Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

Joseph G. Engemann, PhD

November 27, 1928 - September 10, 2019
Kalamazoo, MI



Sunday, September 15, 2019
5:00 PM to 7:00 PM EDT
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
Kalamazoo Location
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
(269) 375-2900

The rosary will be recited and memories shared at 7 PM.

Driving Directions

Mass of Christian Burial

Monday, September 16, 2019
11:00 AM EDT
St. Monica Catholic Church
4408 South Westnedge Avenue
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 345-4389

Lunch will follow in the church hall.

Web Site


Tuesday, September 17, 2019
10:00 AM EDT
Ft. Custer National Cemetery
15501 Dickman Road
Augusta, MI 49012


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo
125 West Exchange Place
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
(269) 337-1601
Web Site

Catholic Schools of Greater Kalamazoo
1000 West Kilgore Road
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 381-2646
Web Site

Kalamazoo River Watershed Council
1523 Riverview Drive, Suite A
Kalamazoo, MI 49004
(269) 447-1580
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Joseph G. Engemann, PhD, the invertebrate zoologist whose contributions to the theory of evolution will, he predicted, go unnoticed for perhaps a hundred or so years, died September 10 in Kalamazoo.

Born 1928 in Belding, Michigan to Julia and Hubert Engemann, Joe attended Washington Elementary School and later Belding High School, where, following the route of Benjamin Franklin, he worked as a printer’s devil after school and on weekends for the Belding Banner-News, which his father and uncle ran. He also “snapped a few pictures” for Michigan Aviation News, a magazine launched by his cousin, Edward D. Engemann.

He graduated in 1946 and like his older sister Barbara, headed to Aquinas College. During college, he worked at Berkey & Gay cutting asbestos to line iron ovens.

He graduated from college as North Korea invaded South Korea, so he “dawdled around” until he knew his draft status. He could have avoided induction into the army by providing a doctor’s verification that he was asthmatic. However, when drafted on November 1, 1950, he set aside dreams of graduate school and like his father Hubert had in WWI, and his older brother Hubert Jr., did in World War II, chose to serve his country. Stationed in Munich, Germany, he served as a medical technician and later as a neuro-psychiatric technician in the 43rd Army Infantry Division, rising to corporal and then staff sergeant.

When he mustered out of the army, he returned to his dreams of furthering his education. After a stint at Belding Tool Machine Company and then Doehler-Jarvis as a machinist, he meandered over to the zoology department at Michigan State University. There, he taught part time while attending graduate school and researching the effect of colony conditions on growth rates of lipids in a protozoan. In 1956, he obtained his masters in zoology.

While he was pursuing his doctorate in zoology from MSU, a Fulbright scholarship led him to study at the University of Tasmania. It was there atop Mount Wellington he gazed into the same shallow pools Charles Darwin had a century earlier. He did a comparative study of the Tasmanian and Michigan isopod (commonly referred to as “roly polys”) as both live in watery habitats approximately the same distance from the equator. This research steeped his thoughts on evolution and “things fell into place,” leading to his life-long fascination with Pogonophora.

“The interest came gradually as I taught invertebrate zoology and found out about the new minor group of worms, the Pogonophora, having no mouth and no agreement on how they took in nutrients. The experts asserted that they were minor, degenerate, dead end, tube-dwellers of no evolutionary importance. I found them interesting for having so many rings on their tubes, a possible indication of greater than usual age. Most species were found at great depth, embedded in the ocean bottom.”

In 1960, he left MSU and began his career with Western Michigan University, teaching in the Department of Biological Sciences. In 1964, he met and married Nancy Doneth. They would have three children.

After a decade of teaching with textbooks which, in his estimation, slighted insects and parasites, he pitched an idea to MacMillian & Company. Why not update and revise one of the better invertebrate zoology books on the market, their Robert Hegner book? That very afternoon, an agreement was struck. He would go on to do two revisions of Invertebrate Zoology (1968 and 1981), including the addition of a new section on Pogonophran.

As part of a WMU advisory committee for one of his doctoral students, he went to Libya in 1980 to help address the public health issue of Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease spread by freshwater snails.

He generously shared his expertise with students and local community, becoming involved in the city of Kalamazoo’s Environmental Concerns Committee, and served as chair for a time. In his paper, “Observations on Asylum Lake” he documented observations on such life forms as fingernail clams, algae, and plankton. Though partial to invertebrates, those with spines did not skip detection: a clutch of mallard ducks, dogfish, snapping turtles, and green frogsā€”all were worthy of noting.

After 36 years of teaching at Western Michigan University, he retired in 1996. While he cleaned out his lab and hung up his hip waders, he did not shrug off his curiosity and love for the natural world. As a devoted member of Saint Monica’s Catholic Church, he continued to volunteer in several capacities, including serving as lector for 49 years.

Arguably, some of his most productive years were in his 80s, when a diagnosis of myelodysplasia and its short life expectancy spurred him to gather his thoughts. On May 9, 2013, at http://evolutioninsights.blogspot.com, he began sharing with the world his thinking about evolution, science, creativity, and God.

In recent months, though his body grew frail, he remained passionate about correcting the evolutionary errors of the past. “Do not forget,” he recently advised, “Pogonophorans are the only animals with structural features demonstrating the transition from annelid to deuterostomes.”

Close friends and family will miss his kindness, humor, humility, and ability to identify any kind of spider or insect. His contributions to science are only shadowed by the magnificent man himself, and the way he moved through life: Shrug off what the world thinks of you; and what you think of the world. See, every day, with fresh eyes. Notice small things. Ask interesting questions. Love and care for the world. Be kind. Repeat.

In addition to Nancy, his wife of 55 years, survivors include daughters Jennifer (John) Clark, Molly (Jeff) Appeldoorn, son John (Ashley) Engemann, five grandchildren, Will, Charlie, Katie, Tom, and Duke, sister Jane (Mayes), brother-in-law Jack (Susan) Doneth, and nieces and nephews. He also leaves behind hundreds of posts on his blog, Evolution Insights. “Thinking that my days are limited,” he wrote February 12, 2019 in his “Reflections” post, “made me want to make sure that the things I have to contribute to understanding the major features of the evolutionary tree of life are passed on to the next generation. I think this blogsite has enough information to do the job if it is studied by a well-trained biologist.”

Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Saint Monica on Monday, September 16 at 11 a.m. Visitation will take place Sunday, 5-7 p.m. at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900, Rosary to follow. Please visit his personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com where you can read his story, archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Catholic Schools of Greater Kalamazoo, or Kalamazoo River Watershed Council.