Botanist spotlight: Lellan Schwartz Cheney
September 2, 2015
The Wisconsin State Herbarium has over 4000 specimens collected by "L. S. Cheney," including the first collections of rare species such as auricled twayblade (Listera auriculata) and giant rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia). Lellan Schwartz Cheney was the curator of the Wisconsin State Herbarium from 1891-1903. A brief biography of Cheney’s incredibly rich life, taken from A History of Barren County by Gordon and Curtiss-Wedge (1922), follows.
"Lellan S. Cheney, now living retired in Barron after a long and active career marked by success in educational and scientific fields, was born in Essex, Union county, Ohio, Dec. 4, 1858, on the farm of his parents, Thomas B. and Margaret (Schwartz) Cheney. The father, in addition to being a farmer, was a minister in the Protestant Methodist church. He was also a veteran of the Civil War, having served four years in the Federal army. A year or two after his return home from southern battlefields, his wife, Margaret, died in January, 1867. Lellan S. Cheney was a boy of eight years when he lost his mother, and from that time until he was 16 he lived with his paternal grandfather.
His education was begun in the rural schools of Ohio and for two winters he also attended school in Illinois. At the age of 21 he began teaching, but after following that occupation a short time, in the fall of 1879 he entered Adrian College at Adrian, Mich. He had been a student there but six months when he ran out of funds, and being obliged to go to work, sought employment with a former acquaintance, a Mr. Haley of Champaign, Ill, for whom he worked as a farm hand until March, 1881, earning from $15 to $16 a month. He then set out for Elgin, Ill, expecting to work in the watch factory there, but, altering his intention, instead went on to Lafayette county, Wisconsin, where he found employment on the farm of Ariel Eastman at $22 a month wages. With Mr. Eastman he remained until August, 1881, after which, having never relinquished his desire for a higher education, he became a student in the Platteville Normal school, from which he was graduated in the spring of 1886. That fall he came to Barron, Wis. to become principal of the Barron schools, a position in which he served acceptably for three years. During this period he took special work one summer in the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and in July, 1889, he moved to that city and entered the University as a student. In the spring of 1891 he was graduated from the general scientific course and was elected "fellow in botany." In the following spring, 1892, he was elected instructor in botany at the University and held that position until the spring of 1896. He was then elected as assistant professor in botany and served as such until the spring of 1903. Owing to ill health, he was then obliged to resign that position, and returning to Barron, bought an 80-acre farm adjoining the city and engaged in agriculture. After operating the farm until 1907, he sold it and went to Colorado, where he spent about a year in prospecting, returning at the end of that time to Barron.
In the summer of 1908 Mr. Cheney went to Menomonie, Wis., where for a few months he was a general reporter on the staff of the Dunn County News. In the fall he returned again to Barron to become a candidate for the office of school superintendent of Barron County, to which he was elected in the following spring without opposition, and which he held through successive re-elections until July, 1917. In the fall of that year he took a vacation, visiting Ohio and extending his trip until the Christmas holidays. Then, returning to Barron, he took an active part in war work, becoming a member of the local exemption board. In March, 1918, he was appointed assistant pathologist in the Federal Department of Agriculture, a position in which he served two years. He owns a comfortable residence in Barron. Mr. Cheney was married Dec. 28, 1887, to Ina M. Buckmaster, who was born in Fayette, Wis., January 25, 1861, daughter of Benjamin F. and Alsaida (Cook) Buckmaster, her parents being farmers. He and his wife have been the parents of four children, one of whom died at birth. The three survivors are: Monona L., born Dec. 28, 1890; Russell S., born Feb. 22, 1893, and Lois M., born Oct. 17, 1895."
Cheney died in 1938.