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The Mary L. Powelson Fund

The Mary L. Powelson Fund

The Sonoran Desert is where you can spy the rare ‘Black-capped Gnatcatcher’ (Polioptila nigriceps) and the ‘Rose-throated Becard’ (Pachyramphus aglaiae).  Mary PowelsonIn close pursuit, you might also spy Mary Powelson, the snow birder who is now calling the Sonoran Desert her winter home.  Thirty-one years of service to OSU has Mary well prepared for full-time pursuit of her hobby.  Chasing down the secret lives of rare birds is much like chasing plant pathogens, except that the birds are bigger!  Moreover, much like undergraduates, it is rumored that when these birds are found, Mary has the knack of coaxing them to ‘sit tight and listen’, at least until a bell rings. 

Mary earned her undergraduate degree in Biology Education at State College, Bloomsbury, PA, and a M.S. in Plant Pathology at Michigan State University. Her PhD in Plant Pathology was earned at Oregon State University in 1972. She then became Research Associate in the Department of Crop Science and the Department of Botany and Pathology at OSU until 1978, when she joined the professorial faculty in the Department. With retirement, Mary Powelson leaves behind a distinguished record: numerous teaching awards including the Award of Merit from the National Association of College Teachers of Agriculture, significant advancements in the cultural management of vegetable diseases, outstanding professional service to the potato industry and to plant pathology, and selection as a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society. She was recently honored with Honorary Life Membership in the Potato Association of America.

Despite Mary’s winter migration, her lab continues to stay busy, with emphasis these days on a root rot complex of sweet corn.  The results of last season are proving out a hypothesis that Mary has championed with regard to soil-borne pathogens of vegetable crops: water management in the first few weeks of the season can greatly influence the severity of symptom expression as the crop matures.

Over her career, Mary served on numerous graduate committees and directed the thesis research of 13 graduate students.  What do these students remember about Mary?  We submit that in addition to excellent mentoring, the very fine dinners at Mary and Bob’s house have not been forgotten.

Also remembering Mary’s excellence in teaching are the hundreds of undergrads whom she taught in “Introductory Plant Pathology”.  It is not uncommon to see them stopping by in later years to say “Hi”.  Indeed, many have gone on to pursue graduate studies in plant sciences, several right here at OSU!

Although Mary leaves behind the halls of Cordley for other pursuits in her role as grandma, birder, hobbyist and friend, she continues to practice what she preached.  The take home message:  “Work hard.  Play hard.  No whining”.

 by Ken Johnson and Beth Hoinacki

The Mary L. Powelson Fund will support activities of the Botany and Plant Pathology Field Laboratory.