I came to this area to work in March, 1994, and soon after met Lou Beck at a Trenton Naturalists Club meeting. Always eager to bring in new members, Lou introduced me to WCAS, reviving my lifelong, but then dormant, interest in birds.
I felt privileged when first invited to join Lou on Birdathon. Those were the days when we spent our hours in the car rather than the field, starting in Princeton and ending on the Delaware shore. Pat Brundage drove, Eileen Katz rode shotgun and Lou and I sat in the back. We once counted a Prairie Warbler while going 60 mph on the cross-state drive to Brigantine.
Time took its toll. We concluded it would be easier on us, and the environment, if we stopped roaming and concentrated on a single area. Because of its variety of habitats, we chose the Assunpink WMA. With a central meeting place, it was no longer necessary to squeeze into one car and other people helped with the count. Over the next few years, the casual participants dropped away and a new group formed around Lou. Above all, Lou was a teacher and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we venerated him as such.
When hearing a song and naming the singer, it was automatic for me to look at the professor for his affirmative nod. Being wrong wasn’t traumatic. Unlike some people with vast knowledge, Lou was never intimidating. He was a resource as easy to use as an encyclopedia and held just about as much information.
Then he was gone. Feeling the loss, our Birdathon crew decided to summon Lou’s spirit by naming ourselves “Team Beck”. The next Birdathon we recorded 100 species for the first time at Assunpink. The one after that we recorded the Club’s highest total and last year we had our second highest species list.
While I like best to think of Lou afield with his binoculars, I think his modest, unassuming nature was more fully revealed when he’d announce the upcoming field trips at our Club meetings. Our revered fellow member would come down the aisle and deliver his brief remarks from the bottom landing, never taking the stage. He’d encourage us to come out, then quickly retreat to the rear, slender, a little stooped and anxious to get out of the spotlight.