Bugs n’ Blossoms: Albion Emeritus, Martha O’Kennon, Starts Nature Blog

Martha O’Kennon, retired Albion professor, stands in front of Hannah St. flowers. O’Kennon runs a blog on various wildlife that she observes in her backyard. Photo by Gabby Henriksen.

Martha O’Kennon, professor emeritus of mathematics, computer science and Chinese from Albion College, now runs  a blog consisting of weekly entries about the different flora and fauna she’s observed in her yard, along with photos of every organism that stops by. From butterflies and jumping spiders to goldenrods and asters, O’Kennon documents and appreciates them all.

An ambush bug from O’Kennon’s backyard. Photo courtesy of Martha O’Kennon.

Her fascination with wildlife started as a child. O’Kennon spent most of her time outside, observing and jotting down all the different kinds of bugs she would see in her front yard. As she grew older, her love for science stayed the same, but she branched out and began exploring with astronomy and mathematics. Later on, she began studying computer science and language as well.

In 1969, O’Kennon graduated from the University of Richmond. She went on to get a Master’s degree in mathematics in 1970 followed by a Master’s in computer engineering in 1981, both from Clarkston University in New York. For seven years, she worked as an adjunct professor in mathematics at Clarkston. Afterwards, she got a job in China teaching computer science where she also learned Mandarin.

After her two years in China, O’Kennon became a professor of mathematics, computer science and Chinese at Albion. Her main area of work was writing computer schemes that translated languages like Mandarin, Irish, Xhosa and some Native American languages into English, allowing people to learn the grammar for each language easier.

A tiger swallowtail butterfly drinking from a tiger lily in O’Kennon’s backyard. Photo courtesy of Martha O’Kennon.

After retiring from Albion, O’Kennon picked up some of her childhood hobbies again. She began taking pictures of her backyard community and writing emails to fellow nature-lovers, subsequently creating an online blog to reach a wider audience.

Starting the blog  helped O’Kennon re-establish her connection with nature and the communities that live  right outside her door. She’s slowly growing out of her fear of spiders and has developed a new appreciation of her arachnid neighbors, particularly jumping spiders. She has also grown fond of leafhoppers and treehoppers or really anything that, as she said, “has more than three colors.”

One of O’Kennon’s favorite species to observe, the jumping spider (naphrys pulex). Photo courtesy of Martha O’Kennon.

Although O’Kennon started the blog as a way to communicate with other nature-lovers, she hopes to spread an important message about the planet.

“What I try to do is convince people that these things are pretty, and they’re not out to get you. They’re part of our environment, and we’ve got to work to keep them going,” said O’Kennon.

“Everything’s related: The trees, the bugs, the ants, me. It’s just wonderful to watch how things work together, and I’m worried that if the planet gets discombobulated, things won’t work together, and it’ll be a faster elimination of species.”

O’Kennon is also in the process of identifying an unknown insect species, similar to treehoppers, that she discovered in her backyard.

About Gabby Henriksen 30 Articles
Gabby Henriksen is a senior from Royal Oak, MI and is an English-Literature and psychology double major. Gabby has been writing for the Pleiad for three years and is now the news editor, but is still writing articles. When Gabby's not writing, you can find Gabby reading her favorite novels, taking care of her abundance of animals, or taking a nap!


  1. I love this article! Thank you for putting the spotlight on Dr. O’Kennon!

    Note that Dr. O’Kennon will be delivering a talk about her backyard biodiversity on Thursday, October 10th. The talk is in celebration of Half Earth Day that is on Oct. 22 – celebrating biodiversity all over the globe; E.O. Wilson suggests that to save 85% of species, we need to conserve half of the Earth’s natural areas. This is critical as we are currently in the 6th mass extinction caused by humans.

    Let’s celebrate our local biodiversity!

    When & Where: Thursday October 10 at 4:15 pm in Norris 102

    Who: Dr. Martha O’Kennon, Professor Emerita of Computer Science

    What: She will be speaking about the spectacular biodiversity within her own backyard just a block from the Albion College campus.

    You will be amazed at what you have been overlooking!

    Sponsored by the Center for Sustainability and the Environment.

  2. Very nice article that left out an important one of Martha’s gifts. During the Clarkson years, when we became friends, I got to know another of Martha’s many talents, music. Along with Gus Rabson and Betsy (Marshall) Marvin and others, we began as a Baroque ensemble that gradually morphed into a string quartet, except for the Violin 1 part, covered by Martha on her flute.

    So, Hi Martha! Happy to see you keeping active and engaged in the world of wonders.

  3. Wow, Ron, I just found this message. I remember so well our little group – what fun! What music! You were so enthusiastic about all. I still have Frannie’s last mail message on my ‘puter.

    Unfortunately the server that served the first Martha’s Backyard Blog is no more. The present blogs are now on Google Sites. I know you can get to that in your email now!

    Much love to you and the tiny kiddos.

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