This photograph promoted James Boodley ('53,'54g,'56 Ph.D. Hort) to write a letter.
Part of my goal as editor is to reach out to readers and connect them to programs or projects, experiences or people. I also hope to remind us of the part we all play in the college’s mission.
When I sat down to write this note, I was thinking of the 150-year celebration of the land-grant tradition. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act in 1862, he launched the system of public universities that would nurture generations of students in agriculture, engineering, and science.
But a handwritten letter on my desk urged me in a different direction.
Our previous issue (Summer/Fall 2011) ended with a new feature, Then and Now, which showed a black and white photo of an anonymous man standing in a greenhouse and wearing a gas mask.
Not long after the magazine came out, I received a letter from Kent, Ohio. James Boodley (’53, ’54g, ’56 Ph.D. Hort) identified the man behind the mask. “How far back in the files did you go to obtain that picture?” he wrote. “It looks very much like one I posed for to use in a floriculture extension bulletin written by Professor John G. Seeley. I was his graduate student from 1953 to 1956.”
I gave him a call and we talked about how he came to be in the greenhouse that day. Money was tight, he said. He’d been living in a fraternity for several years, when Dr. Seeley asked if he’d like to live in the greenhouses.
James moved to a little room with bunk beds in return for keeping an eye on the greenhouses at night. One job was the 2 am temperature check—one at the greenhouse where he lived and another a quarter-mile down the road. Those 2 am hikes when winter winds were howling could be rough, he recalled. Boodley went on become a faculty member at Cornell until he retired. After I hung up, I thought of the contributions he made during his career, his connection to Penn State, and his part in the now 150-year-old experiment Lincoln set in motion.
Not long afterward, I received an e-mail from Britt Bunyard (’95 Ph.D. Plant Path), publisher and editor-in-chief of Fungi magazine. He responded to another photo in that issue—a 20-year-old portrait of Dr. Dan Royse in my Editor’s Note.
“I remember that photo vividly,” Britt said. “I also remember the cover, an extreme close-up of a mushroom’s gills. I’m certain I still have that issue in a file cabinet somewhere. I can say with absolute certainty this story was the catalyst that led me to working in Dan Royse’s lab.”
Britt saw that issue while a student at Clemson University when F. William Zettler (’61 B.S. Plant Path), plant virologist at the University of Florida, visited and brought journals to look at, including the Penn State Agriculture with the article on mushroom research. Zettler thought he’d find the story interesting.
“He was right!” wrote Britt. “I sent a letter to Dan requesting information on his research. Four years later, including hundreds of late nights in Buckhout Lab, I graduated.
“I met my wife at Penn State. And when I was teaching, one of my students, Michele Mansfield (’05 Ph.D. Plant Path), went on to Penn State. She left after graduation but has since returned as a researcher in the plant pathology department. Talk about a ripple effect!”
The ripple effect. I realized then that these letters led me back to my original idea for this note: the brilliant idea of the land-grant system. What Lincoln started 150 years ago is still in motion; it’s now our turn to keep it rolling. Who knows what galaxy our ripples might reach in another 150 years?