Friends remember Gordon Vars as a kind man with a love of nature

Photo courtesy of Kent State University.

Photo courtesy of Kent State University.

Nicole Aikens

Gordon Vars spent a lot of time on his favorite bench at the Tom S. Cooperrider-Kent Bog State Nature Preserve, and that’s how the bog’s namesake first noticed him.

Vars, 88, died at Akron City Hospital after being hit by a car while crossing Fairchild Avenue at the Woodard Avenue intersection Tuesday night.

“I had seen Gordon at the bog a number of times,” said Cooperrider, an emeritus professor of biological sciences at Kent State.

When Cooperrider decided it would be a good idea to start Friends of the Kent Bog, he recruited Vars and his wife, Alice McVetty-Vars, to be the founders of the group.

“I couldn’t have possibly picked a better person,” Cooperrider said. “He would see people at the bog — strangers — and ask them if they wanted to be friends of the Kent Bog.”

When Cooperrider last checked, Vars had about 600 members on the group’s email list who Vars would notify about news and events.

“He called himself an advocate for the bog when it needed a constituent,” said Ann Ward, who worked with Vars on the Kent Environmental Council. Ward said Vars’ main focus on the council was to preserving the bog.

After Cooperrider heard of Vars’s death, he went to Vars’s favorite bench. Cooperrider looked out at the view Vars was so fond of, and noticed the tamarack trees that make the bog famous: the trees Vars dedicated so much of his time to preserve.

Before Vars focused on nature, he focused on education.

From 1966 to 1993, Vars was a professor of education in the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Curriculum Studies at Kent State, said the Rev. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent, where Vars was a member.

Vars was a specialist in middle school core curriculum. He was the first president and a co-founder of the Midwest Middle School Association, the precursor to the National Middle School Association, according to “The Encyclopedia of Middle Grades Education” edited by Vincent A. Anfara Jr., Gayle Andrews and Steven B. Mertens.

One of Vars’s interests outside of nature and education was music. Ward, who described him as a real renaissance man, said Vars had a wonderful singing voice. Vars was a member of the choir at his church as well as the Kent Chorus.

“He listened to opera, and I guess that kind of always pulled on my heart strings because my father was an opera fan, too,” Ward said. “I’d visit him occasionally in his home, and he would be listening to a familiar opera that I might not have heard since I was a kid.”

Vars was preceded in death by his first wife, Anis Vars, and is survived by his wife, Alice, and his four children, Tina McMahan, Lynn Vars, Patricia McVetty and Christopher McVetty.

Services will be March 10, and Carvill-Ziemer said the church will update their website with more information about the location.

Contact Nicole Aikens at [email protected].