Louise B. Preer

November 24, 1917October 10, 2013
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Dr. Louise Bertha Preer, a retired research scientist who also grew orchids and wrote short stories, died at home Thursday, Oct. 10. She was 95 and had battled lymphoma since 2011.

Born in Baltimore, Md., in 1917, Dr. Preer, known as Bertie, was the youngest of four children of Harry and Caroline (Homberg) Brandau. Her father, who was an engineer, died of cancer when she was just 6, and the loss was keen for her and her family. Bertie excelled in academic pursuits from an early age with formidable talent in science, but she also won prizes for learning and speaking French, and was devoted to reading and literature throughout her life.

With the encouragement of her high school French teacher, Bertie won a scholarship to Goucher College in Baltimore, where she graduated in 1939. She continued her studies at Indiana University, where she studied botany under Dr. Ralph Cleland and earned her Ph.D. in 1947.

It was also at IU that she met a young biology student, John R. Preer Jr., and the two began a romance that lasted the rest of her life. Their education and courtship were entwined with the nation's preparations for entry into World War II, and their wedding in 1941 was low-key, at her family home in Baltimore. After her husband returned from service overseas, the young couple lived on an Army base in Texas and started a family; their son James was born in 1944 and his brother Robert in 1948.

After completing their degrees at IU, they moved to Philadelphia, where John spent 20 years as a biology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. As a young mother, Bertie successfully juggled homemaking and raising two sons with science, working in the lab where her husband's paramecium research was breaking ground.

Their scientific work took the Preers to Bloomington for a yearlong sabbatical in 1957, and to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1967. In 1968 they moved permanently to Bloomington, where they continued to work in their lab until the early 2000s.

Trained as a botanist, Bertie became interested in orchids after their second move to Bloomington, where they bought a home on Maxwell Lane that had a large greenhouse. She loved giving her gorgeous blossoms away and provided blooms to Bloomington Hospice for many years prior to her own illness.

Throughout her years in Bloomington, Bertie also nurtured warm friendships with an array of neighbors, colleagues, and correspondents. She made bread, jewelry, and stories, polishing autobiographical vignettes that were by turns touching, engaging, and humorous.

After falling ill in 2011, at age 93, she inspired awe by successfully completing cancer treatment, and the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with a joyful party at home. That year Bertie also rediscovered the autoharp, an instrument that allowed her to play and sing along (featuring her prodigious memory for lyrics) during musical sessions with family and friends.

Bertie is survived by her devoted husband, John, her son James and his wife, Jean, and her son Robert and his wife, Adele Foy; grandchildren Genevieve (Linus Tsai) and Stephen Preer (Vis Taraz), and Lily and Sam Preer; great-grandchildren Satchel and Oscar Tsai, Audrey Preer, and Nora Taraz; and a host of loving family members, friends, and neighbors.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20, at Day Funeral Home, 4150 E. Third Street, Bloomington, with a visitation hour at 1 p.m. and a reception following. Bertie’s nephew, Rev. J. Elmer Medley Jr., will preside. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Bertie’s memory to IU Health Bloomington Hospice through the Bloomington Hospital Foundation, PO Box 1149, Bloomington, IN 47402.

Condolences may be left at


  • Visitation Sunday, October 20, 2013
  • Memorial Service Sunday, October 20, 2013

Louise B. Preer

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Adele Foy

March 31, 2014


After the long night
Long night
Sun poured down like butter
On a place in the world
losing its leaves.
Air and light stirred up
A sky of particular blue
and Bertie took a quick
sharp breath and flew.

Day glistened
on the bared skin of trees,
Caught the iridescent throat of a late
hummingbird hovering at ease.
Rays shot off the greenhouse
where orchid blooms were
Rising to unwrap themselves
and play on all the senses.

Everything started a new season,
and well south,
Well south,
A traveling bird swooped down
to a warm perch above
a patch of evening primrose,
And opened its mouth
To sing.

Betsy Malkus

January 26, 2014

We are so sorry to hear of your loss. Louise was a lovely lady and a fine human being. I only wish she had left me her memory, for much of what I know about my great grandparents came from her. A treasure has gone to the Lord.

Judy Dilts

October 26, 2013

"Listen, Judy..." plays in my head everytime I think of Bertie -- she would then go on to tell me of something I should do, see, read, think about. She, along with Johnny of course, were major influences in my life and opened it up in ways that continue with me. Everyone should be so fortunate to have a Bertie in their lives.

julie guarneri

October 21, 2013

Bertie will be missed dearly by all who knew and loved her. Rest in preace my friend.

Peter Bruns

October 18, 2013

It has been an honor and a pleasure to have known Bertie. I first met her when I was a graduate student in the 60's and continued to meet up with her throughout my career. Her devotion to science and life and her remarkable partnership with her husband John in all aspects of life were truly inspiring.

Larry Klobutcher

October 17, 2013

It was a great pleasure to have known Bertie. I thought she was both very bright and extremely friendly, so it was always a pleasure to meet and speak with her. You have my condolences.

Ron Godiska

October 17, 2013

It is truly an honor to have known Bertie and worked alongside her in the lab. Memories of her bright mind and bright personality will always bring a smile to my face. She will be missed dearly.

Sharon Worsham

October 15, 2013

Bertie had a quiet but profound influence on my life as a woman who received a PhD in the sciences before that was common, and in sharing with me her written story of one woman's struggle for gender equity. She was one of a few clear female role models from early in my life. John, Bertie, and their family hold a special place in my heart, Cousin Sharon

chrissie Anger-Stacy

October 15, 2013

I love that Aunt Louise is such a prominent figure in my childhood memories. I am no relation, but I am extremely lucky to have known her and called her "aunt".

Sophia and Ming Tsai

October 14, 2013

It is a great loss of such a gentle, kind and nice lady!