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VTPP History

Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs was formerly known at Virginia Tech as the Chemical, Drug and Pesticide Unit. The Unit had been in existence since 1964 when it was started as a health and safety program. The Unit was administered at the University level at that time and remained there under the Extension Division until that Division was dissolved in the 1980's. It was at that point that the Cooperative Extension Service was placed under the administration of the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In 1995, the Unit was moved under the administration of the Department of Entomology and the name was changed to Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs.

The History of Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs...established in 1964

Unit leadership has been under the direction of only three coordinators since its inception.

Program Directors

William VanDresserDr. William Van Dresser headed the Unit in the first few years of its existence. His training was in veterinary science. He was a product of Michigan State University (B.S., 1952, Dairy Production, M.S., 1955, Veterinary Science, and DVM, 1957) and he had started at Virginia Tech as an Assistant Professor of Veterinary Science in 1957 after leaving a private veterinary practice in Michigan. He was promoted to Associate Professor (1960) and then Professor (1960). Bill was one of the early pesticide coordinators that wrote the initial guidelines of the role and responsibilities of the newly established pesticide chemical coordinator/program leader positions funded by the federal extension service in 1965. He was promoted to State Leader - Extension Administration in 1966. In 1969, he took over field services as Associate Dean of the Extension Division. In 1971, he moved to Associate Dean for Administration of the Extension Division. He later became Director of Cooperative Extension and then was promoted to Vice President for Administration before his retirement in 1985.

Norman LauDr. Norman E. Lau was hired by Bill VanDresser in 1965 and he was appointed head of the Unit in 1966. He received his training from Colorado State University (B.S. and M.S. in entomology/plant pathology) and his Ph.D.from Rutgers University in entomology and plant pathology where he studied nematodes and insects on red clover under Dr. Filmer in the Department of Entomology. After completing his Ph.D. in 1958, Norm worked for a pest control company in New Jersey fumigating houses for several years and for Hooker Chemical as a salesman until he was hired by Virginia Tech.

Dr. Lau was born in Harvey, Illinois in 1930. He attended Harvey High School. He worked summers for the Forest Service and building houses. Norm headed the Unit during its early years when it was a very robust operation employing three dedicated specialists who had among their many assignments the task of approving all extension publications involving chemical recommendations prior to their publication. That task produced a number of altercations between the Unit and the departments including attempts to circumvent the process on occasion. One department head in particular, who was notorious for getting his way with things, created friction when he bypassed the approval process to rush a publication to completion without Norm's approval. Sorry to say it cost the Head over $13,000 in lost funds when the publication had to be reprinted due to an error.

Dr. Lau was instrumental in building the program under new federal extension support in 1965 that established the pesticide chemical coordinator/program leader positions in the states and expanded pesticide safety education. His contributions were many including testifying before Congress on one occasion and writing the first certification exam for Virginia when the pesticide applicator certification and training program was put into effect in the mid-1970's. The program was operated out of 202 Price Hall during Dr. Lau's tenure. Norm was active in the community including his church, with the Montgomery County Mental Health Board, the Rotary Club, and Torch International. He was also a member of the Entomological Society of America.

It was a very sad day in 1980 when Dr. Norman Lau passed away after a gallant fight with brain cancer. He was 49 years old at the time. Norm is survived by his wife Eleanor and son, Scott. Scott represents another generation of Lau's working for Virginia Tech -- he is a lieutenant in the Virginia Tech Police DepartmentDr. Lau hired the Unit's first graduate assistant in 1977. That GA was Mike Weaver, who was a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science

In 1980, after the tragic death of Dr. Lau, the demands for the Unit's services convinced Extension Administration to hire Michael J. Weaver as Unit Coordinator. Dr. Weaver completed his Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1982 while working full time as coordinator. Weaver's other training was in biology and secondary education (B.S., 1974, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania) and plant pathology (M.S., 1977, West Virginia University). Weaver was born (in 1952) in Greenville, Pennsylvania and attended Commodore Perry School in Hadley, PA. One of Weaver's passions growing up and still today was photography. Among his high school honors was a scholarship in photography to the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts. He was also (and still is) an avid fisherman. His family owned a sporting goods business when he was growing up and between school and other jobs Weaver helped manage the business. The only problem was that he also enjoyed fishing and hunting. His father commented many times that the store would have been much more profitable had young Weaver not been busy trying out every new fishing and hunting gadget in the store. His parents were much relieved when they learned that he would leave their employment and enter graduate school in 1975. Prior to assuming the program coordinator position, Weaver worked as a research assistant, substitute teacher, steelworker, photographer, and in retail sales and management. In 1995, Weaver's program was merged with the Virginia Tech Entomology Department. He was eventually promoted to professor and Extension Project Leader in Entomology. During his tenure, the unit saw the addition of seven new personnel and over 12 million dollars in grants and contracts. Program emphasis was placed on pesticide safety education and pesticide impact assessment. Weaver has been a leader in pesticide safety education nationally. He was leader (interim-president, president, and immediate past-president) of the Association of Pesticide Safety Educators (from 2011 to 2017) and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Pesticide Safety Education (1999 to present). He contributed to Entomology by reviving the department's aging 4-H program in 2011. He established the Hokie BugFest and Hokie BugCamps, and promoted student service through starting the W. B. Alwood Extension Award in the department. His promotion of service, living the Virginia Tech motto of Ut prosim (that I may serve) is a major contribution of Weaver's career. Weaver's service has been recognized by a number of awards. Over the years, Weaver has been awarded the ACE National Superior (1989) and National First Place Awards (1990, 1991) for Technology Programming, Gamma Sigma Delta Extension Award of Merit (2001), the AAPSE Outstanding Service Award (1997, 2001), the ADEC (national) Education Programs Award (2002), the W. F. Murphy Jr. Technology Award (2004), the Pesticide Stewardship Program Award (2007), the Virginia Tech Alumni Association Extension Excellence Award (2007), the Virginia Tech Spotlight on Achievement for Service (2008) and the Andy Swiger Land-Grant Award (2009). Weaver also won a communications award (2010) from the Virginia Agricultural Agents Association, and a 35-year service award from USDA, and a special recognition award (2012) for his 13-years of service to the Virginia Pesticide Control Board (serving on behalf of the Dean). He also won the Hokie Wellness Program's campuswide Supervisor Spotlight Award in 2016. Weaver and his wife Nancy have three children, one granddaughter, and a large geriatric basset hound. They live in Blacksburg. Mike Weaver retired in 2018. He plans to continue to run the program part-time until a replacement is hired and trained over the next several years.

Program Specialists

Dick Gruenhagan
Dr. Richard Hamilton Gruenhagen was hired 1958 where he served as a professor of plant pathology and extension plant pathologist. In 1965, R. H. Gruenhagen became the Extension Project Leader in the plant pathology department and worked on the pathology of ornamental plants. Gruenhagen was transferred out of plant pathology to the Chemical, Drug and Pesticide Unit on October 1, 1966. He was described in the historical archives of the plant pathology department as an interesting, amusing speaker and lady's garden organizations enjoyed his presentations. These qualities enabled him to bring much recognition to the plant pathology department in this regard during his time there. Dick was born in Wisconsin and received his undergraduate and graduate training from the University of Wisconsin. While at Tech, Gruenhagen received the U.S.D.A. Service Award and was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho Alumni Association, the Association of Poison Control Centers, Virginia Extension Service Association, and the Scientific Research Society of America. He was also active with campus life. In the '60s, he and his wife served as chaperones for the German Club dances and for 13 years were sponsors for the (then) sorority Delta Rho. Dr. Gruenhagen retired in 1979. Gruenhagen's daughter, Mary Kay Gruenhagen Vacheresse '67, says her father "loved Tech with a passion and still cheered wildly for the teams as he watched them on ESPN from his retirement homes in Wisconsin and Florida during his retired years. Dr. Gruenhagan died on Feb. 22, 2001.

Paul Siburt
Dr. Thomas Paul Siburt was a veterinarian in the Unit from 1968 to 1989. Dr Siburt was born on February 4, 1923 in Marshall County, WV. He attended West Liberty College in WV. Paul received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1949. Dr. Siburt worked as state veterinarian for the states of Indiana and West Virginia. He was a veteran of WWII and a member of the AF&AM Masonic Lodge and the Order of the Eastern Star. He was married to Wilda Francis Parsons of Wetzel County, WV. They had two children - James Thomas Siburt and Paul Kenneth Siburt. Dr. Siburt moved to the new Virginia/Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1980. He returned to the Unit for a few years prior to his retirement in 1989. He died on September 23, 1990.

Pat Hipkins
An Assistant Coordinator was hired in 1989. Ms. Patricia A. Hipkins remains in that position today. She is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Entomology. Ms. Hipkin's training includes a B.A. in biology/chemistry/english and philosophy (1968, Seton Hill College), and a M.S. in biology (1974, University of Louisville). Ms. Hipkins also holds a teaching certification (1971, Clarion State College). Prior to coming to Virginia Tech she worked as a high school science teacher in Montgomery County Schools, as a biology instructor at Hood College, and as a research assistant at the University of Louisville. During her tenure she led efforts to incorporate hands-on demonstrations into the pesticide safety education program, supported an extensive and very active in-service education program for Extension agents, and was a key leader in the West Africa pesticide safety education program in Mali through USAID and the IPM-CRSP program. In 2007, Pat was awarded the Pesticide Stewardship Program Award for her outreach efforts by the Pesticide Stewardship Alliance (TPSA). Ms. Hipkins has been a leader of TPSA and the American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators (AAPSE). In 2010, Ms. Hipkins won the Gamma Sigma Delta Extension Award of Merit. In addition, her international work was part of a team effort that contributed to Entomology winning the 2010 University Exemplary Department Award. In 2016, Mrs. Hipkins won an AAPSE special recognition award for her career achievements and the AAPSE life member award. Pat is married to Lloyd Hipkins (retired senior research associate and extension weed scientist from PPWS). They have two sons and two grandchildren and live in Newport, Virginia. Mrs. Hipkins retired in 2016.

Today, the program has eight faculty and staff. We also currently have several student and summer workers. There have also been a number of graduate assistants who have worked in the unit over the years.