SUNY New Paltz alumni, faculty, staff, community members and several birds of prey joined family and close friends to remember Heinz Meng, emeritus professor of biology, on Sept. 25.
The memorial celebrated Meng’s life, the importance of his work and the impact of his teaching on scores of students during more than half a century in the classroom. It culminated with an exhibition of falcons in flight over the New Paltz campus, many flown by falconers who had studied under or worked with Meng, who died on Aug. 13.
“Heinz Meng was the first licensed falconer in New York, and I was one of his apprentices,” said longtime friend Robert Kennedy Jr., the son of the late U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, nephew of President John F. Kennedy, noted environmental activist and former president of the New York State Falconer’s Association. “Heinz was a brilliant conservationist. He was the kind of environmentalist who taught that men should not be separated from nature; we are part of nature, we have our place in it.”
Professor Meng is perhaps best known for his pioneering work breeding peregrine falcons in captivity, which pulled them back from the brink of extinction during the latter half of the 20th century. Kennedy helped put this achievement in context for those present at the memorial.
“Heinz was one of the first people who sounded the alarm, that the disappearance of falcons was a national tragedy,” Kennedy said. “He alerted the world to it. Today, every time you see a peregrine, you are touched by Heinz Meng. That is this man’s extraordinary legacy: that all we have to do is look up and look around, and we see him.”
Other speakers paid tribute to Meng’s effect on the colleagues and students he worked alongside over the years, and the ways in which his love of birds and other living creatures sparked similar passions in those around him.
“When I came to New Paltz in 1964 and met Dr. Heinz Meng, my whole life changed,” said Bill Robinson ’69 ‘73g (Biology), a falconer and former field biology instructor at the College. “He was a man who knew all about birds, a true specialist in birds of prey. For me, meeting Heinz was really like a ‘Eureka!’ moment. I knew after becoming friends with him that this was what I wanted to spend my life doing.”
Meng was a fixture on the New Paltz campus for more than 50 years, teaching full-time from 1951 until 2001, and as a part-time adjunct from 2002-2006.
His wife Elizabeth (Sunny) summarized the experience of watching him in his element: working with and inspiring new groups of students, year in and year out.
“Every time I came down here, he was in his glory,” she said. “He had students that idolized him, telling him how great he was. He always appreciated it, and always thought that his students were the best.”
The Heinz Meng Memorial was made possible through a collaboration between the Meng family, the New York State Falconer’s Association, and Alan Dunefsky ’69 (Biology) ’91g (Multi-Cultural Education), special projects assistant in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.