Kenneth Barclay Armitage

Kenneth Barclay Armitage, 96, died January 6, 2022 at his home in Lawrence Kansas.  He was born in Steubenville, Ohio, on April 18, 1925, the only child of Albert Kenneth and Virginia Huntingdon (nee Barclay) Armitage. Early in childhood he became interested in natural history and spent many hours observing birds and collecting wild flowers and insects. As a Boy Scout he particularly enjoyed camping and hiking and was especially proud when he earned a merit badge for Bird Study. He led community bird walks and spent several summers as the nature counselor at YMCA camps in Steubenville and Zanesville, Ohio. He graduated with honor from Steubenville High School in 1943 and shortly thereafter he answered the summons of his neighbors and was inducted into the Army of the United States.  He was assigned to the Army Air Corps for flight training, but when air corps casualties decreased the need for flight personnel, Ken was transferred out of the flight-training program and eventually was transferred to the infantry. He subsequently served briefly with the 14th Armored Division in Germany in the spring of 1945. Shortly after V-E Day, he was stationed in Munich before being transferred to the 45th Infantry Division for possible service in the Far East. However, the atomic bomb ended the war and Ken was honorably discharged in January 1946.

With the support of the G. I. Bill, Ken entered Bethany College, W. Va., in the fall of 1946 and graduated summa cum laude in the spring of 1949 with a major in biology. He was inducted into Beta Beta Beta, the honorary biological society, and received the Hoagland Award as the outstanding senior graduate. While at Bethany College, Ken formed the Outdoor Club and was active in various campus activities, including a failed attempt to integrate the student body. Ken refused to join a fraternity because of the institutionalized racial and religious biases. His activism was recognized by his induction into the campus leadership honor society.

In the summer of 1949 Ken worked as a Ranger Naturalist at the Old Faithful area in Yellowstone National Park. He continued this activity every summer through 1954. This time in Yellowstone made possible two critical events in his life. He did his doctoral dissertation on the ecology of the Firehole River and met a student from Baylor University who later became his wife.

Ken attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1949 to 1954. He was awarded a National Science Foundation pre-doctoral fellowship and a Knapp House Fellowship and in 1952 was inducted in Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society. Upon graduation, he taught for two years in the University of Wisconsin Freshman-Sophomore Centers, first in Green Bay and then in Wausau. In the fall of 1956 Ken joined the Department of Zoology at The University of Kansas in Lawrence.  He achieved the rank of Professor in 1966 and was appointed the Baumgartner Distinguished Professor of Systematics and Ecology in 1987 and became Professor Emeritus upon his retirement in 1996. Ken was deeply interested in undergraduate education and served as Chair of the Biology Department (Undergraduate) from 1968 to 1975 and Director of Undergraduate Programs in the Division of Biological Sciences from 1975 through 1981. He was one of the founders of the Undergraduate Environmental Studies Program, served on the Environmental Studies Committee (1973-1982), and was program chair (1976-1982).   He also served as Chair of the Department of Systematics and Ecology (1982-1988).

Ken joined the University Field Facilities Committee in 1969 and was Chair from 1974 to 1979. During this period the Kansas Field Station expanded with the addition of the John H. Nelson Environmental Study Area, which Ken directed from 1973 to 1992. He represented KU as a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations and served as vice-president and president (1986-1989). When the Field Facilities Committee was replaced with the Program in Experimental and Applied Ecology, Ken served as the director (1979-1994).  Of the numerous departmental and university committees on which he participated, Ken especially enjoyed the Steering Committee for the University Campus Heritage Plan (2006-2008).  Ken’s interest in history was stimulated by his wife and expressed by his membership in Historic Mount Oread Friends where he served as president (2004-2011).

Ken’s early research interests focused on aquatic ecology; a highlight of this period was his discovery of the ice-covered warm-water lakes in Antarctica in 1961. He received the Antarctic Medal for research in Antarctica in 1968. His interests shifted to exploring the roles of physiological and behavioral mechanisms in animal population dynamics. He focused this interest on a 40-year study of the population biology of the yellow-bellied marmot in Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory where he served on the board of trustees (1969-1986) and as its president (1985-1986). The marmot research, the second longest continuous study of a mammal, culminated in the book Marmot Biology: Sociality, Individual Fitness, and Population Dynamics published in 2014 by Cambridge University Press. Overall in his career, Ken authored or co-authored 246 publications, which included book reviews, journal articles, and book and symposium chapters. Ken read many papers at society meetings and gave 23 invited talks at symposia and conferences and 55 seminars at colleges and universities.

His numerous honors included election as a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. From KU he received the Education Service Award (1979) and election to Phi Beta Kappa (1991). He received the Alumni Achievement Award for Biological Research from Bethany College, WV (1989), the C. Hart Merriam Award for mammalian research from the American Society of Mammalogists (1997), and was elected an Honorary Member of the American Society of Mammalogists (2009) for “distinguished service to the science of mammalogy.” In 2014 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

Ken married Katie Lou Hart in New Boston, Texas, on June 5, 1953. Ken loved her deeply, respected her abilities, and was proud of her awards which recognized her contributions to local and Kansas history. In addition to Katie, Ken is survived by their children and grandchildren: Karole; Keith, wife Maria, and daughters Emeline, Julia, and Sophie; and Kevin, and his daughter Rita.

Memorials may be sent to the Kansas University Endowment Association PO Box 928, Lawrence KS, 66044-0928 and specified for either the Armitage Speakers Fund or the Kansas Field Station and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044.

21 Condolences

  1. Jorge L Soberon on January 7, 2022 at 2:22 pm

    Katie, I just heard. Ken was one of my role models in KU. I send you my deepest condolences, and our prayers.

  2. Mark and Lori Lange on January 7, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    So sorry to hear Katie
    Prayers and hugs to you and your family

  3. Christopher Erb on January 7, 2022 at 4:28 pm

    It is bittersweet but also delightful to read Ken’s obituary and reminisce about being neighbors on Ohio St in Lawrence. Karen and Tom so enjoyed Ken and Katie’s energy and enthusiasm as neighbors for many years. Our thoughts are with you today, Katie. The Erbs

  4. Melinda Lavon on January 7, 2022 at 8:45 pm

    What a life a celebrate for Ken – my dear Ohio St neighbor and fellow Sigma Xi scientist! Katie I’m deeply sorry for the loss of your husband and inspired by all of Ken’s accomplishments.

  5. Tammy Steeples on January 8, 2022 at 8:10 am

    Thinking of all your family, dear Katie, during this sad time. Ken accomplished a great deal in this lifetime and was always so gracious and interested in others that most people didn’t realize all he had done. I feel privileged to have known him and you. I have many memories to savor of the days walking and talking with you and the UWC Jabberwalkers. Love you.

  6. Alison Smith on January 9, 2022 at 10:10 am

    Thinking of you and am sorry for your loss, Alison

  7. Bob Antonio on January 9, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Recall fondly early morning walks with Ken and his dog in Burcham Park and especially his instructive comments about nature, life, and growing older. A wonderful, gracious human being was he. He will be missed. My condolences….

  8. Maria Butler on January 9, 2022 at 6:37 pm


    I’m so sorry to hear of Ken’s passing. You are in my thoughts.

    Maria Pence Butler

  9. Nomi Redding on January 10, 2022 at 6:39 am

    Dear Katie and Family, today I have so many fond memories of Ken and you all. May your own memories be a comfort. With much love, Nomi and Larry

  10. Janet Shupert-Arick on January 10, 2022 at 9:21 am

    We are so very sad to hear of Ken’s passing. We have been honored to know Ken and Katie and to have shared the joys of history and the natural world, especially the marmots! We will cherish our memories of great conversations, good food, and pie.

  11. Mimi (nee Camin) Gaustad on January 10, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    Dear Katie, Karole, Keith and Kevin:
    I am flooded with wonderful memories of Ken and your whole family, and ever grateful for the friendship of Ken and Katie with my parents. My dad didn’t talk that much about friends… (he wasn’t much of a talker, period!) but we always knew what a special friend Ken was to him. It’s so easy to picture Ken— his warmth, humor and that wonderful smile! (I feel like I’m breathing in the air at Gothic as I write this!) I’m sure he is and will continue to be much missed by family, friends, his colleagues and former students. Heartfelt condolences to all of you from both Scotty and me.

  12. Julie Campbell on January 12, 2022 at 9:52 am

    Dear Katie,

    I am so sad to hear of Ken’s passing. He was a big part of my life from the day he welcomed me as a new graduate student into his large and warm graduate student family when I was terribly homesick. He continued to brighten my days throughout my career at Haworth. I had the good fortune of often passing him in the halls or the mailroom where we would both stop and take time chatting, catching up, and just being silly. He had such a wonderful sense of humor and will be missed. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    Julie Campbell

  13. Virgil Dean on January 12, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    I count it a real privilege to have know both you and Ken, Katie. Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers. Virgil

  14. Dick and Barbara Schowen on January 15, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Dear Katie and family,
    Ken was one of a kind–so gracious, smart, with such a dry sense of humor, and a superb scientist, scholar, teacher. His life made such a difference to all who studied under him, learned from him, and those who simply were his friends. Our lives are richer for having known him; he will be missed and never forgotten. We are so sorry for your loss. You and Ken exemplified to us what a good marriage can be, and what good parents can be.
    Barbara and Dick

  15. Jeanette Spencer on January 18, 2022 at 11:39 am

    Dear Katie, I count it a real privilege to have know both you and Ken, Katie. Please know you are in my thoughts. I had Ken as one of my favorite professors . It was such a treat to develop a friendship with you both and Carol in later years. Some of my favorite memories is you two over for dinners and Ken’s quirky sense of humor and lively discussions. May the heartbreak be comforted by wonder memories. Much love, Jeanette

  16. Michael A Reid on January 19, 2022 at 6:32 am

    Deep condolences Katie. Ken was one heck of a man and Lawrence and KU are lesser without his wisdom and caring attitude.

  17. Melonie Byrd Moore Sullivan on January 22, 2022 at 7:32 pm

    Dear Katie, Karole, Keith, Kevin and family,
    I am sorry to learn that you have lost Ken but know you must have many happy memories of times spent with him.
    In my mind, I can still hear him calling for your dog Baron in the Belle Crest neighborhood. What fond memories I have you your family.
    Please take care and know that you are loved.
    Melonie Byrd Moore Sullivan

  18. Caterina Ferrari on February 2, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    I am very sorry, you teach us a lot about marmots and animal . Thank you

  19. Bair B. Badmaev on June 3, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    Only just get to know on Kenneth.
    Latest Regret.
    He was Great Marmotologist.

  20. Francie Chew on July 5, 2022 at 1:54 pm

    Dear Katie and family,
    Very sorry to see you husband and Dad go. I have very fond memories of him when I worked at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in the 1970s, seeing his big marmot project near its beginnings. More importantly, Ken had a huge effect in inspiring people like me to do our PhD theses at RMBL, and to become part of the global RMBL community. The community was as important as the science–I think to Ken these were part of each other. He is fondly remembered.
    Francie Chew

  21. Oleg Dudkin on March 15, 2024 at 9:54 pm

    For more than 30 years I have been remembering Ken’s visit to Ukraine with great warmth. He and I examined several colonies of the steppe marmot in the Kharkov and Kyiv regions. Then I, a young researcher, learned a lot of useful knowledge from him. The bright memory of him will forever remain in my soul.

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