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Paul Risk, a groundbreaking science communicator and interpreter whose work in the classroom and beyond inspired people around the nation to love and
appreciate the outdoors, died Sunday at his home in Nacogdoches. He was 86.
Risk had been in declining health in recent months but continued to produce his bi-weekly Field and Forest Facts column until early September. “It really kept him going,” his wife, Rosalie, said.
The column was a natural extension of Risk’s lengthy career in environmental interpretation, a field he helped pioneer during his time at Michigan State
University beginning in 1969. “The program that he developed was really the first,” Rosalie Risk said. He established similar programs in Pennsylvania and Maine before becoming the
T.L.L. Temple Professor of Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University in 1990. Environmental interpretation essentially translates the complex scientific jargon of
the outdoors into everyday language. “Effective and stimulating interpretive experiences can be life-changing for people,” Risk wrote in 2003. Field and Forest Facts — a prime example of environmental interpretation — appeared in The Daily Sentinel and The Lufkin Daily News for more than 25 years and served as a way for Risk to share what he called his “special kinship with the
outdoors and cultural heritage” long after his years in the classroom ended. An archive of the columns is available at www.riskva.com.
Risk retired from SFA in December 2003 and the board of regents awarded him an emeritus title.
Paul Herald Risk II was born May, 28, 1937, in Detroit, Michigan. His mother, Esther, died when he was 14. His father, Paul Sr., died shortly before his 18th birthday, leaving the young Risk on his own in California.
He attended Pasadena City College with the hopes of becoming a physician, but during a botany class, he heard about an opportunity to work in the Los Angelina County botanical garden.
He was soon hired and began his career in science interpretation. After finishing a degree in botany, Risk became a high school teacher and was presented an opportunity to join the National Park Service as a seasonal ranger. He had been offered his pick of two permanent positions with the park service but was lured away by Michigan State University. He developed the environmental interpretation program while finishing his doctorate centered around outdoor survival techniques. “He taught wildernesses survival as well as the interpretation classes,” Rosalie Risk
said. “He was an interpreter, but survival was at the basis.” In 1983, Risk published “Outdoor Safety and Survival,” which is still a highly sought after guide 40 years later. He also taught survival techniques to the U.S. Coast Guard and at the U.S. Army Jungle Operations Training Center in Panama.
He and Rosalie met in a ballroom dancing class in college. She was engaged to a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionary. Risk was persistent, and nice, she said.
“I told him not to get any ideas because I wouldn’t marry anyone who wasn’t Mormon,” she said. He quietly began the conversion process, and was baptized into the church in fall
1958. The couple married that November in her hometown of Logandale, Nevada. He later became a stake president for the church in Maine and was a bishop for nine years in Nacogdoches.
The Risks have three sons, Bradley, Douglas and Thomas, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Risk’s funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3307 Center Road, Nacogdoches, TX 75961. Graveside services will be held on Monday, November 6, 2023 at 11 a.m. in the Logandale Cemetery, 3220 Lyman St. Logandale, NV. Friends and family are invited to sign the online guest book at www.moapavalleymortruary.com.