Wilma Follette: Host of Tuesday Taxonomy Trips and Wednesday Wildflower Walks

Mostly by Kristin Jakob

Wilma Doreen Fellow bWilma FolletteOn March 24, CNPS bade farewell to one of the society’s staunchest supporters and California native plants lost one of their most ardent champions.

Wilma was born and raised in Eureka, CA, a third generation Northern Californian.  She spent her childhood summers together with multiple cousins on a family ranch, Shelter Cove, on the remote North Coast.

 

She was a student at Humboldt State in Eureka when the US entered the war, whereupon Wilma joined the war effort and enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps.

After the war, she enrolled at UC Berkeley, where she majored in Political Science with a minor in Russian language.  UC Berkeley is where she met future husband, Bill Follette, a student and war veteran, and fellow member of the Cal photography club. They were married for 70 years until Bill’s death in 2018. Wilma says she knew “he was the one” when she first met him in the photography club.  Bill says he found her ownership of a photographic enlarger a deal clincher for him.  The enlarger became a household essential, deployed to produce the annual family photo Christmas card for 22 years until color prints were adopted. Bill accompanied Wilma on most of her botanical excursions and took over 15,000 excellent plant photographs, now scanned by CNPS Marin and available in the public domain.

BIll and Wilma Julie Follette c Wilma and Bill Follette. Photo by Julie FolletteThe Follettes resided from 1956 in Terra Linda, where Wilma and Bill raised a son and four daughters, then moved in 1970 to Sausalito.

Wilma completed her Russian studies at San Francisco State, earning her Masters in Russian Studies in 1988, and in 1987 published a translation of the journal of Russian scientist and explorer of the California North Coast, The odyssey of a Russian scientist : I.G. Voznesenskii in Alaska, California, and Siberia, 1839-1849 by A.I. Alekseev.

Wilma’s contributions to CNPS State and the Marin Chapter were huge. She helped to found the Marin Chapter in 1973 and for about 30 years, each spring from March-May, Wilma led regular alternate weekly Tuesday Taxonomy Trips and Wednesday Wildflower Walks throughout Marin County on behalf of CNPS. She also helped to compile plant lists and monitor rare-listed species for public agencies. For 11 years Wilma taught a plant identification classes through College of Marin, where she first learned the county’s plants.  In 1979 she launched the highly successful and popular poster series for CNPS, working with several California artists to create the artwork, overseeing printing and helping organize volunteers to distribute six large-format wildflower posters, and a poster/placemat set displaying California grasses, both native and introduced. The posters have generated sales of over a million dollars over the years for the organization.

In April 2011 Wilma was presented with the Peter Behr Lifetime Achievement Award by the Marin Conservation League, and in 1985 was named a CNPS Fellow, the highest recognition CNPS awards its member volunteers. She even served as Chair of the Fellows Committee.

Thomas Howells 75th b day hike pWithin the Chapter, Wilma co-authored the Point Reyes National Seashore Plant Checklist in 1990, then spearheaded the much-needed 2007 revision of John Thomas Howell’s Marin Flora and co-authored its text with Frank Almeda (of the California Academy of Sciences) and Catherine Best, retaining Howell’s comments and poetry. This revision was co-published by CNPS Marin and the Cal Academy.

Paul da Silva shares some memories of Wilma:

When Wilma decided to learn the plants of Marin, she enrolled in Al Molina’s botany class at the College of Marin. In preparation, she bought the assigned text, an older version of Tom Howell’s Marin Flora. Curious about what was in it, she opened it up and was mystified. As she later recounted with a twinkle in her eye, “I knew it was trying to tell me something, but I had no idea what it was.”

Of course, she did master not only the book called Marin Flora, but also the real flora of Marin, so much that she became a driving force behind the book’s latest revision. As she explained later, the revision process was a long one. She dedicated one day of every week to the task, going over the first two editions, Howell’s later notes, and many herbarium specimens with the other members of the revision team. She was a strong voice in favor of keeping Howell’s original poetry that is sprinkled throughout the volume and one of its hidden delights.

She was always using her charm and skills of persuasion to interest more people in our native plants and our CNPS chapter, whether it was on her weekly walks, in the community, or as chair of the chapter’s Nominating Committee. One of her favorite phrases was, “Our native plants need all the friends they can get.”

In honor of her ninetieth birthday, she led a hike on which she stopped at intervals to recite botanical poetry. About halfway through the hike, her younger friend Phyllis Faber became concerned that she was tiring and suggested that she accept a ride to the picnic site. She immediately faced forward, making clear that others could do that if they wanted, but that she would walk to the finish. This was reminiscent of one of her favorite phrases during her weekly walks. Often after she had bent down to identify a plant, she would find that other members of the group had gone ahead. “I must get up,” she would say, “For there go my people, and I am their leader.”