At the end of 2013, North Carolina State University Entomologist Jack Bacheler retired, leaving behind a legacy of service to farmers and a history of professional cooperation that will be greatly missed.

Bacheler grew up in Birmingham, Mich., and from an early age had a fascination with bugs and more than typical childhood collections of insects — it was one of his early passions in life.

As an undergraduate student at Miami of Ohio University, he took two courses in entomology. “Before that I had no idea a person could actually make a living studying insects,” he says.

He was a good undergraduate student and later as a masters and Ph.D student was able to pursue his passion about studying insects and entomology at the University of Florida.

During all his collegiate studies, Bacheler was pursuing his true passion in life — competitive running.

In high school, he had the height (6’6”) to play basketball, but quickly learned that wasn’t his sport. So, he began running track. As a senior at Miami of Ohio he placed second nationally in steeplechase and developed those skills well enough to make the 1968 and 1972 U.S. Olympic Team.

Though the 1968 Olympics were dominated by Tommy Smith and John Carlos’ clinched fist statement on the Awards Podium, Bacheler quietly built a reputation as one of the premier distance runners in the world.

On a cool, damp morning in Munich, Germany in 1972, Bacheler and Gold Medal winner Frank Shorter left the U.S. Olympic Team headquarters for a morning run. When they returned the Olympic Games were changed forever.

“I remember trying to get back into the Village and there were army tanks and armed soldiers surrounding the area,” he says. The slaughter of members of the Israeli Olympic Team by terrorists proved to a harbinger of terrorist events to come and cast a dark cloud over the spirit of the Olympic Games for years to come, if not forever.

While in Munich, Bacheler called J.R. Bradley, then a professor of entomology at North Carolina State to inquire about a post-doctoral position with the highly regarded entomologist. After a brief stint as a post-doc, he joined the North Carolina State faculty as an Extension Entomologist.

Continued running despite professional pressure

During his career at North Carolina State, Bacheler provided invaluable pest management information for county agents, consultants and farmers. Despite his demanding schedule as an entomologist, he never quite got over his passion for running. 

As an assistant professor, he found time to coach the North Carolina State University’s distance runners and remains the only coach in the university’s history to win two national cross country championships.

During his career, he says one of the biggest challenges and most significant accomplishments was his work on the Boll Weevil Eradication Program. 

“From a biological standpoint alone, essentially wiping out an insect a wide geographic area was a huge challenge,” he says.  

Working with entomologists from the Southeast and across the Cotton Belt helped establish a camaraderie that has proven valuable in future efforts to help farmers manage a never-ending threat from various insects.

“Technology changed tremendously during my time at North Carolina State, and it was always a challenge to adapt new technology in a way that benefits farmers,” he says. One of his proudest recent accomplishments is development of a smart phone app for stink bug management.

In recent years, he has worked with entomologists around the South to develop IPM friendly programs for managing stink bugs. Similar cooperative efforts with entomologists at the University of Georgia, Clemson and Virginia Tech are helping establish management guidelines for kudzu bugs.

 “Over my 25-year career at Virginia Tech, Jack has been a reliable friend and colleague,” says Virginia Tech Entomologist Ames Herbert. “Often, one of the biggest challenges we face is time — growers need information and they need it now to protect their crop. Jack remained unflappable in situations like that and was able to remain focused on solving the problem and doing it in a way that helped growers without getting too far away from our IPM mission,” Herbert adds.

Behind the scene

The Virginia Tech scientist says most people don’t realize that a big part of university research and Extension leader’s job is to write reports, grant proposals and many other similar documents. “Over the years, I’ve come to really respect Jack’s communication skills in addition to his skills as an entomologist,” Herbert says.

The recent retirement of entomologists, and the loss of others to other universities, has left the North Carolina State program significantly under-staffed to handle grower needs.

“One of my biggest challenges is to be sure our university understands the critical role insect management plays in our agriculture industry,” Bacheler says.

In recent years long-time North Carolina State Entomologists J.R. Bradley and John Van Duyn have retired. Now, with Bacheler’s retirement and the departure of Extension Entomologist Mark Abney to the University of Georgia, the Extension Entomology staff in particular is down several key positions.

For example, current North Carolina State Extension Entomologist Dominic Reisig will be left to cover eight crops and 4 million acres.

“I know from my own experience that one person, no matter how dedicated he or she is, can’t handle that level of demand, especially in combination with all the other academic demands,” Bacheler says.

Though he is best known professionally as a cotton entomologist, Bacheler is becoming well-known in a whole different field of crop production — pumpkins. This past year, he won the North Carolina State Fair largest pumpkin award, topping 800 pounds with his entry.

“Growing competitive pumpkins is something I got interested in a few years back and in the past few years have spent time learning all I can about growing them,” Bacheler says.

From a national perspective, he says too little daylight in the growing season and a lack of cool nights will likely prevent him from coming close to the two-ton pumpkins that now compete for the national title.

Throughout his career at North Carolina State, Bacheler set a standard for excellence in entomology that is every bit as world class as his prowess as an Olympic runner. His legacy of helping growers prevent and solve insect-related problems and efforts in furthering the science of entomology with regional and national colleagues will be long remembered.