Obituary: Elizabeth Lichtwardt

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6/14/1927 – 3/4/2024
Lawrence, Kansas

Elizabeth Lichtwardt passed in her sleep on March 2, 2024, at Presbyterian Manor in Lawrence, KS, where she had lived and received excellent care for almost 5 years.

Elizabeth (Betty) Ann Thomas was born on June 14, 1927 to Dr. Lyell J. and Ethel Thomas. Betty was a twin, arriving 15 minutes after her brother Richard and joining their older brother Lyell (Tommy) to complete their family. The family lived in Champaign, IL, with summer sojourns to Douglas Lake in Michigan where her father taught at the University of Michigan biological station.

After graduating high school in Champaign, Betty attended MacMurray College for Women for a year, then transferred to Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH, where she received her BA in History in 1949. While at Oberlin, she met her future husband Robert (Bob) Lichtwardt in a field biology course. They married in February 1951 in Champagne. They continued their education, with Betty earning a Master of Science in History and Science from the University of Illinois in 1953. After Robert earned his Ph.D. in 1954, he was awarded a post-doctoral research grant. Betty learned Portuguese and accompanied him as his research assistant first to Panama, where they lived on the nature preserve on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal, then they traveled extensively throughout Brazil, all on a budget of $10 a day. She sent regular typewritten letters home describing their adventures, which were later collected by Bob into a book for distribution to family members.

Upon their return, they moved to Ames, IA, where Robert held a post-doc position at the University of Iowa and Betty took a position as a laboratory technician studying house fly genetics. She developed a strain of house flies which proved resistant to DDT, and identified the location of the mutation in the DNA. She co-published a scientific paper on the inbreeding of house flies. While in Ames, they attended the Unitarian Church and Betty joined the League of Women Voters.

They moved to Lawrence, KS, in 1957, where Bob had been offered an assistant professorship at the University of Kansas. They purchased two parcels of land – 40 wooded acres outside of town for hiking and camping, and a lot inside the city on which to build a future home. They became founding members of the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence – now the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Lawrence (UUCL) – and Betty joined the local League of Women Voters. They also bought a small house, where Bob built a laboratory in the garage for Betty to continue her house fly research. She published a second paper, on the DDT-resistant mutation, in 1964.

In 1963-64, they traveled with their two very young children to Hawaii and then Japan for Bob to conduct research. They lived in a traditional Japanese house in a suburb of Tokyo, and Betty immersed herself in learning about various aspects of traditional Japanese culture.

On returning to Lawrence they began designing the house they wanted to build. Betty worked closely with their architect to incorporate many Japanese design elements – and a laboratory. The family moved into their new home in 1968. After the children were older, she again accompanied Bob on several of his extended research trips, to places like Costa Rica and throughout Europe.

In the early 1970s, Betty became very interested in environmental issues and ceased her house fly research in favor of land use issues. She became an expert on urban planning and land use, collecting a large library of books and other resources. For over 40 years, she was an integral part of the League of Women Voters’ very active Land Use Committee, researching and writing letters on behalf of the committee to local planning officials about the impacts, both positive and negative, of many proposed development projects, and was heavily involved in promoting the adoption of sound long-term development policy. She kept meticulous records of every issue that the Land Use Committee addressed with the County, City, and Planning Commissions. Her records have been donated to KU’s Spencer Research Library.

In 2001, Betty and Bob donated a conservation easement on their 40 acres of woodland to the Kansas Land Trust, to become the core of the 100-acre Lawrence Nature Park. That story can be found on YouTube under “Lichtwardt Conservation Story”.

Betty is survived by a daughter, Ruth, Lawrence; a son, Robert, Farmington, NM; and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband of 67 years, her parents, and her brothers.

At Betty’s request, there will be no memorial service. A private internment is planned. The family suggests memorials to the UUCL or the League of Women Voters Lawrence-Douglas County, sent in care of Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home, P.O. Box 1260, Lawrence, KS 66044.

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