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Lorraine“Casey” Stengl, M.D.

 

Before leaving a gift to The University of Texas at Austin to forever change biological research, Dr. Lorraine Idell Stengl, known to friends and family as Casey, came from humble beginnings. Born the daughter of a mining engineer on October 21, 1918 in Pilcher, Oklahoma, she grew up in several states before moving to Texas, where she graduated from Midland High School in 1935.

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Pursuing Science

With an interest in science, she came to UT Austin to study chemistry. One of the first female graduates of the program, Stengl graduated in 1939 as a dual major, with her B.A. in chemistry and her B.S. in secondary education.  

She later worked as a medical and x-ray technician, but she found work in a lab was not for her. She went on to attend Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, which later became part of Drexel University, earning her medical degree in 1947. Returning to her roots, she completed internships and her residence in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin. Relocating to El Campo, Texas, she opened a family practice, where she was the primary physician for patients in a tri-county area for 20 years. During her career, Dr. Stengl was active on many civic and hospital boards, developing and operating a 150-bed nursing home and a 120-unit apartment complex.

Discovering Lost Pines

In the early 1950’s, while visiting a friend in Smithville, Texas, Dr. Stengl overheard a man discussing some land for sale, not far from where Dr. Stengl and her partner Lorraine Wyer liked to golf and hunt. Her curiosity piqued, Dr. Stengl visited and found 208 acres of what she considered to be “majestic forest,” in the western-most grove of loblolly pines in the U.S. She and Wyer leased and later purchased this “Lost Pines” land as a weekend destination. Together, they worked every weekend to explore and clean up the parcel, which boasts hardwood trees, meadows, ponds, a unique array of plants and wildlife, and the famed relic pines.

The pair retired to Wimberley in 1981 and continued their frequent visits to their Lost Pines retreat. One day, Dr. Stengl visited an open event at UT Austin’s Brackenridge Field Lab, where graduate students presented their research to the public. She met Larry Gilbert, BFL’s director, and became involved with supporting students, faculty and programs in the life sciences – from graduate students’ field research to a named fellowship for a faculty member.

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A Lasting Legacy

Dr. Stengl’s early investments helped to support hundreds of students and researchers in the biological sciences. In 1991, she took her support one step further, as she and Wyer decided to donate the Lost Pines ranch home and auxiliary outbuildings to UT Austin to be used as a station for field biology and environmental studies. This was the first land donation made for the express purpose of biological field research. 

The Stengl Lost Pines Biological Station has been updated and expanded to serve as one of the nation’s premier field lab stations with a newly built dormitory, outdoor classroom and the addition of hundreds of acres of additional land since the original purchase. UT researchers use the nearly 600-acre field station today to learn about Texas organisms and their interactions with the environment, from spring waters to forest to meadows. 

A Moment that Matters 
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Field labs around the world, including those at UT Austin, are bound together by technology as never before. Before her death, Dr. Stengl expressed that, in light of the changing natural environment and technological innovations today available for field stations, “It’s a good time for information to be collected and shared.” She knew the value of her gift would become clearer in the decades to come, and she had a clear vision about the impact of it in her home state. “Well preserved, pristine and virgin land like the Stengl Lost Pines is going to be more important than ever for Texas.”

Through the Stengl-Wyer Endowment, UT Austin excels not only as a leader for biological field stations but for the cutting-edge research and life-changing education that takes place at them. Dr. Stengl's gift provides underwriting for research by faculty, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students and undergraduates, advances field stations, and supports UT’s vast Biodiversity Collections and discoveries in the life sciences.

More than a century after her birth, Casey Stengl's impact has been transformative, catalyzing a new era for Texas Science research and education about plants, animals – even microscopic life – and their interactions with the natural world. 

 

“Well preserved, pristine and virgin land like the Stengl Lost Pines is going to be more important than ever for Texas.

— Casey Stengl, M.D.