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Anita’s Blog – Life Well Lived and Knowledge Well Shared

Updated: Mar 27, 2022

The greatest mark any one person can leave on the world is to have shared their knowledge.

Frank Wiseman was the quintessential teacher, mentor and sharer of knowledge.

There probably are not many Valley Texas Master Naturalists who have not had some benefit from knowing Frank as a mentor or having learned from him through his years of presentations about native plants and trees. He was certainly my mentor, from the beginning, in learning native plant recognition and how to help, use and preserve our native habitat, having attended one of his presentations just days into my TMN training in 2013.

But who teaches the teacher? Who mentors the mentor? In Frank’s case, he developed a love of plants from his mother. In later years, he was initiated into the realm of native habitats by his sister-in-law, Sue Wiseman, up in the Hill Country, who introduced him to various organizations like the Native Plant Society of Texas and Texas Master Naturalists.

A consummate learner, Frank embraced the language of native plants and was initially influenced by Dr. Al Richardson and quickly absorbed as much knowledge as he could about our native Valley. What Frank knew about our land, he freely shared and helped establish a legacy of encouraging others to embrace native plants by helping to launch the first Texas Master Naturalist chapter in the Rio Grande Valley some 20 years ago.

One of Franks qualms this past year was his concern about the future interest, education of the study and passing on of knowledge of our local Texas native plants. He also was concerned about the care of the showcase gardens the early Texas Master Naturalists built around Ebony Loop in Harlingen’s Hugh Ramsey Nature Park.

A good many people are wondering how they can honor Frank and his desires to protect and promote Texas native plants. His family have suggested that contributions, in memory of Frank, may be made to the Dr. Al Richardson Scholarship Fund, a scholarship for graduate work for those who will further their initiatives in the study of Texas native plants. If interested, checks should be made out to NPSOT and sent to Native Plant Society of Texas, P.O. Box 3017, Fredericksburg, TX, 78624.

Professionally, Frank was a teacher of the language arts in the Department of Defense overseas where he taught Spanish and French to high school-aged children of military and diplomatic corps personnel, while living abroad in England and Spain. When he switched gears in retirement, learning the Latin names of native plants was second nature to him. He learned both common and botanical names of hundreds of Texas native plants.

Frank had an amazing and enviable capacity for remembering.

I called him a classical punctuationist, not a word, but Frank and I shared a love of words and had fun making them up at times. Frank subscribed to a word-of-the-day site and occasionally challenged me with an obscure word to try and incorporate in a prospective article. One such example was the word thigmotropic that I wove into an article about Alamo vine (Merremia dissecta).

Frank not only loved words, but he also loved stringing them together in intricate and proper fashion. I once was lamenting about my education being sadly lacking in the punctuation department and told him I envied him his classical education. (Journalists, when I was trained, were encouraged to toss out commas – back in the day, the more commas the more it cost to typeset – it was all about space and pennies.) Frank confessed that same lack and told me that soon after he’d finished school, he had taught himself punctuation use, sentence diagramming and learned all the rules. And he remembered all those rules; he could quote chapter and verse on adverbial such and such. I benefited from his mentoring in that regard, too. As my native plant mentor and an expert on native plants, I would run my articles by him prior to publication; I had the added pleasure of his kind edit suggestions when I’d go astray with a run-on sentence.

Frank and I had other things in common. We both had a military background that gave us some sort of secret handshake and commonality of discipline. We had both lived in Spain and England and traveled to many of the same places as tourists and had shared experiences – some 17 years apart. We were secret Anglophiles and enjoyed remembering the uniqueness of living in England. We were great fans of British mysteries and kept each other informed of various authors to read. We both loved learning and since the pandemic, signed up for lectures so we could see each other on Zoom and then later discuss what we’d learned via e-mails.

Once in a while, I’d gear my writing to play with words or definitions in a fashion that Frank might like or to give him a laugh. My latest attempt, he never saw. It was to surprise him when the Spring issue of the chapter newsletter, the Chachalaca, came out at the end of March. I wrote about Pennsylvania pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica) using the art of alliteration. The story is entitled “Be on the Lookout” and is at the link below. I hope he’s up there somewhere, laughing.

Frank valued higher learning. During his teaching career, he earned three master’s degrees. As a Texas Master Naturalist, he continued to learn advanced and complicated arenas, like experimenting in plant propagation. I say experimenting because we both concluded that propagation is an elusive science. However, many of us have benefited from a plant – or several – that Frank successfully propagated and then had no room for in his own yard.

Admirably, Frank kept in touch with many people he met throughout his life, both here and abroad, including foreign nationals, former students and fellow teachers; he had numerous friends. Many of us Texas Master Naturalists were friends with Frank. I considered him my best friend and I miss him; we all shall miss him.

Frank’s brother, Charles Wiseman, sister-in-law Sue and their son, Michael, Frank’s nephew, will have a Celebration of Frank’s Life, April 30, at 10 a.m., at the pavilion in Ramsey Park, at 1001 South Loop, Harlingen, Texas.

Please view the following links for Frank’s obituary and information about the Dr. Al Richardson scholarship:

The Native Plant Society of Texas story about Dr. Al Richardson scholarship:

Frank Wiseman mentored a happy crew of volunteers for many years in Harlingen's Hugh Ramsey Nature Park. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Frank Wiseman's philosophy for the weekly volunteers: While learning habitat maintenance, learn three new plant names each week. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The last garden Frank Wiseman designed was for a park bench to be placed in honor of a fellow Texas Master Naturalist and friend. The garden featured Rio Grande Butterfly shrubs, Buddleja sessiliflora. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Three and a half years after planting, the Rio Grande Butterfly (Buddleja sessiliflora) shrubs are well established. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Frank's sister-in-law, Sue Wiseman, (blue shirt) sits on the bench Frank dedicated; a future bench will be placed near the thriving Buddleja sessiliflora shrub shown at the left in the photo. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Read about the July 2019 bench dedication mentioned in the above photo for the significance of a future bench:



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