William Andrew “Bill” Akersten, 83, Pocatello, passed away peacefully in his home on May 11, 2022.
Bill, the only child of Henry and Irja Helena (Makela) Akersten, was born on December 11, 1938, in Highland Park, Michigan, and raised in Ashtabula, Ohio, where he acquired his love of the natural world. He graduated from Edgewood High School in Ashtabula, attended the University of Texas Austin as a National Merit Scholar, obtaining his BS and MA degrees in Geology with an emphasis on Vertebrate Paleontology under the guidance of Ernie Lundelius. In 1972, he completed his doctorate on early fossil geomyids (pocket gophers) at the University of Michigan as a student of C.W. Hibbard.
He began his professional career as Project Scientist at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles in 1972 where he supervised the scientific excavation and educational programs of the La Brea Tar Pits. He led a field trip for UCLA graduate students to East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, in the mid-70’s. He was instrumental in the exhibit concepts and design of the Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries, which opened in 1977. He later worked as Curator of Pleistocene Mammals at the Los Angeles County of National History where he focused on the Sabertooth cat, before moving to the Idaho Museum of Natural History in 1985. Here he curated the fossil collection, taught classes at Idaho State University, did summer fieldwork collecting fossil remains throughout Idaho, including the Mammoth dig at Tolo Lake near Grangeville, and mentored undergraduate and graduate students in biology, geology, archaeology, and paleontology, until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 2009. Bill was a life-long member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and an active member of the Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists. In 2018, the Idaho Museum of Natural History honored Bill as a Natural History Hero, and in 2019 former student Dr. L.J. Krumenaker named a new species of Cimolodonta, a multituberculate mammal that he found in the Wayan Formation after Bill: Cimolodon akersteni. It is impossible to name and thank all the people who supported and collaborated with him throughout his career. Questions about his ongoing research should be directed to Dr. Mary Thompson or Dr. L.J. Krumenaker, who are helping the family with his papers.
Bill enjoyed reading, hunting, fishing, observing wildlife, and studying the natural world. His family was his pride and joy, and he bragged about their accomplishments at every opportunity.
Bill is survived by his wife of 50 years, Carol Sue Vander Brook, daughter Holly Marjorie (Oscar Bambolo), four grandsons, Oscar William, Henry Manfred, Blaise Milton, and Andrew Ezechiel, and two granddaughters, Carol Anne and Sophie Helena.
Donations may be made in Bill’s memory to the ISU Foundation, Vertebrate Paleontology, 921 S. 8th Avenue, Box 8050, Pocatello, ID 83209
Arrangements are under the direction of the Cornelison Funeral Home, 431 N. 15th Ave., Pocatello. Condolences may be sent to the family online at www.cornelisonfh.com
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