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Bill Hilsenhoff 1929-2011

Published On: 7/14/2011

Bill Hilsenhoff, of the Hilsenhoff Biotic Index, dies (1929-2011)

William "Bill" Hilsenhoff passed away June 16, 2011, in Middleton, WI.

He was born on July 13, 1929, in Madison, WI, the son of Raymond and Anne (Wildeman) Hilsenhoff. He received his BS, MS and PhD degrees from the UW-Madison, where he met and married Jane Sylvan, and subsequently had three children, Leslie, Linda and Ronald. He served two years in the Army doing classified research at Fort Detrick, MD. He then became a project associate with the UW Entomology Department, and eventually rose to the rank of full professor. He received a UW Faculty Meritorious Emeritus award in 1999.

Bill was an excellent teacher and many of his graduate students are NABS members and have made their careers in aquatic ecology. Bill’s former students always remark upon how supportive a mentor Bill was to them both during their student days and subsequently in their careers.

Bill was a charter member of the Midwest Benthological Society, the precursor of the North American Benthological Society, now the Society for Freshwater Science. He also served as president from 1967-1968. Bill worked on a wide array of topics in aquatic ecology including, but not limited to taxonomy of many aquatic insect orders, life history studies, and faunal surveys. Bill produced widely used taxonomic keys to the aquatic insects of Wisconsin. The breadth of Bill’s studies, both taxonomically and geographically throughout Wisconsin, enabled him to develop the Biotic Index that was to subsequently bear his name. The Hilsenhoff Biotic Index, used to assess water quality of streams based upon the pollution tolerance of its aquatic insect community, was originally developed for monitoring water quality of Wisconsin streams; however, it was subsequently incorporated into biological monitoring protocols of numerous state, tribal, provincial, and national water quality monitoring programs. In recognition of the substantial contributions Bill’s work has contributed to aquatic ecology and the stewardship of aquatic ecosystems he was awarded the North American Benthological Society's Award of Excellence and the Environmental Stewardship Award, in June 2010. Bill also served as chairman and president of many professional entomological organizations and committees, including the Entomological Society of America, and participated in international conferences. He was noted for his work on classification, phylogeny and natural history of hydradephaga (Coleoptera).

In addition to his lifelong passion for aquatic entomology, Bill was an avid birder and he contributed much service to the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology and the Madison chapter of the National Audubon Society. Bill served as editor of the Christmas Bird Counts for the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology's publication the Passenger Pigeon for 35 years, and received the WSO Silver Passenger Pigeon Award in 1978, Certificate of Appreciation in 1989, and the Sam Robbins Lifetime Appreciation award in 2002. He served on the Board of Directors, as program chairman and also president of the Madison Audubon Society, where he also organized the Madison Christmas Bird Counts. He enjoyed his service as a member of the Kiwanis Club of Madison-West.
Bill was an avid golfer and skier. He competed in golf on his high school and university teams and continued to play at a high level for most of his life. Since his retirement, Bill and Jane enjoyed spending winters at their home in Green Valley, Arizona where they enjoyed many happy hours birding and hiking in the scenic canyons and cienegas of Southern Arizona.

Bill is survived by his loving wife, Jane; two daughters, Leslie and Linda (husband, Steve Sylvester); a son, Ron (wife, Connie); his sister, Barbara Ramsay (husband, John); sister-in-law, Mary Sylvan; two grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his mother and father.

Obituary written by Joseph Schiller, Austin Peay State University 

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