At F&ES, he introduced students to local plants and soils. His crash course in plant identification would become a defining piece of “MODS,” the School’s three-week summer orientation course. Four times he received the School’s top teaching and advising award.
Former students still recall trailing Siccama as he hiked briskly over wooded landscapes and, at break-neck speed, described the surrounding flora, explained how all the natural systems were connected, and shared his wisdom on how to read nature.
Sometimes those lessons didn’t end when the hike was over, recalled Jane Sokolow
’80 M.F.S. “We’d be in a bus, or on a truck with a couple of students, and we’d be rolling along I-91 or 95, driving at 65 miles per hour, and Tom would be identifying plants as we drove by!” she said. “They were gone before we even got a look at them! But everything was a teaching moment for him. Which is what makes a great teacher.”
On one occasion, after another faculty member challenged Siccama’s conviction that soil is “like a sponge,” Siccama, along with Richardson, set up an experiment in the hallway of Greeley Memorial Lab to test the theory. In a metal trough, they placed organic soils of different densities and sponges, poured water over them, and then used a hydrometer to measure the rate of water flow through the different mediums. They found that soils indeed act like sponges, attenuating the hydrological input and reducing peak flow. (The findings were eventually published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association
This sort of “hallway science” typified Siccama’s ability to turn any situation into an opportunity to collect meaningful data and learn something new, said David Skelly
, a professor of ecology at F&ES who for many years worked alongside Siccama.
“This sort of learning through action has become much more in vogue in recent years, but Tom never saw another way to do it,” Skelly said. “For him, that was the only
way to do it.
“Tom changed the lives of so many of our students just by his example. Just by getting them into the field and showing them what was possible. He had a real gift for picking out the elements in the environment around you that could change how you see the world.”
om Siccama spent the last 50 days of his life in hospice care, said Ellen Denny
’97 M.F.S., who managed Siccama’s lab for several years and remained close with Tom and his family. During those final weeks, she said, he received more than 150 letters from colleagues and former students offering their love, respect, and gratitude.
“Tom lives on in so many people,” said Denny, a monitoring design and data coordinator for USA National Phenology Network. “He influenced so many lives and so many people loved him. What better tribute to a life well-lived?”
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Judith Siccama of Shelburne, Vermont; his daughter, Carolyn Siccama, and her husband, Chris Trapeni; his granddaughter, Carly Trapeni; a sister-in-law, Sharon Roa, and her husband Glen Roa; a brother-in-law, George Pillsbury, and his wife, Celine Pillsbury; and his cat, Willow.
A private ceremony will be held to celebrate his life. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Shore Line Trolley Museum
, 17 River Street, East Haven, CT 06512.