for her to enjoy. Esther Gatewood Allen was an extraordinary individual and has left a wonderful legacy for us her family and friends. Love, Lucy

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