[2012 Leadership Awards] Jim Sargent

Features - 2012 Leadership Awards

He’s been called a rock star, “Doc” and Dr. Sargent, but to those who know him best, he is simply “Sarge.”

October 19, 2012
PCT Magazine

Copesan Director of Technical Support and Regulatory Compliance Jim “Sarge” Sargent began his college career in a pre-med biology program. But after completing four years in that discipline, he switched to entomology. Why?

“It was pointed out to me that medicine was boring, because it pretty much dealt with one species. Entomology is the study of more than a million species of animals,” Sargent says.

When Sargent was in college, pillbugs and sowbugs were largely unfamiliar. In fact, when studying ecological biology, his advisor recommended that he research those “bugs that roll up. Find out what they are, what they do and how they interact.” So Sargent wrote his senior honors paper on the bugs, traveling across the state of Minnesota to find and study eight different species. It was following his defense of this paper that a professor from the University of Minnesota invited him to work in the pest clinic for the summer. “It was a fascinating summer,” Sargent says, and it led to his decision to seek a master’s degree in entomology.

Once Sargent switched, he knew very quickly that he had made the right decision. He realized, he says, “Wow, this is so much fun – the discoveries, the curiosity is so intriguing. It’s like puzzles all over the place.” With so much to discover, learn and share about pests, he says, “there was a candy store of opportunity in entomology.”


NAME: Jim Sargent

COMPANY: Copesan Services

HEADQUARTERS: Menomonee Falls, Wis.

TITLE: Director of Technical Support and Regulatory Compliance

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: High school valedictorian; earned Bachelor of Science degree from Hamline University; master’s and Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Minnesota;

Extension Entomologist, The Ohio State University; President, Pi Chi Omega; John Quale Memorial Award winner, Copesan Services; staff liaison, Copesan Technical Committee.

PERSONAL: Married to Diane for 40 years; two grown daughters, Betsy and Katie; enjoys collecting insects (and fly swatters), hunting, fishing, cross-country skiing and bicycling.

In the intervening years since his first introduction to this candy store of pests, Sargent has certainly taken advantage of those opportunities, not only for himself and his own growth, but also for the entire pest management industry and the people of it.

Such contributions are confirmed by Mark Sheperdigian, vice president of technical services for Rose Pest Solutions, who says, “Dr. James Sargent, ‘Jim’ to acquaintances and ‘Sarge’ to his friends, is a well-known and universally loved character. Analytical and inquisitive, Jim Sargent pays attention to every presentation he attends, always has notes and always has at least one idea to try. It’s one thing to listen and ask questions, but Jim remembers and uses the information the next time the topic comes up. That man can pack more experience into a conference than anyone else I know.”

And with Sargent’s sphere of influence ranging from government officials to academia, manufacturers and pest management professionals, Sheperdigian says that Sargent is “ever cheerful and smiling, he is guaranteed to have a positive influence on every room he enters.”

Sargent has such widespread influence that Copesan President Deni Naumann refers to him as one of the rock stars of the industry. “We are all Jim Sargent groupies,” Naumann adds, expounding on Sargent’s extensive and enthusiastic involvement with training and mentoring across the industry, and his ability to candidly relate to people in all positions and levels … including children.

For almost 10 years, Sargent has been very involved in Copesan’s Bring Your Child to Work Day, and he has a great way with the kids, Naumann says. “They adore him because they say he makes bugs ‘fun’,” she says. “And, it’s so much fun to see him interacting with the children.” They call him Doc and come in each year asking, “What is Dr. Sargent going to teach us this year?” Naumann says the interaction is not only important for the employees’ children, but the fun and interest they have carries over as a great morale builder for employees as well.

A Continuing Evolution
While technologies and techniques have evolved since Sargent’s first introduction to insect pests, he sees the challenges and discoveries as never ending. Despite the industry’s best efforts, pest problems seem to continue to grow, he says. New pests come from other places and old pests return. And that, he says, is one of the striking things about insects – their ability to survive extermination, weather and the environment. “I am amazed by insects,” he says.

For more than 10 years, Sargent has been very involved in Copesan’s Bring Your Child to Work Day, at which the kids adore him because he makes bugs “fun.”

“There are always going to be pests,” he says, adding that even when you think you know everything about a bug – there are always surprises.

And that is one of the aspects that makes each day fun and fulfilling for Sargent. Although one of his greatest frustrations is when he or a PCO is more interested in helping someone than that person is in helping him or herself, Sargent gets the most enjoyment from helping people, solving problems and learning new things along the way.

“The thing about pest control is that it’s not just our jobs, it’s our lives,” he says, explaining that people can’t go through life without encountering insects – there are bugs everywhere. “My philosophy is that education and training is continuous – every day for everyone.”

A Childlike Sense of Wonder

This is further validated by the words from Jay Bruesch, technical director of Plunkett’s Pest Control: “The thing that most impresses me about Jim Sargent is that although he is respected worldwide as a scientist and expert, he has never lost his sense of wonder at all the world has to offer. Whether he’s collecting insects in a forest or desert landscape, or visiting a researcher’s laboratory or discussing matters of entomology or pest management with colleagues, he shows an almost childlike amazement at everything he sees, large and small. Jim is always learning.”

The Scramblers

By Mark Sheperdigian

Jim “Sarge” Sargent is an avid insect collector and is prepared to take insect specimens at any time. A number of us with the same level of enthusiasm will take trips together to collect insects in various areas whenever we are able.

On our inaugural trip in 2000, during the still of a hot, sultry summer afternoon in a remote section of a Tennessee forest, Sarge rolled a large log and found himself face to face with the inner workings of a very large yellow jacket nest. After the initial split-second of frozen time as the two entities considered each other, the action began. The ensuing pandemonium broke the serenity of the forest like a rat at a beauty pageant.

Crashing through the undergrowth came Sarge; heedless of logs, trees, crags or holes. The scene was scored by a familiar tune consisting of a classic string of expletives delivered in a desperate syncopated staccato. When he finally came crashing out of the woods and onto the weathered asphalt road, we could see the frenzied swarm of yellow jackets in hot pursuit. Within seconds, Sarge was standing in the road doing what surely would have become the latest dance had it been done at a club, with the yellow jackets following his lead as a humming cloud of satellites circling in ever-decreasing orbits.

In an effort to reduce the stinging, Sarge was systematically stripping off clothes that had become co-inhabited by the loudly buzzing wasps. While not technically indecent, Sarge was beyond any state of dignity in his hyper-adrenalized state. Always willing to get involved and help, we scrambled in to lend aid to our beleaguered friend. Two of us used aerial nets to sweep the yellow jackets out of the air, while a third used a large pair of forceps to remove the yellow jackets as they landed.

The whole ballet must have been quite a sight, but on the desolate road deep in the heart of Tennessee, who would possibly show up to bear witness? As it turns out, an old minivan with some locals came ambling around the curve and passed by at just the right moment to be presented with a scene that perhaps they are still relating today.

It must go something like this: “There was this one feller dancin’ about while another feller was pinchin’ him with pinchers and these other two fellers had some sort of nets and done whipped most the clothes clean off the dancin’ feller.” Regardless of your perspective, it was an amazing experience.

When all was said and done, Sarge took six or seven dozen stings which gave us cause for concern. One hundred stings is in the neighborhood for a life-threatening situation, and we were very concerned. While it was no picnic, Sarge soldiered on and showed no ill effects other than a few tender spots and some intense itching for the next day or two.

As a result of this encoutner, our annual insect collecting trips became known as the “Yellow Jacket Scramble,” and we refer to ourselves as the “Scramblers.”

The author is vice president of technical services, Rose Pest Solutions, Troy, Mich.

It is this very learning that has made Sargent an industry leader. Pat Hottel, technical director of McCloud Services, has known Sargent for more than 30 years, since he started in the industry as a technical representative for Great Lakes Chemical. “Jim is one of the finest examples of what an entomologist should be that I know,” she says. “He is not only supportive of the structural pest management industry in his dedication but is also extremely dedicated to the science. He is passionate about the science of entomology and serves as a great role model for those wishing to become an entomologist. He is an avid collector and always interested in new research and discoveries.”

For all of his technical knowledge, years of experience and stature as an expert on pest management, Bruesch adds, “Jim remains humble. He prefers to deflect recognition and praise onto others.”

In fact, Sargent was speechless when he was told that he had been selected to receive a 2012 Crown Leadership Award. “Not me,” he says he thought. “I just don’t think of myself that way. People say the nicest things about me, but I feel the other way – that people have helped me.”

Lending a Helping Hand…Daily

Such pride in other’s accomplishments rather than his own is one of Sargent’s innate character traits. “It’s always been the people that have drawn me to the industry. Their kindness and appreciation is irresistible.” Thus, when asked about his best day in pest management, he responds, “The day I solve a problem and help someone – every day.”

And that is exactly what Sargent does – every day. Also having known Sargent since his days at Great Lakes, Bruesch says, “if I called him for advice on a methyl bromide food plant fumigation, he’d not only offer helpful counsel; he’d jump in his car and travel hundreds of miles to take part in the actual fumigation.”

And Sargent’s commitment has not changed since. “I consider him a great friend and colleague,” Hottel says. “He is always there when needed for advice and support on fumigation and other issues. Jim is always willing to lend a hand in technical problem solving.”

That helping hand may be at Copesan headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis., or anywhere across the states. “It’s good to see other places,” Sargent says. “That’s the most amazing thing you learn: if you are from the Midwest it’s not the same as Florida or Hawaii – the attitudes are different, pests are different. When you travel you see it.”

Sargent is a typical entomologist, Naumann says. “He has a full office cluttered and filled with research and information and a lab at the office and in his home filled with wonderful bugs.”

Life Outside the Industry

But Sargent’s life isn’t only about bugs. Married for 40 years to Diane, the Sargents have two grown daughters, and it is their accomplishments that have brought his proudest moments. As examples, Sargent relates the time his daughter Betsy scored the first eight baskets in a high school game – before the other team scored even a single point; and his daughter Katie’s softball accomplishments with her inscribed wooden bat – that the entire team ended up using because Katie seemed to get a hit every time she used it.

In his youth, Jim was involved in the Boy Scouts and 4-H, and he was valedictorian of his high school class. He was also a literal “rock star,” having played in a municipal band for a number of years, in a jazz band at Hamline University, and as the trumpet player in the dance band, Blue Knights. Sargent also has been an active hunter, fisherman, canoeist, camper and cross-country skier, and he still enjoys bicycling.

Sargent earned his Ph.D. and master’s in entomology from the University of Minnesota and his bachelors’ from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He began his career as an extension entomologist with The Ohio State University focusing on urban and post-harvest pest management.

Today, Sargent is president of Pi Chi Omega, staff liaison of the Copesan Technical Committee, active in the Pest Management Foundation in determining research funding for industry projects each year, and a dynamic force behind the advocacy and solicitation of funds for both NPMA research and Pi Chi Omega scholarships.

In 2008, he received Copesan’s John QUALE Memorial Award which is given annually to the person at Copesan who most consistently displays a passion for quality, unity of purpose, a willing attitude, loyalty to company and country, and a spirit of boundless enthusiasm to reach professional and personal goals. Naumann says that receiving this award, of which only one is given annually to one of the 250+ eligible employees, is quite an honor. “It’s an important recognition internally for Copesan,” Naumann says, including herself as one of those who has greatly benefited from Sargent’s influence and mentoring. “He has personally provided me with mentoring in Copesan,” she says. “Since I came on board, he has shared his knowledge of the partners and embraced me in the CTC (Copesan Technical Committee). It is an incredible group to work with, and Sarge’s passion overflows to others.”

Sargent is respected as a resource across the industry – not only by pest control operators and technicians, but by vendors and clients, Naumann added. “He has an incredible thirst for knowledge, and he represents Copesan so well, so professionally. He is seen as a consultant for all our partners.

“Sarge is really pretty remarkable.”

But perhaps it is Bruesch who best wraps up Sargent’s merit as a Crown Leadership winner. “Jim is an accomplished scientist, a leader and a loyal advocate of his peers, and is kind and respectful to all people. Those are qualities that earn him a place in the ranks of Leadership Award winners.”

And those are the type of words that are most motivating to Sargent. “A lot of what keeps me going is a good compliment,” he says. Some sort of appreciation is a huge motivation that makes a person feel good and want to do better. “A well-worded compliment is a marvelous motivation.”