Over Lifetime, Growing Forest Brought Conservationist Home


Over Lifetime, Growing Forest

Brought Conservationist Home

Editor’s Note: This appreciation of Henry S. Kernan, 2008 OCCA Conservationist of the Year and author of “The Gifts of a Forest,” was prepared by his grandson. Friends are invited to visit the family 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at 457 County Highway 40, South Worcester.  In recent years, Mr. Kernan resided at Woodside Hall, Cooperstown.

Henry S. Kernan signs copies of his book,
Henry S. Kernan signs copies of his book, “The Gifts of a Forest,” when he was honored as 2008 OCCA Conservationist of the Year.


SOUTH WORCESTER – To Henry Sherrill Kernan, a walk through the woods was no mere stroll, but, as naturalist John Muir said, a way into understanding the universe itself. More than a simple desire to be outside motivated his epic ramblings; they were bound up in a deep commitment to learning that led him from the rocky hills of Cyprus to the tropical forests of Borneo.

Perseverance and curiosity were pronounced traits that motivated him to study the languages of the 36 countries where he worked during his long career as a forester. He and his wife raised five children in Iran, Spain, and South Korea, all the while managing a working forest in Upstate New York.

Henry studied languages at Harvard University, Class of 1938, but an indoor scholarly life was not his only desire. Inspired by a summer in a Canadian logging camp, he attended and graduated from the Yale School of Forestry, Class of 1941.

During World War II he served by searching the depths of the Andean jungle for sources of quinine to treat Allied soldiers ill from malaria. Among other risky experiences, he barely survived a fer-de-lance

It was in Colombia that he realized he had what he called “a heart condition” brought on by thoughts of a pretty young lady in Washington, D.C., Josephine McClellan. She was won over by this dashing young forester who sent her letters and a box full of tropical orchids. They married in 1945.
Henry and Josephine shared a vision of turning five abandoned farms in South Worcester into a self-sustaining, working forest they called The Charlotte Forest.

Although they traveled the world helping with the United States’ post-war reconstruction and environmental efforts, they returned to Upstate New York every few years. There, they and their young family planted thousands of trees to improve the timber and the soil quality. As a result, the majestic white ash, sugar maple, red and white oaks, basswood, black cherry and other native plants and animals, flourished.

Henry continued to travel the world as an independent consultant throughout his long career, working all over Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. He wrote hundreds of articles and a book about his travels and work. He led many a “woods walk” for visitors to the Charlotte Forest, and he gave away thousands of seedlings every year for Arbor Day.

He left a legacy of interest in natural science and conservation to his children, and five grandchildren.

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