Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

July 18, 1915. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 50(42): 3-M. Includes a sketch of Bruner.

Nebraska's Most Distinguished Citizen - An Apostle of Science

Prof. Lawrence A. Bruner Honored Above All Other Men for the Great Work He Has Done Along Scientific Lines - Drove Locust Pests Out of Argentina, Taught Nebraskans How to Conserve Their Crops and Enlightened European Countries.

Sketch of Lawrence Bruner.
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"Nebraska's most distinguished citizen."

To this might be added, "Nebraska's most modest man."

Prof. Lawrence A. Bruner, entomologist at the Nebraska state university.

Wrapped in these three brief paragraphs is contained the life work, and splendid success, of an individual who has made his home state known in all scientific circles wherever modern civilization has raised its banner.

It was said ages ago that "a prophet is not without honors, save in his own country," but here is a case that is different - for this man is not only his own state's most distinguished citizen, but a prophet, for he forecast what could be accomplished, and was brought about by following his advice, which saved to the tiller of the soil, even in far off Argentina, millions of bushels of golden grain.

But to the story of "Nebraska's most distinguished citizen": iN keeping with modern ideas the governor not so long ago, carefully selected a committee of Nebraska citizens who were asked to cast about them, weighing anything with a discerning eye, and a keen sense of justice, and tell him who in their fair judgement should be crowned as the foremost man of Nebraska. This committee began to work deliberately and with pains. It cast about here and there, and after it had sifted all to the bottom Governor Morehead was advised that their is no other man in the state who has equaled Prof. Lawrence A. Bruner, in those things which makes a state's "most distinguished citizen." And that is how the selection came to be made, and why Professor Bruner will be the guest of honor at the Panama-Pacific exposition at San Francisco, in early fall.

The World Sought Him Out.

There is nothing romantic or startling about the life of "Nebraska's distinguished citizen" - his existence has run smoothly in a waveless channel, out here on the broad prairies since a babe at the breast - and up to a few days ago he never dreamed that for years and years his every move and every action had been watched by his fellow citizens all over the state; nor that he was ever to be so signally honored. And this laurel wreath did not come to Professor Bruner as do flowers that are passed across the footlights to one who has momentarily pleased. It came to him because of the great work along scientific lines he has done during the decades he has been impressing his ideas upon the entomological history of the whole world - and the world has more than once drawn from his great store of knowledge.

It hasn't been so long ago as to be forgotten that Berlin asked for his services, and some of the most valuable insect contributions to the museum there were made by this Nebraskan. London, too, sent a plea across the Atlantic for the services of this quiet, hard-working, little man and the museum of that mammoth city has been enriched through his activities in his chosen field of endeavor.

France and two or three other European countries were included in the list before Professor Bruner finished his connections with insect research of the old world. His trail of successes was so clearly marked that when South American countries began to look for the best scientific relief in the world for some of their locust and other disastrous pests their eyes fell upon this Nebraskan.

He was called to Argentina in 189? and after an eventful career there gave the suffering Argentine farmers and land owners such relief that one of them respectfully remarked to him upon his departure that he "could come back any time and be given high office."

Professor Bruner might have returned had it not been for that parting remark, so some of his university faculty friends say. He is in?evently modest and if he believed that honors of any considerable magnitude were about to be thrust upon him would rather crawl around a quarter section of land on his hands and knees than meet the donors, face to face.

Surprised at Notification.

He was inveigled to the governor's office at Lincoln, in fact, in order that the committee might inform him of their action. Addison E. Sheldon, head of the body, called him over the phone:

"Say, professor," he told him, as he chuckled to the other members who were listening, "come up to the state house at once, will you? What's that - what is wanted? Why, you of course. Come right away, it is imperative and it can't be discussed over the phone. Good by."

The professor grabbed his hat and made for the state farm car. He was out at the state farm where his quarters are now located.

"On the way in," he told his neighbors afterward, "I fell to wondering what they wanted of me. I thought over everything bad I had done and decided that no one thing was so very fierce but that accumulated they might make enough to merit severe punishment. I was astounded when they told me they had voted me such great honor," he admitted, as if he didn't know just how to express himself.

In his boyhood days in Cuming county Professor Bruner didn't play as other children. When some of the famous diamond stars of that county were obtaining their pasture training he saw infinitely more pleasure in running down butterflies and every flitting thing. He made a microscope of his own and with the limited number of books, studied everything he could in the line he later picked out for his life work.

In vain his cronies and his relatives tried to divert his mind to other things. Fishing didn't appeal to him, neither did dare, base or bull-in-the-ring, or some of the other games the boys played then.

It is told of him that he strayed into a football gridiron once - in a wild chase for a fleeting grasshopper and that almost before he knew it he was making a dash here and there among the moleskin men who were getting ready for a fall of their favorite sport. He managed to escape - with his grasshopper - and went triumphantly back to his study, quite unconcerned as to whether or not his home town or the other team suffered in the battles of that fall.

Some of the chaps who taunted him for his lack of interest in their game have passed away, some are still living - in obscurity. And the professor now has his reward - he is the state's most distinguished man. To himself, however, this is not a reward in the proper sense. He had his reward in the successes which he enjoyed in his laboratory and in the fields, far away from human beings, perhaps, but busy with multitudes of insects of some family or other.

Found a "Baseball Bug."

One day, years ago, a group of collegians, genus athlete, were hurrying to the baseball diamond. On the way they were tossing new Spaldings back and forth. A candidate for third base on the varsity dropped the ball - just in time for it to be scooped up by a professor in an earnest, if not excited, chase after some queer looking beetle.

'Twas Professor Bruner. He turned hurriedly to the ball player and by a wave of his hand bade him stop for a moment. He lifted the net a trifle and after perceiving that his catch was made, persuaded it by gentle jabs to enter a container he carried. Then he rolled the baseball into the palm of his hand and apologetically arose and gave it to the student.

The glance that he gave the athlete was never forgotten. It was as if he had charted, before his astonished gaze, a line of animal traits; as though in a glance he had recognized the "family" of this obtruder and had denominated him a "baseball bug," or something else equally distant from his world of science.

He couldn't have said more had he put his looks into words - and he wouldn't have dared, probably, to have trusted to his heels to carry him away from the spot had he unloaded his mind of what it really contained at that moment.

The ordinary professor is not looked upon as a practical or successful homemaker. Least of all is it supposed that a great teacher is realms of science has the necessary responsiveness to do his share in bringing up a family.

Not so with Professor Bruner. When he entered the kingdom of his own children he dropped every thought of beetles and grasshoppers and crawling and flying things. He became a father, quite as practical as any, quite as full of suggestions as a man whose contact with the world was more sensitive than his.

He delights to talk of children. He delights to be with them. The greatest tribute he has had from his own children is that they loved him beyond the love of the ordinary child for its father, and that their conception of the things he would do for them was greater than that of ordinary children because he always planned upon doing a little more for them than they expected.

Studied Children, Too.

Nor did this professor fail to study unobservingly and with care the life of his children. He gave them attention when he felt they needed it an then applied a treatment, more or less unconscious, to them which had the natural result of making them so that they didn't require attention when they reached years of discretion.

Professor Bruner, the father, never became so much of a scientist, though he rose to the heights in his line, that he gave up his parental duties and his parental loves. He saw in nature, in its lower orders, myriad of beautiful lessons that he never disregarded, lessons that added a tenderness to his action, an incomprehensible ability to dissect the character of his children quite as readily as he dissected the anatomies of the bugs he studied.

The one thing that makes Professor Bruner successful in his line is his ability to gather details. If he hadn't possessed that faculty he would have dropped by the wayside of science long ago - and now incidentally would not have been packing his "Sunday best" for a trip to the exposition as Nebraska's most distinguished man.

Years ago when a chinch-bug plague hit the state, and farmers were throwing up their hands and declaring their inability to cope with the situation, Professor Bruner was called upon. He grasped the situation. He suggested the spreading of a certain fungus - something which is naturally in the ground and which needs only to be cultivated by certain processes to do away with the enemy.

It did the business. Colonies of the bugs turned up their toes overnight, and, as if a wand had been waved over the state by some saving fairy, the dreaded destroyers were done away with.

So it has been with other plagues.

Years have brought all kinds of enemies of small and large grains and apple crops and other fruits. Always it has been Professor Bruner who has been called upon, and always it has been he who has responded with something that "did the business." He has been working steadily, unassumingly, earnestly and energetically to do the most he could for the people of the state.

Never Looked for Reward.

He has not despaired of getting a reward, for he never thought of other than the accomplishment of the thing he had in hand.

Born in Pennsylvania.

Lawrence A. Bruner was born, March 2, 1856, at Catasauqua, Lehigh county, Pennsylvania. His ancestors on both sides were Pennsylvania Germans. He is one of a large family of children. His father, now dead, Hon. Uriah Bruner, was a pioneer of West Point and Cuming county, being among the first to explore this then wilderness and to settle there. He established a flour mill and founded the first bank, now the West Point National. He obtained his early education at the public school of West Point, then a very primitive affair. His teacher was the late Nathan Fodrea who was, at his death, some years ago, connected with the office of the state treasurer at Lincoln, and who was, for many years, teacher at West Point, and later postmaster. Professor Bruner's youthful habits were intensely studious, all of his spare time was spent in the pursuit and examination of birds and insects, of which he had a most wonderful and extensive collection. It was a perfect passion with him. His mind was occupied with this study to the exclusion of everything else. He took little, if any, part in the usual sports and dissipations of boys of his age, preferring, at all times, to spend his leisure hours in the acquisition of knowledge. His father, himself a man of learning and of deep insight and wise discrimination, recognized the peculiar bent of the boy's mind and furthered his ambitions. He was sent to the University of Nebraska, specializing in scientific and entomological studies and graduated with great honor.

Helped the Government.

His native ability and, at that period, his unique fund of knowledge, attracted the attention of the government bureau of agriculture, and, as the time of the establishment of an entomological commission, in the year 1880, Mr. Bruner was selected as a member of that body and was virtually, the leading mind and spirit of the investigations set on foot by it. After this work was done he was, at various times, employed by the department of agriculture, until, in 1988, his services were secured by the state university, in his peculiar line, he being, at this time state entomologist. He has, at times, held various positions at the university, all of them, however, being directly in the line of bird and insect life.

After Professor Bruner had returned from his trip to Argentina he wrote a book giving the results of his work there, entitled "Destructive Locusts of Argentina," which has been discussed and its contents profited by almost everywhere. And in this connection let it be said that neither Argentina or Paraguay, have ever been materially bothered with the pests the professor taught those countries how to eradicate since he left there. He is also the author of text books on entomology, now in daily use in universities and colleges throughout the land, and of numerous other treaties and monographs, all dealing with the subjects he so well understands.

Often Visits Old Home.

Professor Bruner frequently goes back to his old home town, West Point, for a visit with friends and relatives, where he is held in high esteem, and where he has two sisters living, one making her home in the old Bruner mansion, one of the best known homes in the city and a landmark for miles around. And here is a tribute a West Point citizen paid to him the other day, which again proves that a man is not always without honor in his own town. Said this citizen:

"Professor Bruner's characteristics as a boy, and a young man, were gentleness of manner and speech, great industry, exceedingly methodical habits and a slightly retiring disposition. Although a man of most wonderful attainment he has retained his unaffected manner and modern demeanor and occupies a high place in the esteem and affection of the people of this place. West Pointers' were proud of his election, last spring, to the presidency of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, and they are still more pleased and gratified as the choice of the committee which has made him as "Nebraska's most distinguished citizen."