The letter below was written by Dr. Tom Claflin to the Board of Dierctors in May 2011 to describe the climate and events in the 1960's leading to the formation of the Mississippi River Research Consortium.

The following narrative describes, as best I can recall, some of the events that led to the formation of the MRRC.  Although it’s been a few years, it has been an enjoyable exercise for me to reconstruct some fond memories of the summer of 1967.  If you think it appropriate, feel free to share this with the  MRRC membership.

The idea of forming an association of Mississippi River researchers was first embraced by us during that autumn of 1967.   I do recall that the four people who were involved were Cal Fremling, Brother George Pahl, Clarence McNabb, and I.  Cal had been a faculty member at Winona State for 10 years or so by that time and had published a number of papers on Mississippi River mayflies.  Brother George was the chair of the Department of Biology at St. Mary’s College (now University) and had conducted a number of research projects on mussels.  Cal McNabb was a botanist and faculty member at St. Mary’s and maintained a research program on aquatic vegetation.  He was also instrumental in establishing the St. Mary’s Riverside Research Lab in Homer, MN.  During that summer of 1967 I had taught classes in Limnology and Ichthyology at St. Mary’s College.  I had recently finished grad school and a post-doc fellowship only a year or so before, so I was truly the rookie in that bunch.   However, we all worked together and became friends as well as colleagues during that memorable summer in the 60s.

The four of us obviously had some common professional interests and we frequently discussed river issues.  We all came to realize that prior to that time, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa had largely ignored the Mississippi River by focusing their efforts and resources on inland lakes and other resources.  The river bordering their states was regarded as a conduit for navigation and a convenience for the disposal of unwanted domestic and industrial wastes.  Granted, the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge had been created prior to this, but management techniques had not developed to where they are today.  As often as not, the refuge was simply watched rather than managed.  The river was basically managed for navigation…..period.  Finally, when NEPA and NEPA amendments were passed in 1969 and 1970, the public as well as decision makers began to develop an interest in the river.  We saw our role as one of making them aware of the integral roles played by rivers within the ecosystem.  At the same time, scientists around the world were discovering and describing many of the unique aspects of river systems.  The late 60s and 70s were truly exciting times for river science and scientists.

One evening in August or September of 1967, probably over a few beers from the local Winona Bub’s Brewery, the four of us gathered, I think, around Cal Fremling’s kitchen table and discussed the formation of what would become the MRRC.  We envisioned it as a vehicle whereby interested scientists and policy makers could meet annually to discuss problems and ways to promote a public awareness of river issues.  We also wanted students to be an integral part of the organization since we were all in the education business.  We struggled a bit with names at first.  We considered names such as “association” and “organization” and “society” but thought all implied too much structure and formality.   On the contrary, we envisioned annual meetings that would be structured, yet informal enough to create a comfort zone for professionals, students, and lay persons alike.  When “consortium” was mentioned, I remember Cal McNabb saying something like: 

“Consortium….. kind of sounds shady.  Let’s use it!”

So we did.  The first meeting was held in Winona the following year; and I can assure you that none of us thought that 43 years later it would still be a vibrant and relevant organization.

The common denominator of that group was an abiding concern for the Mississippi River.  I hasten to add that during those early years, as the relative newcomer, I learned a great deal about river ecology from these gentlemen.  For that I will always be grateful.   Although the other three “founders” are no longer with us, I continue to be assured that  the strength and depth and longevity of MRRC is due to the hard work of countless persons through the years and is also a tribute to the forward thinking of  people like Cal.  I am glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

Thank you for the opportunity to recognize Cal at the 2011 annual meeting.  I know his research and teaching about Mississippi River issues, his book, and his influence on young scientists will continue through student-mentor relationships for years and perhaps generations to come.


Tom Claflin, Professor emeritus
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse