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In Memoriam: Dr. John Osmun

Osmun, a Purdue entomology faculty member for 39 years, was an outspoken advocate for PCO education and enhanced industry standards. He passed away on Saturday, at age 94.

Brad Harbison | October 15, 2012

***Updated 10/16, at 9 a.m.***
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The pest control industry mourns the loss of Dr. John Osmun, a Purdue University entomology faculty member for 39 years and an outspoken advocate for PCO education and enhanced industry standards. Osmun, 94, of West Lafayette, passed away on Oct. 13.

Few industry professionals have had as significant and long-lasting an impact on the field of pest management as Osmun, whose career spanned more than 60 years. During World War II, he served as a U.S. Army Entomologist and for three years was the chief entomologist in the First Army Command stationed in Governor's Island, N.Y. He then was employed as a research entomologist for Merck & Company.

In 1948, Osmun arrived at Purdue, where he was named assistant professor of entomology. In this position, he developed the first four-year curriculum devoted to urban and industrial entomology. In the mid-1970s, Osmun left Purdue to become director of EPA’s Operations Division (and he later served as a consultant to EPA). He would later return to Purdue. Osmun joined EPA during a time in which the agency’s role was placing more emphasis on setting standards. In January 2006, Purdue recognized Osmun during a special reception, and he reflected on his EPA involvement, noting, “I saw it as an opportunity to develop standards for applicators based on education.”

Remembrances

Editor’s note: Several of Dr. John Osmun’s friends and colleagues shared their memories of this legendary industry figure. If you would like to add your memories of Dr. Osmun, email bharbison@gie.net.

“John went out of his way to recruit me to Purdue, after seeing me give a presentation. I applied and got accepted to Purdue for its livestock entomology program, but I turned them down because I decided to stay at Cornell. When I switched to urban entomology, I re-applied at Purdue, but never thought I would get accepted (because of already turning them down) but after I interviewed with John he said, ‘Let me see what I can do for you.’ The next thing I know got accepted. He was like my guardian the whole time I was at Purdue. The three things that mattered most to John were (1) students; (2) the university and (3) urban pest management. There are so many things John did for this industry. He was one of the early entomologists to recognize that the future our industry was not chemically based, and recognized what Rachel Carson was saying, so he took the job to head up and develop the certification program with EPA.” — Dr. Austin Frishman, AMF Pest Management Consulting, and former former Purdue Entomology Department faculty member

“Dr. Osmun has continued, even in his retirement years, to be a mentor and a dear friend to me. He has always been available to me at a moment’s notice to advise and assist me in any way I needed him — he even assisted in arranging a surprise birthday party for my wife Milta recently. Professionally, Oz was the one who took a chance on a young Ph.d student by the name of Gary Bennett 40+ years ago and hired me to join his faculty at Purdue University. I think he was probably the only person who would have predicted that I would still be there today. John had an undying passion for students, entomology, and the pest management industry. He will always be known for his love of the industry and for his efforts in making it a more professional industry. He will truly be missed.” — Dr. Gary Bennett, professor and coordinator, Center for Urban Industrial Technology

“John Osmun, of course, was special to me. He was a teacher, a mentor and a friend. Among my many Purdue recollections, my most cherished memories of 'Oz' were the times he accompanied me during graduate school on a few night excursions to observe bats in attics or mice in poultry houses. On those trips, he would provide wonderful guidance and council on all aspects of life and entomology. Those trips helped shape who I am today. These days, I spend a lot of time working on the war on rats in New York City. Two years ago, John mailed me a photograph of himself in 1945 when he was a Captain in the US Army serving as an entomologist for New York . He is sitting in a chair on Governors Island with the New York City skyline in the distance. The photo has been hanging above my desk since the day it arrived. Visitors to my office often ask as to who the soldier is in the photograph. I always reply “It’s the Oz — a great inspiration for remaining dedicated to the science of urban pest management”. Here in New York, JVO lives on.” — Bobby Corrigan, RMC Pest Management Consulting, and former Purdue Entomology Department faculty member

“I first met Dr. Osmun as a freshman entomology student at Purdue. He introduced himself while I was traversing the halls of the entomology building, and although I would not have him as an instructor in class until I was a junior, Dr. Osmun always took time to ask how I was doing. I remember his class on pesticides to be a strenuous endeavor with him being a tough taskmaster with very high standards. After I left Purdue, he was a good cheerleader, encouraging me, as I made my name in this industry. He took the time to thank me on many occasions over the years for how I was representing our university and the Purdue Entomology Department. I treasure his enthusiasm for Purdue, entomology, the pest control industry, and all the students who passed through his department. Not only did he have an impact in my career and life, but he was also a mentor and friend to many others who have worked at Terminix over the years including Charlie Hromada, Vern Walter, and John Craft. His passing is a great loss to our industry, and he will be missed.” — Stoy Hedges, Terminix International

What a great life that Dr. John Osmun lived. He had family, two caring wives, many friends and more than 60 years of achievement at Purdue University Entomology. He was especially a friend of the student. I learned much from “Oz” during my years at Purdue. In 1974, our ENTM 515 class was the first to take the new EPA certification examination to become licensed pesticide applicators. Continued education and pesticide licensing spread throughout the country. It is the way we stay professional today. I can hear him say, “Let’s educate rather than regulate.” Dr. Osmun was a true professional and a great man. I will miss him and never forget him and what he did to help my career as a pest management professional. — David Mueller, Insects Limited

“Our industry has lost another great innovator, educator, mentor and leader.” — Gerry Wegner, Varment Guard

In remembering Dr. John Osmun, it is important to note that he was a leading light in establishing national and international recognition of entomology as a profession. By my recollection, he chaired the ESA's Committee of Professional Training, Standards and Status, which in 1970 launched the American Registry of Professional Entomologists, the precursor of the current Board Certified Entomologist Program. I was privileged to serve on that committee with him. Although always soft spoken and unassuming, he was a true leader, whose dedication to professionalism and profound influence lives on in legions of Board Certified Entomologists. — John Borden, Contech Enterprises, Delta, B.C., Canada

John’s obituary brought back memories of working with John in the early days of ARPE, and presenting an ARPE class at an annual ESA meeting. John’s energy and enthusiasm drove ARPE in its early days and made the BCE/ACE program what it is today. — R. Duncan Carter, PhD BCE (emeritus)

How very fitting that Dr. John Osmun, "Oz" to most of us, chose to pass this past weekend, the start of the 100th (Centennial) Celebration weekend for the Department of Entomology at Purdue — a department that he so loved, and led and helped to develop! Oz, though long retired as a professor emeritus by the time I was a doctoral grad student at Purdue in the 1990s, became a for me a great mentor, friend, fellow entomologist, urban pest management colleague and environmentalist, as well as a colleague in the Save Entomology (now Pfendler) Hall campaign on Purdue’s campus. He got to know students because he still came into the office every day into his late 80s. — Kathy Heinsohn, AmericanPest

 

Although Osmun retired Purdue faculty member in 1987, he remained close to the university and the pest control industry. At that same 2006 banquet, Osmun provided the following optimistic perspective on the industry. “You have the foundation of professional people working in the field, so I only see the industry getting better,” he said.

Osmun was born in Amherst, Mass., on Feb. 22, 1918, the son of Albert V. and Lena Lattimer Osmun. On July 11, 1942, he married Dorothy Morley Osmun who preceded him in death in 1999. He earned a B.S. from the University of Massachusetts in 1940, an M.A. in biology in 1942 from Amherst, and a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1956.

Osmun is survived by his wife, Dortha Parker Osmun; his daughter, Jodi Pickart (Bill), of Bringhurst; granddaughter, Karen Balsbaugh (Dan), of Bringhurst; and great-grandson, Charlie Balsbaugh.He was preceded in death by a brother, Kenneth Osmun; and granddaughter, Jill Suzanne Pickart.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, with a visitation two hours prior to that at Covenant Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette. There will be a private burial at Grandview Cemetery in West Lafayette.

Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.soller-baker.com.

Additional information provided by the Journal-Courier.

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