Felicia Beardsley leaves archaeological legacy

Felicia Beardsley, professor of anthropology and director of the Cultural and Natural History Collections at the University of La Verne, shows a preserved California Blue Grosbeak from the collection in April 2021. Beardsley was a member of the La Verne faculty for more than 20 years and led several archeological research expeditions to Micronesia. / file photo by Kaitlin Handler
Felicia Beardsley, professor of anthropology and director of the Cultural and Natural History Collections at the University of La Verne, shows a preserved California Blue Grosbeak from the collection in April 2021. Beardsley was a member of the La Verne faculty for more than 20 years and led several archeological research expeditions to Micronesia. / file photo by Kaitlin Handler

Rebecca Keeler
Staff Writer

Dr. Felicia Beardsley, professor of anthropology and director of the Cultural and Natural History Collections at the University of La Verne, died unexpectedly Feb. 28.

On the ULV campus, she was a popular professor who taught a wide range of courses in archaeology, anthropology and forensics. To the University of La Verne community, she was a respected educator and much more. 

“To Pacific Islanders, I am the woman who knows how to ‘see,’ uses a machete like a man, and has no fear of ghosts, receiving, in one instance, the title of ‘fine gentleman,’” Dr. Beardsley said on her LinkedIn page.

She brought her enthusiasm and love of archaeology to her students, assigning head-turning names to her classes. This semester, Dr. Beardsley was teaching “Stranded! Archaeology of Shipwrecks, First Settlements and Survival.” In her official ULV directory photo, she wore an Indiana Jones themed explorer hat.

“In addition to being an excellent teacher, Dr. Beardsley was one of our finest and most published scholars,” Devorah Lieberman, president of ULV, said. 

Beardsley gained her bachelor’s degree in German language, literature and civilization at the University of California, Riverside. She earned her doctorate in anthropology from the University of Oregon in 1990 after completing a dissertation on the architecture of prehistoric sacred sites across Easter Island. 

Among her peers, she was known as a pre-eminent Pacific Island archaeologist who excavated sites across Micronesia and was the first to document early statue carving, pottery making, stone architecture, ancient technologies and heritage conservation. Dr. Beardsley organized museum archives in the Pacific, wrote heritage conservation policies and co-authored the UNESCO World Heritage nomination for Nan Madol, Pohnpei, winning the designation by gaining the collaboration and cooperation of Indigenous people and local governments. 

She was a member of the La Verne Academy and was a frequent expert interviewee on television shows that showcased the past. 

“Her archaeological travels led her to both danger and acclaim,” Lieberman said. 

Dr. Beardsley worked on islands with reduced cultural respect for women in leadership roles.

“On one island, she was threatened to be fed to the crocodiles if she didn’t excavate properly, and on the island of Kosrae was respectfully given the title ‘fine gentleman’ for her expertise with a machete and excavation skills,” Lieberman said.

At ULV, alongside Anne Collier, former curator of the University’s Cultural and Natural History Collections, she brought the University’s long-held and valuable Jaeger Museum artifacts into the public view, devoting herself to their cataloging, presentation, preservation and use for research. As part of her effort to bring meaning to the individual collection themes, she changed the name to the Cultural and Natural History Collections. She started an Influential Voices speaker series that brought lead personalities to the ULV campus.

“As director, she promoted the Collections’ visibility both on and off-campus, including hands-on exhibits at the L.A. County Fair and placing Smiley, the saber-toothed cat, in the Campus Center,” Lieberman said.

Besides leading as a professor, she led as associate dean, followed by interim dean status of the College of Arts and Sciences from September 2009 to June 2015. Among her achievements during her six years in the Dean’s Office were overseeing the Performance Arts Scholarship program and designing and implementing the First-Year La Verne Experience (FLEX) program.

“Together, I believe we have made a difference in the lives of our students, helping them to imagine the possible and to find the why in their lives,” Dr. Beardsley said in her final 2015 dean’s message to faculty.

Jonathan Reed, professor of religion at ULV, gave Dr. Beardsley her start as associate dean when he was the Arts and Sciences dean. He recalls that they also team-taught in the FLEX program and connected as they both worked on archaeological excavations.

“I always admired Felicia Beardsley for how steady, grounded, hard-working and professional she was in all her campus activities, but I admired her even more as a person,” Reed said. 

“She was always looking for new experiences and adventures, including becoming an expert in fencing and tango dancing, all while being a devoted partner to her late husband Ed and a loving mother and role model to her daughter Teresa,” he added. 

Her legacy includes being an excellent anthropology teacher, “mother” to a generation of theater students, and the first director of the Cultural and Natural History Collections.

“She catapulted this little gem into the spotlight through grants, campus exhibits, and exhibitions at the L.A. County Fair,” Reed said. “Beardsley was also one of La Verne’s most prodigious scholars, as a leading expert in Pacific archaeology, having led archaeological excavations and publishing cutting edge research on the Micronesian Islands, where she was once honored with the title ‘fine gentleman’ by locals for her work in creating UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites.”

Sharon Davis, professor of sociology, hired Dr. Beardsley at ULV. “She was a very accomplished person and a wonderful colleague. She conducted groundbreaking research on the Micronesian islands of Yap and Kosrae,” Davis said. “Outside of work, she loved hiking, swimming and fencing. Felicia was a very nice person, and I am still in shock over her passing.”

Al Clark, professor of humanities, worked with Dr. Beardsley at the ULV Academy.

Felicia Beardsley was a scholar and teacher in love with Pacific Island archaeology,” Clark said. “Unearthing chemical traces of human presence, she proved a centuries-old regicide, and she hacked her way through dense growth with the aid of a machete-wielding prison gang to discover a cave painting of a goddess.”

Beardsley surrounded herself with artifacts in her office as well as her home.

“I have vivid memories of committee meetings in the dean’s office when she was acting dean and having to wade through a flood of artifacts that filled the space waist-deep. She made anthropology come alive, and she lived in its midst,” Clark said.

Dr. Beardsley made multiple appearances on the History Channel’s television shows “Ancient Aliens” and “The UnXplained,” discussing her work regarding the ancient civilization of Nan Madol and her archeological perspective on ancient sites around the world. Her expert commentator interviews displayed a graphic telling both her name and the University of La Verne. The popular History Channel shows are watched by millions.

“When she was interviewed for campus publications, the students would always ask her whether she believed in aliens,” George Keeler, professor of journalism, said. “She would answer, ‘I’m not convinced yet.’ Then she would add, ‘but I have an open mind.’”

Dr. Beardsley was always opening new areas of research. Recently, she was studying the archaeoacoustics aspects of specific sites. 

“A few days before her death, I told her that as an archeologist she was out front in saying that many of the world’s artifacts and ancient monumental structures are tens of thousands years older than previously thought. She said, ‘That’s my new research direction,’” Keeler said.

Gerard Lavatori, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said Dr. Beardsley was involved in many aspects of life on campus including curriculum development, student life, professional development and collection curating.

Once she told me in her early academic career she had studied German, which surprised me because I hadn’t known we shared a background in studying languages,” Lavatori said. “I thought she and the group she advised staffed a fantastic booth at Homecoming this past year where you could interact with artifacts related to local history.” 

Ngoc Bui, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said she knew Beardsley as being supportive and encouraging.

“She had a zest for life. She will be greatly missed,” Bui said.

Shannon Mathews, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said Beardsley was among the first faculty members to welcome her to the Leo community. 

“She expressed her genuine affection for the institution and offered keen insights on the strengths of the college,” she said. 

Over the course of her long and lustrous career, Dr. Beardsley contributed in significant ways to the institution as a faculty member, administrator and very active community member,” Mathews said. “As a fellow anthropologist, I truly admired her extensive contributions to the disciplines of cultural anthropology and archeology. She was truly a giant in her field and our community.” 

A celebration of life to honor Dr. Beardsley will be held at 4 p.m. April 3 in Morgan Auditorium.

Rebecca Keeler can be reached at rebecca.keeler@laverne.edu.


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