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Sam Ristich

Since 1995, the annual NEMF Foray has been named in honor of Sam Ristich. Sam had a Ph.D. in economic entomology but years of training in botany, ecology, mycology, ornithology and how systems work in nature, particularly in the deciduous and coniferous forests of the northeastern United States. His intense curiosity drove him to question everything until his passing at age 92. He was a researcher and enthusiastic teacher.

Video courtesy of Ruthie Ristich with our gratitude. 

by David Rose

Sam Ristich’s day on Monday, February 11, 2008, proceeded as usual, with his aerobic exercise routine, feeding the birds, helping Ruth, his wife of 63 years, and corresponding with several of the many hundreds of people the 92-year-old regularly kept in touch with.  He then shoveled the new fallen snow and went in to eat.  At 6 p.m., seated for the evening meal with Ruth and his daughter Jodee, he took his last breath. The founder of the Maine Mycological Association, Sam was known as the mushroom guru of Sligo Road.  The Northeast Mycological Federation (NEMF), a collection of 19 clubs from 8 states and Quebec, has named their annual foray in his honor since 1976.  The Northern New England Poison Control Center relied on him for the identification of potentially deadly fungi and plants.  Many nights his sleep was interrupted by doctors bearing specimens ingested by a young child or worried adult.


He was beloved as a naturalist and teacher, giving talks, leading walks, and lecturing nationally and in Yugoslavia and Scotland.  He organized a group of aspiring naturalists who have met weekly since 1984 in and around North Yarmouth.

The son of Serbian immigrants, Sam came to his love of nature at a young age.  A grade school science teacher’s enthusiasm led to early morning bird walks, and he spent many mornings tramping in the woods of Temple Hollow.  He became a voracious reader once he discovered the greater world contained in the books at the B.F. Jones Memorial Library.  He then worked in the steel mills of Aliquippa, PA, to put himself through Slippery Rock State Teacher’s College.  Sam was trained in biology, botany, and ecology, and earned a Ph.D. in entomology from Cornell University.

He worked as a research scientist at E.R. Squibb & Sons and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Yonkers and Ithaca, NY.  For 15 years he taught classes at the New York Botanical Gardens.

Sam had a passionate curiosity about how everything in nature worked together, and he became a walking encyclopedia of the natural world.  His passion for sharing what he had learned was even greater. It was the excitement of discovery and the give and take of teaching that he most enjoyed.

Sam and Ruth met on the island of Bermuda while both were officers during WWII. They were active in the civil rights movement from 1955 to 1975 with the NAACP and the Unitarian Social Action Committee, and also worked as peace activists through Veterans for Peace.

Sam’s volunteer work with the North Yarmouth Conservation Commission continued up to his last days.

Sam gained mycological immortality in 1983 by finding a new species in the family Amanita, aptly named Amanita ristichii.

Sam is survived by his 5 children, 6 grandchildren, and 2 great grandchildren.

Videos courtesy of Ruthie Ristich.

Ristich, Sam sporeprints Inocybe destricta 4x6.jpg
Ristich, Sam sporeprint multiple species 4x6.jpg
Ristich, Sam sporeprint Daldinia concentrica 4x6.jpg
Ristich, Sam sporeprint Coprinus ephemerus 4x6.jpg
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