Contributed post by: Maya D'Alessio, graduate student reporter
Joan Venn began her career as a zoology technician at the University of Liverpool, U.K., and after several years began helping Dr. Noel Hynes with his research when time allowed. She began her job right out of high school and worked her way up to senior technician by the time she left in 1964. When I asked her what she had wanted to do after high school, she responded that she “just didn’t want an office job”. Dr. Hynes was recruited to be the first Chair of the Department of Biology here at the University of Waterloo. After he accepted his position, he wrote Joan a letter, offering her a job. She accepted his request and arrived on campus in August of 1964.
At the time, B1 was still under construction and was unable to be used, so the Department was scattered throughout DWE. By November of 1964, they were able to move into B1 and begin setting up their labs. Joan witnessed the very beginning of our Department as Dr. Hynes began the process of recruiting some of our earliest faculty members. Through her work with Dr. Hynes, she was acknowledged in two of his book publications, "The Biology of Polluted Waters", "A Life in the River of Time", as well as an article publication. Joan also helped to set up and dismantle the zoology and physiology student labs. In 1970, Dr. Hynes went on his sabbatical and a botanist in the Department, Dr. John Morton, was looking for a technician to help him run the Department’s Herbarium (collection of preserved plant specimens, organized by specific criteria). He recruited Joan.
The University of Waterloo Herbarium became internationally renowned. Joan was responsible for mounting specimens from the field and categorizing them appropriately; this became quite the task once the Herbarium grew in size. Researchers from other universities would write, asking for specific specimens, and Joan would pack them up very carefully and send them. Joan also managed samples on loan from other herbariums and set out the Flowering Plant lab for undergraduate students.
In her longstanding role as the Herbarium technician with both Dr. Morton and Dr. Semple (from January 1994) as directors, Joan had crucial input into related research projects. Dr. Morton was once quoted as saying, “I couldn’t have done any of this without Joan.” Joan is a co-author on three books that were released as a University of Waterloo Biology Series (see photo below) and three papers with Dr. Morton. Through her research with Dr. Morton, she travelled to Manitoulin Island, New Zealand, Australia, West Africa, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Joan has helped collect samples in every province in Canada and state in the contiguous USA.
The end of her official career at the University of Waterloo came in 1996 when she took an early retirement package offered by the University. At the time, the University was under a hiring freeze, and many researchers in the department were shorthanded. Joan’s love of the Herbarium continued and she stepped in as a volunteer most weekday mornings.
Attesting to her longstanding dedication to our Department, Joan continues to volunteer to this day, even as Drs. Morton and Semple have retired. Joan recently assisted with the transfer of 65,000 specimens to the Marie-Victorin Herbarium (MT) at the Université de Montréal. Even though the main Herbarium collection has moved, many specimens remain in the Department and active research is ongoing today.
Joan, we commend and celebrate your love of biology. Thank you for your lifetime commitment to the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo. You have made a difference, from the very beginning.