Samuel H. Dyke

Remembering Samuel H. Dyke

It is with great sadness that the Ward Museum shares the loss of one of its founding fathers. Samuel H. Dyke passed away on June 24, 2014, at age 81. He is survived by his wife, Ann Dyke, their four children, and extended family.

Dyke was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ward Foundation when he passed, as well as Chair of the Curatorial Committee at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. Dyke served the Foundation and Museum for over 40 years, and was instrumental in helping the Museum to grow from humble beginnings to one of the premier wildfowl art institutions in the world. He played an important role in nearly all the exhibits featured at the Ward Museum, and was active in the Museum’s daily curatorial operations—from exhibit conception and conservation to hanging objects on the walls.

Before his time with the Ward Foundation, Dyke earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry from Pennsylvania State University, and a Master’s degree in Forestry from Yale University. He went on to work as a forester for Glatfelter, where he was instrumental in brokering conservation easements that led to the protection of extensive tracts of land, including parts of the Nature Conservancy’s Nassawango Creek Preserve.

Dyke’s contributions to scholarship related to the waterfowling heritage of the Eastern Shore of Maryland are unequaled; he was an expert on the history of hunting and decoy carving, and was regularly published in major magazines, journals, and books. In 2008 Dyke received the Heritage Professional Award from the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council. Today the library named in honor of Dyke at the Ward Museum holds much of his written legacy, as well as the works of those he inspired.

In addition to leaving his mark on the worlds of decoy and decorative wildfowl carving and conservation, Sam Dyke also greatly impacted the youth of Delmarva. He was long active with area Boy Scouts, with whom he worked as a master.

Dyke’s interests in wildfowl extended to the world of birding as well. He was one of the preeminent experts bridging hunting heritage and contemporary birding activities. Dyke served as president of the Tri-County Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, led many Christmas Bird Counts, and was a regional leader in recording birds for conservation purposes. Dyke could be found outdoors looking for and appreciating birds nearly every day.

Sam Dyke’s importance reaches deep within decoy collection, birding, and wildlife artist communities. Voices from friends in these circles may best recount Sam’s legacy.

World champion carver Rich Smoker had this to say of Dyke:

“I knew Sam Dyke by many disciplines: collector, carver, judge, duck hunter, birder, curator, Chairman of the Board, evaluator of antiquities, and a wood specialist at his ‘real job’ at Glatfelter Pulpwood. Sam was the Ward Foundation. He guided the Ward Foundation for over 40 years, through tumultuous waters, with an unerring and straight-forward hand. Sam led by example; no job was too big or too small to be finished with his eye to detail. He had the uncanny ability to be able to see your strengths and weaknesses, take them, and guide each person, using their assets to benefit the whole. He possessed an amazing eye that could spot field marks on birds in the field, as well as examples of works to be displayed in an exhibit, or added to the Ward’s collection. A quiet and unassuming man, his strengths were revealed when he spoke on any topic [he was] questioned on. When [he] questioned [me] if his advice was taken to view a prized bird—no being the answer, yard work taking precedence—his response [was]: ‘Work can wait, time and tide wait for no man.’”

Noted author and decoy historian Henry Stansbury adds:

“Sam was so multi-talented and universally well-liked by all! He was both creative and artistic in his role as a sophisticated collector, as our curator and exhibit planning and installation expert, and in his recurring leadership role that we pressed on him several times over the years when we absolutely needed his quiet good humored steady hand at the helm of the Ward Museum. He guided us through the complex and very successful transition into the Salisbury University family with grace, and Sam recently assumed the helm once more as we planned some major advances in our new five year plan. He was just great to work with and equally adept at all phases of museum life. Sam was affable and generous with his time, expertise, and his resources – with not only the Ward Museum, but also the birding and conservation communities on the Eastern Shore.”

Jeffrey Gordon, President of the American Birding Association, remembers:

“The term gentleman is often applied casually, but it suited Sam perfectly; he carried it in a way that very few of us do. His authority, charm, and charisma–all prodigious–were rooted in his quiet, caring, and self-effacing manner. He had a distinct talent for inspiring confidence. … He was able to see good in you [that] you didn’t know you had and call it forth, just as he might lead someone to a view of some shy and heretofore unseen bird. He loved the lands and waters of Delmarva and all around the world. He loved the birds and other wild creatures he shared it all with, and worked hard to inspire that love in others.”

Sam Dyke never sought attention for the many works that he did. His role at and contributions to the Ward Museum were priceless, and he shall be sorely missed.

A public celebration of Dyke’s life was held at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art on Saturday, July 26, 2014.