Mary Appelhof of Kalamazoo died Tuesday, May
3. Mary wrote the popular book "Worms Eat My Garbage", and was a guest
speaker at MOFFA festivals and events. She will be missed, but her
enthusiasm for vermicomposting will live on in the many students and families
(including mine!) that she influenced.
Carol Osborne, Michigan Organic Food & Farm
'Worm woman' leaves a legacy of teaching about environment
A compost enthusiast who was known worldwide as the "worm
woman," and known to her friends as a caring and ambitious environmentalist with
a passion for nature and knowledge, died Tuesday.
Mary Appelhof, 68, of Kalamazoo, died just weeks after being
diagnosed with a cancer of the abdominal lining.
Despite her declining health, friend and business partner
Nancy Essex said Appelhof so loved to spread her knowledge, often of nature and
biology, that she taught people as long as she had breath. Essex worked with
Appelhof at the Portage publishing company Flowerfield Enterprises, which
Appelhof had owned for more than 30 years.
Longtime friend River Artz said if you ran into Appelhof at
a party, you'd get a lengthy account of whatever Appelhof had recently learned.
She was always seeking knowledge and sharing it with others, her friends said.
Essex laughed when she recalled one of her favorite memories
of Appelhof. About 20 years ago, a group of her friends were camping on
Appelhof's property on Lake Michigan, and they sat in a circle like
schoolchildren as Appelhof gave them a geology lesson by using rocks she found
on the shore.
Appelhof previously taught at Kalamazoo Central High School.
After leaving the teaching profession, she devoted a large part of her life to
informing others about vermicomposting, the method of using worms to convert
household garbage into nutrient-rich fertilizer for gardens and household
Appelhof wrote "Worms Eat My Garbage" and "Worms Eat Our
Garbage" and produced a video called "Worm Mania."
"She wanted to change the way the world thought about
garbage," said Mary Frances Fenton, Appelhof's partner of 27 years.
Appelhof traveled around the world to places like Russia,
Ireland, England and Australia to share her ideas about vermicomposting. In
2003, Appelhof organized a huge vermicomposting seminar in Comstock called
"Vermillenium" that drew people from as far as Australia, Japan and Italy.
Friends say Appelhof was an award-winning nature
photographer, trained to be an Olympic swimmer until she enrolled in Michigan
State University (where she earned two master's degrees) and had earned such
recognition in vermicomposting that a huge photo of her hung in the Smithsonian
Institution above a worm exhibit.
Sharon Roepke, Appelhof's friend and director of the
Kalamazoo Gay/Lesbian Resource Center, where Appelhof volunteered, said when she
first met Appelhof, she was struck by how motivated she was to discover
knowledge that would help the world.
"She had a passionate interest in biology, and this was her
unique place in the world to make a contribution," Roepke said. "And she made a
Appelhof was born June 11, 1936, in Detroit. Her father was
a minister and her mother was active in the church. She moved in the early 1970s
to Kalamazoo, where she had lived since.
She is survived by two bothers, Alan Appelhof, of Beulah,
and David Appelhof, of Minneapolis. Her funeral will be held in Beulah. A
memorial service will take place sometime in the next month in Kalamazoo.