Few gave back to the turfgrass business the way Joe Duich did.
As a professor, Duich helped create Penn State's two-year turf management program, and his career in State College spanned five decades. He taught hundreds of undergraduates and mentored dozens of graduate students and doctoral candidates during his 35-year career in State College.
As a longtime plant breeder, he developed many turfgrass varieties, including Penncross creeping bentgrass, once the standard against which all bentgrass species at one time were measured He used royalties from the sales of those turf varieties to run the Penn State program before eventually establishing an endowment fund that today is worth millions.
Duich died Oct. 11. He was 85.
"His name is one that will go down in history as one of the great contributors to turfgrass science," said Al Turgeon, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Penn State. "He made tremendous contributions to education and turfgrass breeding."
Duich grew up in Farrell, Pa., and after a post-World War II stint (1946-48) in the U.S. Marines, he attended Penn State where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1957.
Turgeon was a graduate student at Michigan State when he first met Duich at a Rutgers University field day. He recalled that Duich was an intimidating figure for a wide-eyed graduate student. Turgeon later served as head of Penn State's agronomy department while Duich was a professor at Penn State, and said he was equally intimidating then as well.
"He could be warm, or he could be bitter," Turgeon said.
"He marched to his own drummer. He was true to his values, and he tolerated no nonsense. But, if you were one of his students, he was totally dedicated and would do anything for you."
Along with Burt Musser in 1954, Duich helped develop Penncross creeping bentgrass, once the most widely used bentgrass on golf courses around the world. He also developed Pennlinks, Penneagle and six varieties of the Penn A and G series, as well as Pennfine perennial ryegrass and Pennstar Kentucky bluegrass.
Bill Rose of Turf-Seed Inc. said Duich stepped in to help the seed industry in the late 1960s when less-than-careful dealers were peddling substandard seed.
"Dr. Duich entered my life in 1967 at a Penn State turf conference. I sat in the audience with Dr. Musser, and when it became known an Oregon seed grower was present, at intermission I was surrounded by angry seedsmen blaming me for the inferior quality of Penncross seed that was being marketed in Pennsylvania. They threatened to pull the variety from the market," Rose said.
"From this all-night meeting a program evolved providing only certified quality would be produced and sold with no Poa annua or Poa trivialis. Joe would check our fields prior to swathing and the Penncross Bentgrass Association would have an exclusive production and marketing rights on bents bred at Penn State, to include Penneagle, Pennlinks, the A's & G's and Seaside II. This program has been successful ever since.
"In 1974, the Penncross Bentgrass Association established a scholarship program at Penn State for needy turf students, which continues today. Dr. Duich also established certification standards that far exceeded those previously set by Oregon Seed Certification."
He showed the same care with his own research plots in Pennsylvania.
"You would see him out there mowing his own plots every day," Turgeon said. "He took great pride in the level of quality of those plots. They were incomparable, and he managed them like they were his own golf course."
A member of the Penn State faculty from 1955-91, Duich was a prolific writer, authoring hundreds of academic articles. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2008 C. Reed Funk award from the Turfgrass Breeders Association, the Distinguished Alumni award from Penn State (2008), the Old Tom Morris award (2006) from the GCSAA, the USGA Green Section award (1981) and the GCSAA Distinguished Service award (1976).
Survivors include his wife Pat, daughter Katherine Brennan (Jim), son Michael (Leslie) and five grandchildren.