The group of bird watchers searched fruitlessly for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler among the junipers on the Edwards Plateau in Central Texas. Then they heard the call, the clear buzzy zee, zoo, zeedee, zeep.
Ragupathy Kannan, then a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas, steered the group directly to the bird.
Traveling with that university’s group was Fort Smith resident Thurman Jordan. Thus began a friendship between the two men that has stretched across 25 years and has evolved to include far more than birds, though they are a running motif in that relationship.
When Kannan took a position teaching biology at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, for six months Jordan drove Kannan and his family to the grocery store and on other errands until the family bought its own car. The relationship continued to strengthen and now Kannan’s son calls Jordan “Thatha,” Tamil for grandpa.
“Seldom in life we make friends who have such a profound impact on us intellectually and personally,” Kannan said.
Now add professionally to that list.
Jordan recently established the Molly Frances Jordan Memorial Endowment for Biology Research. Named in honor of Jordan’s wife, the endowment will support Kannan’s research projects and allow him to hire UAFS students to assist in the field.
“I’ve always been interested in education,” Jordan said. “What better opportunity to support that? This is just a continuation of my support of research and Dr. Kannan.”
Kannan said with a growing biology program of more than 400 students, more and more students are becoming interested in field research.
“I hope to use this as a nucleus to raise more funds for undergraduate research in the department. This will be a valuable recruiting tool,” he said.
But it will also do more. When Kannan leaves UAFS, the endowment will continue to fund research in the biology department.
“This will be part of my legacy when I retire,” Kannan said.
In the past, Jordan has donated a high-power telescope to use during field trips to spot and identify distant birds. He has travelled with Kannan to see the sandhill cranes in Nebraska. When Kannan’s first planned Maymester class, which combines learning and travel, to Trinidad and Tobago seemed destined to go the way of the dodo bird, Jordan enrolled.
“I took the ornithology and tropical field biology class at the last minute to keep it from extinction,” Jordan said.
Kannan’s Maymester class now quickly fills every year.
Jordan has audited Kannan’s classes and traveled with them to field sites to assist students and to learn.
“He became my Hindu biological guru,” Jordan said of Kannan.
Jordan began watching birds when he returned to Arkansas after a military career in the Medical Service Corps of the United States Navy serving in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He joined the Arkansas Audubon Society, with which he served as vice president and president. His efforts to conserve efforts for the red-cockaded woodpecker earned him a Wings Across the Americas award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. One of the most memorable birds Jordan has seen is the painted bunting, which is common in Arkansas and its spectacular color “looks like an artist gone wild.”
But a favorite remains the golden-cheeked warbler that he first saw with Kannan.
This fall, Kannan ordered an engraved brick to be placed in UAFS’ Lion Pride Square. It simply states, “Thurman Jordan, Birder, Conservationist, Kannan’s Friend.”