Ashland University honors Norrises for their role in Black Fork Wetlands development

Laverne Norris (center) gets his first look at the plaque commemorating the role he and his late wife, Lucille, played in the development of the Black Fork Wetlands Preserve and Environmental Studies Center, the largest of Ashland University’s five environmental preserves. Norris and his neighbor, Edna Owens, recently sold parcels to the University that will allow secondary access to the preserve from Bowen Road in Mifflin Township. With him are AU professional instructor of biology/toxicology Merrill Tawse and Dr. Patricia Saunders, associate professor of biology and director of the Environmental Science Program.

10/09/2019 ASHLAND, Ohio -- Laverne Norris choked up a little as he recalled the wonderful times he spent with his wife of 70 years, enjoying watching all manner of animals – from deer to bald eagles – venture into their backyard from the wetland area they owned just beyond the lawn

“We’ve had some good years out here,” said Norris, who lives on Bowen Road in Mifflin Township, just a stone’s throw from the Richland-Ashland county line.

His children shared some of the same memories. Daughter Sue Davis recalled she and her siblings used to don ice skates to shovel snow where the water had frozen and covered the ground. There were games played on that land, she said, horses ridden, hayrides hosted.

In 2004, Laverne and Lucille Norris sold 120 of those acres to Ashland University, a little more than a third of the property that is now the 305-acre Black Fork Wetlands Preserve and Environmental Studies Center, the largest of the University’s five environmental preserves. It is home to upland and wetland areas, including swamp forest, buttonbush swamp, small marshes, riparian corridor and upland forests.  

There also have been sightings of sandhill cranes, which Laverne Norris jokingly said he was sure followed him and his wife home from their Florida vacations.

The preserve until recently has been directly accessible only from U.S. route 42. But thanks to the sale of another seven acres to the University from the Norrises and neighbor Edna Owens, there soon will be a Bowen Road access as well. And to mark the occasion, five generations of the Norris family joined AU representatives recently for the formal unveiling of a plaque, which read, in part: “Both Vern and Lucille enjoyed many years of watching the wildlife and change of seasons from their property. Now students and other interested individuals can access a new section of this wetland-rich flood plan and species-rich natural area.”

The only one missing -- but remembered by her husband, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchild -- was Lucille Norris, who passed away in February of 2018. She was 87.

"The University is grateful to the Norris Family, to Edna Owens and others who have been good stewards of the land over the years,” said Sharon Lowe, AU director of University Grants and Foundation Relations. “We will continue to conserve this natural treasure as an educational resource for generations to come."

Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University ( values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###