Dr. Theodore W. Sudia, US National Park Service (1925 - 2015)

Theodore W. Sudia Obituary (George Wright Society) (PDF) <--- Read this first.

The above George Wright Forum obituary covers many of Ted's career highlights, while hinting at the contradiction of his later life, that he had alas (in the eyes of many) hit the “Peter Principle” and risen to his “Level of Incompetence.” His lifetime of success in the Boy Scouts, Navy, Academia, and Civil Service alas did NOT transfer to Political Philosophy, and while he hoped to form a new eco-political party, his ideas went over like a lead balloon. (At one presentation I attended, two of his friends walked out, less than 5 minutes in.)

Indeed, it tactfully omits that (as far as I know) Ted was expelled from the highly successful Society of park science professionals he had co-founded with colleagues he had known since Navy days in WW2! He was certainly on the outs with them, no doubt due to their lack of enthusiasm for his half-baked, late-life, eco-political ideas. (In his later years, Albert Einstein's version of a Unified Field Theory went nowhere, but at least he didn't get himself thrown out of Princeton!)

Ted needed another PhD in Philosophy of Science, plus maybe an LLM in Public Sector Law, but this was the late 20th century, before online seminars. He could have joined the Board of a major environmental group, become an Emeritus Professor Ecology somewhere, finagled a Residency in some Philosophy Department, or possibly all three, but instead wrote numerous (mostly unread) essays on how the National Parks can be a model for a new vision of Society.

Despite his major, enduring impacts on US and global natural and cultural resource management, only one of his professional friends, his long term protege [MO], came to see him at the end.

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Draft Collection of Ted Sudia Stories (raw biographical notes) – Incomplete and not in order.

(Any teenage kid living in Washington, DC with both parents working for the federal civil service could no doubt recall more, and possibly better, stories than these.)

[Skipping over Ambridge, PA, Kent, Columbus & Toronto, OH, and Winona, MN]

Our St Paul, Minnesota Era

Our family's summer of 1963 road trip to the Southwest, to areas where he and his PhD advisor Arthur Herrick had previously studied the plant life. Trained as a Botanist, he knew the common and species names of every plant, their ranges, and would discourse upon them on walks . Work for Green Giant on determining optimal harvest times, based on degree-days, which led to their “Picked at the peak of perfection” advertising jingle. Light rooms and big Xenon lamps, to grow crops year round while adjusting the day length. Considerable work on wheat rust and other plant diseases.

Their weekly Ag-Botany seminars by PhD students, professors, and visiting professors, which were social as well as educational events. He told me that a good title for a scientific paper was “The Effect of X on Y.” He gave a guest lecture at some ag school, including a list of suggested plant science research topics, which they posted on the wall and used as their research agenda.

His first trip to Russia in 1963 as part of an early scientific exchange, where he dressed like a Russian, was constantly tailed by the KGB, and debriefed by the CIA on his return. The annual U Minn Botany Dept sweet corn picnic at the Agricultural Experiment Station at Rosemount, MN (which later inspired the annual NPS summer crab and corn feast, held near the Tidal Basin). The experimental Hayes White sweet corn was reputed to be the sweetest. (Still available. Developed in the 1930's by H.K. Hayes of Minnesota State Univ, Mankato.) His publication on Flight Distance in the Great Blue Heron appears to be a legitimate ornithological research project, not the prank that he portrayed it as to me. Someone later cited it in her PhD thesis on the Great Blue Heron.

His studies on absorption and translocation of radioactive isotopes in crops, funded by the Atomic Energy Commission (now NRC) to assess the effects of fallout from nuclear war. His using an automated liquid scintillation counter to evaluate radioisotope labeled samples of plant material, which had been reduced to ash in small round dishes, in a shielded refrigerated system resembling a deep freezer. When he handed me a bar of Uranium 238 (the non-fissionable kind), the size of a candy bar, which was stored wrapped in a sheet of Lead, so I could feel it was much heavier than Lead. Everyone who visited the "hot" lab, including me, was issued a standard red plastic radiation badge with some x-ray film inside, which would be developed periodically to monitor their exposure.

Moving to Washington, DC (1967)

Failing to get tenure and promotion to full professor, he leaves U Minn in 1967 to take a job with American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) working for director John Olive in Washington, DC. While at AIBS he helps produce their magazine BioScience, serving as book review editor.

Prior to him joining AIBS, John Olive, Ted, Glenn Herrick, myself, and John's 2 sons (Kent & Craig) went on like a 6-day, 10-lake canoe trip in the Boundary Waters region north of Ely, MN, camping on an island in the middle of some lake. A great wilderness experience with 3 natural scientists.

Unemployed for 8-9 months after some falling out with Olive at AIBS, he tries to found a National Graduate University on what was then Avenel Farm, during which he met David A. Fegan (d. 1996), a local real estate lawyer, who introduced him to MD GOP Congressman Gilbert Gude. His old Navy buddies (Robert M. Linn & Albert G. Greene) were doing science at the National Park Service, so between them and an assist from Gude (during the Nixon Admin), he gets a senior civil service appointment in the Park Service, and soon succeeds Linn as NPS Chief Scientist, who later heads out to Isle Royal, MI, where he runs the GWS.

[Also during the above unemployment, he studied Animal Behavior, creating and observing a colony of gerbils. This research was never published, but a) included the observation that many “animal behaviors” were also seen in humans, suggesting that humans are more primal than they suspect, and b) led to his Theory of Language and Tools (TLT), a major influence on my early philosophical theories.]

His successful effort to move natural resource inventories into the park maintenance budget, along with road repairs and snow removal, where it was much less likely to be cut than if budgeted as research.

His creation of the Center for Urban Ecology (CUE), and authoring 9 papers in pamphlet form (see below) on Urban Ecology, including one titled The River in the City (1974), in which he urged city planners to look upon rivers as a natural asset, rather than the grubby or ruined dockyards more often seen back then. This led to a renaissance of urban river and harbor projects, such as Baltimore Harbor Place (1980), a successful shopping and dining area, and multiple downtown river walk projects. (Some of which predate and must have inspired him.)

When former Idaho governor Cecil D Andrus became Secretary of the Interior, he brought along RM, a young intern / briefcase-carrier, who had been his limo driver during the Democratic Convention. A glib talking English major, RM told me he once persuaded then House Speaker Tip O'Neill to pull over on the George Washington Parkway and chat with him (hopefully at one of the overlooks). While everyone else at the Interior Dept was ignoring him, Ted befriended RM, which allowed him to gain insight into top level political affairs (3 tiers up), and considerably influence them, by educating the junior aide on various topics.

His support for the first Inter-Agency Grizzly Bear Task Force, which produced what was viewed as a workable scientific compromise with the ranchers and environmental groups. The time he convinced Interior Secretary James Watt, a devout evangelical Reagan appointee, that it was God's Will that the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse would fall into the Atlantic Ocean, due to continual erosion and movement of barrier islands due to onshore currents, so don't try to save it. His work on a Coastal Zone Management task force.

Another round of trips to Russia, now as a US government official, helping them develop their parks. In Russian, Zapovednik means “forever wild,” their word for national park. The time he asked a Russian park manager what Basic Law was he operating under? He replied, “Law, what law? There's this guy in the Kremlin. I call him and he tells me what to do.” The drinking contests with Russian officials, which due to his alcohol tolerance, he was winning. A more senior Russian official, who could have been mistaken for Khrushchev, had dinner at our home on Halloween, with a translator, and was handing out candy to startled kids.

His creation, along with Linn, Greene, and others, of the highly successful George Wright Society, as a professional organization for natural and cultural resource managers, which frequently hosts the heads of relevant federal agencies as speakers at its events. Naming it after the legendary first Chief Scientist of the National Park Service back in the 1930s (who was independently wealthy) paid off later when it elicited sizeable donations from his well-off family. (I was member No. 7 of the GWS, but dropped out since I was not a natural resources manager.)

His policy for Evangelical groups at the Grand Canyon, that they could tell their own followers the Canyon was made in 7 days, but not anyone else. The time he had made so many trips to the NPS Conference Center at Grand Canyon that he forgot to look in the Canyon. The time he visited Haleakala in Hawaii Volcanoes, which was shrouded in mist, but once he ascended, the fog cleared on time for him to get the view.

[If you knew Ted and this list brings back memories, consider opening a text or document file on your computer and type some notes into it. Dates for these events would come in handy. Or if you already wrote a relevant essay, I can post/link it or include it as a chapter. All inputs will be credited, unless you prefer anonymity.]

The time he advocated a “let-burn” policy for the Great Yellowstone Fire (of 1988). As he explained it, the locals feared the fire was bad for business, and sending scientists to town meetings wasn't convincing them. However, when those same scientists appeared on TV, saying the same things, the locals believed them. Film production companies used the event to capture dramatic footage of trees exploding in flames. Things turned out fine when the area experienced a bloom and lush greenery brought tourism back to normal (as they had said it would).

His efforts to create Cooperative Agreements with Universities to a) do surveys of park resources, b) pay them to read the relevant literature, and c) train the next generation of students to do science on natural lands. This was no more than what Green Giant, General Mills, and other food companies had been doing at U Minn, funding crop scientists to work on solving their problems, such as when to pick peas for best taste and texture? Or how best to control plant diseases like wheat rust or corn smut, and improve drought resistance, etc? Now he wanted to fund Universities to look at solving NPS's problems.

Just as these Cooperative Agreements were successful, they triggered a major anti-Science backlash within the Interior Dept, including preposterous ethics allegations that he was taking kickbacks from the Universities. The FBI cleared him of any such misconduct, which would have been wholly unlike him, but the tension remained, especially after Reagan was elected, and old style managers accustomed to ruling the roost resented Science being used to overrule them. (At one point he explained to me the difference between malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance.) They couldn't fire him due to Civil Service protections, but he was relieved of duties, sent to the Turkey Farm, a holding unit for unwanted staff, and assigned a desk in the attic of 1100 L Street, NW with bird dung on it.

During the worst period, he spent 3 years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which also has many land, water, and resource management issues, where he worked effectively with tribes and other stakeholders on numerous issues, including nearly creating an American Indian Homeland. Coincidentally, my mother Cecelia Sudia over at HHS was working on Indian Child Welfare, briefly making them a DC “power couple” on Indian Policy.

The time he out-maneuvered the Secretary of the Smithsonian in a dispute with the State of New York over Indian artifacts, and got him fired, making me swear never to tell anyone what happened. The time some medicine men looked at rudely stored Indian relics at the Smithsonian and promptly left town saying, “The spirits aren't going to like that.” The next day (1-13-82) Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River killing 78, and 3 were killed in a Metro subway mishap.

Publication of MO's now classic book on The Value of Conserving Genetic Resources, which Ted commissioned her to write as an NPS science title, was delayed until 1984, due to the Reagan Admin's lack of interest in promoting Ecology.

His efforts to help create parks and natural areas in other countries, including Spain and Russia. The time he almost created a major nature preserve in Malaysia, but one of his assistants (LVK) leaked the deal, after which the billionaire power player backed out and did nothing.

The time another of his assistants (CK) introduced Robert Redford, a prominent figure in Conservation, to Ted's niece JG (my cousin, now deceased), a purported psychic, which turned out badly. CK later got an MD from Harvard Medical School, was diagnosed with cancer, tried natural remedies that didn't work, and promptly died, sending his costly Harvard MD down the drain. (A “70's Death,” as one friend [NBO] remarked.)

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The NPS Urban Ecology Series (Pamphlets)
by Theodore W. Sudia, PhD

1. Man, Nature, City, 1971
2. The Vegetation of the City, 1972
3. The Ecology of the Walking City, 1973
4. The River in the City, 1974
5. The City as a Biological Community, 1975
6. The City as a Park, 1976
7. Technology Assessment and the City, 1976
8. Ecological Engineering of the City, 1978
9. Wildlife and the City, 1978

These 9 pamphlets (see link above) were coffee table booklets suitable for handing out to tourists and high school students at urban park facilities, written in part to restart his pipeline of science publications, which he had been neglecting. Looking at the dating, in 1976 he was making a major (but unsuccessful) effort to be appointed Director of the National Park Service in the incoming Carter Administration. Then after Reagan was elected in 1980, the cry became to "Defund the Left," including anything pertaining to Ecology, after which he transferred to the BIA.

If the political skies had not darkened, he could have kept going, adding further pamphlets such as:

10. Urban Stream Ecology
11. Urban Lake Ecology
12. The Geology of Urban Soils
13. The Hydrology of Urban Drainage

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Institute for domestic Tranquility (IdT)

Although he had been promoting a political philosophy based around the idea of "domestic Tranquility," which the Preamble to the US Constitution recites but does not define, since at least 1976, he formed a non-profit organization (formerly located at IdT.org) which gained its 501(c)(3) tax status in 1984.

An anonymous non-government website, NPSHistory.com, has very helpfully provided us with archived versions the Institute for domestic Tranquility, including most issues of his self-edited publication We the People: Letters of the Institute for domestic Tranquility (Sept 1986 - Sept 1993) for your reading enjoyment.

[I would have gone about this project much differently, but this is Ted's bio, so I'll present my version elsewhere.]

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Ted stories from earlier times

Frank (Fyodor) Sudia (1886-1967) & Paraskeva (Paraska) Storozka (1886-1928) were both born in the Ukraine in two nearby villages, Tilawa and Chestohorb, near the western capital of Lvov (Lvyv), which at the time were in Poland. They immigrated to the USA via Hamburg, Germany to Ellis Island around 1907, where they met each other and got married while working at a lumber camp in "Cross Fork, PA" (which can no longer be located). Their 8 children in order were: Anne, Marion, Frank Jr, Victoria, Helen, Dorothy, Wm Daniel (Danny), and Theodore (Ted), all now deceased. The first four were somewhat older, causing them to be considered as 2 groups.

Theodore W. Sudia was born in Ambridge, PA on October 10, 1925. The youngest of eight children, his mother Paraskeva died in 1928 when he was age 3, of an abscessed tooth prior to wide availability of penicillin. Raised by his older sisters, who apparently brutalized him, he had a tough childhood, moving out to live with his married eldest sister Anne at the earliest possible moment. His living situation was sufficiently unstable that he attended 4 different high schools. What he learned from this, he later told me, was that what people know about you is almost entirely what you tell them, so come up with something positive.

Born in 1925, he was 8 in 1933, the depths of the Great Depression. No one had any money, and they certainly weren't giving it to him. However, by chance he noticed that when he picked up discarded cigarette packs, they sometimes contained a coin. His big mistake, he told me, was telling others about it. After that, he never found a coin in a cigarette pack again. (I've always seen this as a parable about investment opportunities.)

One of his early jobs involved shoveling sand from one side of a room to another in a Pittsburgh iron foundry. Each day a railroad car would dump a load of sand on one side, and he and other guys would shovel it over into carts on the other side. This job made him decide to go to college.

Indisputably smart, he briefly attended Stevens Tech, a top ranked engineering school in New Jersey. But the person who really taught him Calculus was Snake Singleton, a machine tool operator at some factory where he was working, thus enabling him to tutor me and other relatives on this critical subject.

As I recall, he lied about his age to enlist in the Navy during WW-2, no doubt with winks from Navy recruiters. This was certainly a key fact in his life, since if he hadn't done so, he wouldn't have qualified for free college (up through his PhD) and subsidized VA home loans, nor met my Mother, etc.

Enlisting in the US Navy as an underage kid, he achieved no great rank, rising to something like Petty Officer, but it was a coming of age experience, and solidified his strong outgoing personality. Serving on a minesweeper in the Pacific, he saw no combat, mainly clearing minefields by various means such as dragging the mines up and shooting at them with rifles to detonate them. Said he had been in all of the so-called "Seven Seas." He did however live through a major typhoon, with 90 foot waves, during which he was part of the piloting team. This later gave him enough seamanship skills to avert disaster during a near-miss yachting fiasco.

After the war he worked at North American Aviation in Columbus, OH as a tooling inspector in an aircraft factory, perhaps because he could pass a math exam. His job was checking to see if special tools and jigs matched the design specs, making him an expert micrometer user. He once explained the difference between a slip fit and a press fit, versus when 2 metal surfaces were both super-flat, they would stick together and needed to be slid apart. He also explained the types of bolts and nuts, and how they sampled shipments of parts to check for defects.

He had a desktop model of a North American F-86 Sabre Jet, from the Korean War Era, which he must have worked on, likely to pay rent while studying for his (otherwise free) PhD at Ohio State in Columbus.

At the time they were using wrought iron skinning jigs to bend sheets of aluminum into shapes needed for the wings and skin of the plane. He wrote up a suggestion and dropped it in the Suggestion Box that rather than wrought iron, they should use some castable plastic filler material "such as auto body solder." This generated a patent (too old to be online) and saved them $100s of millions. He received a certificate of merit and a $25 savings bond, along with a note to the effect that there was no other way to reward him since the contribution was too great.

Note the similarity between Ted's idea of casting aircraft skinning jigs out of plastic and his older brother Frank, Jr's method of casting insulators out of clay. Ted knew of his older brother's idea, which may have motivated him to submit his suggestion.

I don't know why he decided to major in Botany, Plant Physiology, Plant Pathology, and Ecology, receiving arguably among the first PhD's in Ecology from Ohio State in 1953, the year I was born. Presumably some combination of inspiring teachers, wanting to get out of heavy industry, the prospect of jobs in the agricultural heartland, and maybe my mother's family's quaint, early-settler Appalachian farm in Eastern Ohio, where they were still using a team of horses to bring in hay.

Moving to Minnesota in 1954, he got a series of teaching jobs, including teaching Earth Science at Winona State Teacher's College (now part of U Minn), solidifying his knowledge of Geology and Hydrology, which serve as the foundation for Ecology. During the 4 years we spent in Winona, MN, he served on the School Board, and my 2 younger sisters Rachael and Norah were born. Then in 1958 we moved to St. Paul, MN, after he landed a job as an asst professor of Plant Physiology & Botany, working in the old Agricultural Botany Building on the St. Paul "Farm" Campus of U Minn, where I would often hang out after school, occasionally working on small projects or washing glassware.

Okay, that's enough old Ted stories for now.

More to come as I generate, gather, and organize more material about him.

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