Frederick Gehlbach


Frederick Renner Gehlbach, 85, of Woodway, died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family on Monday, November 9, 2020.

Fred was born July 5, 1935 in Steubenville, Ohio and grew up in Columbus, Ohio.  Passionate and curious about the natural world at an early age, Fred pursued zoology, geology and conservation at Cornell University earning BS and MS degrees.  Culminating his academic studies with his doctorate at the University of Michigan, Fred also found the love of his life, Nancy Young, with whom he shared his love and knowledge of the natural world.  In 1960, they married and began their sixty-year adventure.

The couple relocated to Waco as Fred began his teaching career at Baylor University which spanned from 1963 to 1995 as a professor of Biology, Ecology and Environmental Studies. After retirement, he continued as an Emeritus professor publishing articles and mentoring graduate students into the 2010s.  Fred’s life was enriched by life-long friendships with childhood friends, neighbors, former students and other educators.

Authoring over 100 peer reviewed publications including three books, Fred’s curiosity never waned.

His book, “Mountain Islands and Desert Seas: A Natural History of the U.S-Mexican Borderlands”, was a culmination of his study funded by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Fred wrote the first long-term study of a native bird in a city in “The Eastern Screech Owl: Life History, Ecology, and Behavior in the Suburbs and Countryside”. His John Burroughs award nominated book, “Messages from the Wild: An Almanac of Suburban Natural and Unnatural History”, told of his observations on the 15 acre wildlife preserve he established behind his home.

In retirement, Fred enjoyed teaching local students, neighbors and grandsons by leading them on nature walks, owl banding expeditions and bird watching excursions. Fred continued teaching and sharing his love of the natural world in various ways such as writing a monthly article for the Waco Tribune-Herald, consulting with the Cameron Park Zoo and donating his studies to the Mayborn Museum. Fred relished traveling the world with Nancy and keeping up with friends he met in far flung locations. He was an active member of Lake Shore Baptist Church for over forty years and enjoyed serving Meals on Wheels to local residents.

Fred was known for his easy laugh and welcoming smile; a gentle, generous and loving soul to all he interacted with throughout his life.

The Gehlbach family is so grateful to all the caregivers from Right at Home and the Community Health Care of Texas Providence Hospice for their loving care during his eight-year journey with PSP, a degenerative neurological disease.

He was preceded in death by his parents; and his grandson, Evan McElroy.

Fred is survived by his loving wife, Nancy; their daughter, Gretchen McElroy and husband, Jeffrey, and grandson, Eamonn of El Paso; son, Mark Gehlbach and his wife, Christy, and grandson, Grant of Dallas; a brother, Don and wife, Barbara, and nephew, Rick of Columbus, Ohio; plus numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be scheduled in 2021. Donations in Fred’s memory may be made to the Frederick R. Gehlbach Biology Scholarship Fund c/o Baylor University, One Bear Pl. #97026, Waco, TX 76798; The Nature Conservancy P.O. Box 1556, Merrifield, VA 22116-1556; CURE PSP, 1216 Broadway FL2, New York, NY 10117-2402; Community Health Care of Texas, Providence Hospice, 6700 Sanger Avenue, Waco, TX 76710.



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Condolence Messages


  2. Nancy, We extend our sincere condolences to you and your family. Gayle and I remember Fred as a good neighbor and a great source of knowledge. Gayle viewed him as a good colleague at Baylor. He was such a gentle soul. I loved seeing his smile when he came into LSBC every Sunday, even when his health was failing. We will miss him.

  3. Melody M (Middaugh) Hunt

    I just found out about Fred when I was looking
    Online at the Waco Tribune Herald. I am sorry
    To hear this news. I loved it when I lived at
    Sugar Creek and had y’all for neighbors. It was
    Always nice to see you both. You and your family
    Will be in my thoughts and prayers. I am sorry
    For your loss.

  4. Richard James Clark

    I had just prepared a picture of you and Fred, Sally Spofford and Joanie holding down a bench at the Spoffords in Portal, AZ. Joanie and I will never forget the great time we had together at a stay at the Southwest Naturalists Research Center of The American Museum. Fred was a “Cracker Jack” of a naturalist and scientist as a genuinely warm person who certainly left the natural world as a much better place than when he found it. You were certainly a great field “assistant” and health-care giver. Take care and stay well. May God’s blessing be upon the both of you.
    Love, Joanie and Dick Clark

  5. Nancy,

    I was one of Fred’s early graduate students (1966-1968), now retired from the University of South Alabama. He was a great mentor, who introduced me and other budding biology students to Ecology (which became my life-long passion). I will always remember him and you fondly. A consummate professional, Fred was someone whom I always sought to emulate. He impacted the lives of many students who were privileged to attend Baylor University and experience his unique, valued, and inspirational tutelage. He will surely be missed and well remembered. You remain in my thoughts and prayers.

    David H. Nelson

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