Russell H. Jensen (1918-2001)*

By Harry G. Lee

Russ Jensen

    Russell Helge Jensen lived most of his life in New Jersey, entering the world on October 20, 1918 in Kearny, graduating from East Orange High School, working for Union Carbide, finally owning and operating a nursery and florist business in Bloomfield. Two important excursions from the Garden State, however, created the germ for, and later actualized, a metamorphosis in his life's work.

    His enlistment in the U. S. Army shortly after the outbreak of World War II by some fortuitous machination found him billeted on the island of Bermuda. In the process of rising to the rank of Sergeant Major in the Bermuda Base Command, Russ became intensely interested in the collection and study of the island's marine mollusks. His passion proved to be abiding, and it eventually impelled into his fourth, final, and most enduring career.

    After the war, he returned to Union Carbide and a chemical technician until he and his wife, the former Dorothy (Dottie) Elleanor Haarde, established their business in 1951.

    I had the privilege of beginning a long association with Russ Jensen during the halcyon years of the Garden State Shell Club. With an energetic company including Dr. Grace Eddison, Sam Freed, Dot Germer, Richard Kroczynski, Ethelyn Woodlock, and Jane Zager, we exercised our avocation with a special zeal through most of the 1960's. The combined energies produced regular programs, field trips, and various other educational initiatives. Russ was our point man, carrying his knowledge, enthusiasm, ingenuity, and nonpareil sense of humor on his sleeve. It soon became clear to all of us that Russ was no ordinary fellow. Aside from his affection for, and knowledge of, malacology, he was an epicurean chef, woodworker, lapidarist, silversmith, gardener, and student of pre-Columbian culture. It was during this pivotal decade that Russ became acquainted with Dr. R. Tucker Abbott, who then occupied the Pilsbry Chair of Malacology at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

    In 1971, two years after Abbott assumed the curatorship of the Delaware Museum of Natural History (DMNH), he finally succeeded in recruiting Russ as his Collections Manager ("Assistant Curator" per Abbott to me in litt. to me 12/8/72). Aside from managing what was probably among fastest-growing mollusk collections in the world, Russ took his responsibility for public education (and relations) seriously, actively directing volunteers, and helping to raise the profile of the DMNH, placing the institution high on the list of destinations (and donations) for the amateur community. Abbott encouraged Russ to conduct research on Recent Strombidae and to pursue his studies of Bermuda marine mollusks; the latter enterprise producing several new species descriptions and the advancement of this work, his magnum opus. Pari passu with the research efforts was an intensification of his correspondence and visits with the eminent Bermudian malacologists, Arthur Guest and Jack Lightbourn, which continued well into the 1990's.

    In 1977, shortly after Abbott abruptly left DMNH, Russ was appointed Head of the Mollusk Department, a position he held until 1984, when he was called to serve as Acting Director of the museum for a short stint. He returned to the malacology range until his retirement in 1988, when he was succeeded by Dr. Rüdiger Bieler. He was active for several years as Emeritus Department Head a position he held until his death on Dec. 29, 2001 in Phoenix, Arizona.

    It is clear that Russell Jensen left his mark on the scientific community, but it can be easily argued that his most memorable contributions were to the hundreds of hobbyists who, like the man himself, came to this discipline as amateurs in the classic sense - perhaps a bit daunted in the company of a professional, but no less passionate. In the role of banquet speaker, lecturer, and, most notably in the multifarious services of shell show judge, he brought enlightenment, amusement, and above all, a demonstration, by example, that dedication and hard work could make any of us important to the enterprise of malacology.

*This paper will be included in Russ Jensen's magnum opus: Checklist and bibliography of the marine mollusks of Bermuda by Russell H. Jensen and Timothy A. Pearce soon to be published by Delaware Museum of Natural History as Monograph Series No. 5 [Contribution No. 13 of the Bermuda Biodiversity Project (BBP), Bermuda Aquarium, Natural History Museum and Zoo].  This work will be a prodigious and valuable addition to the literature on western Atlantic marine malacology.