After 43 years at the U, health professor turns to golfing and gardening

FBy Jake WeyerFrom helping students in the classroom to helping NASA with a Mars expedition, Donald Vesley accomplished a lot in his 43 years at the University’s School of Public Health.

The Environmental and Occupational Health professor will retire June 30.

Vesley taught hundreds of courses and played key roles in projects such as the sterilization of space equipment for NASA’s 1976 Viking Mission and the National Institutes of Health-funded study of ultra-clean environments in hospitals in the early 1960s.

Golfing and working in the garden will make up the majority of his schedule now, he said.

Vesley is nationally recognized as a leading expert in the field of environmental microbiology.

“He’s number one in the country in infection control,” said Dr. William Toscano, head of the Environmental and Occupational Health division at the University. Toscano, who is also a professor at the University, said he has known Vesley for four years. “He laid the foundation for environment and occupational health at the University.”

A reception was held for Vesley in the McNamara alumni center Friday. Vesley’s past and present colleagues, relatives and students attended and several spoke.

Al Williams, an advisee of Vesley from 1980 to 1982, said Vesley was the reason he came to the University from his home state of Indiana.

“I understood that Mr. Environmental Health was here,” Williams said. “(Vesley) convinced me that they had a program that was ideally suited for someone like me who wanted to explore public health.”

After taking Vesley’s advice and cross training in epidemiology and environmental health for two years, Williams said he was ready for the job market and had two offers right out of school thanks to Vesley’s recommendations. Today Williams is an environmental epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Though Vesley’s garden and golf game are top priorities of his retired life, he will keep his office and continue to advise current students.

Vesley will also remain the only person outside the federal government that serves on the Environmental Clearing Committee. The committee was responsible for the decontamination of the 14-million-square-foot postal building in Washington, D.C., after two anthrax-related deaths in 2001.

Over the years, Vesley has served the University as a part-time instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, full professor and director of the Department of Health and Safety. He will become professor emeritus July 1.

“I can’t think of any other career that I would have chosen,” Vesley said Friday. “I can thank so many people.”

Vesley said the students are his inspiration and he will miss contact with them.

“Time goes by very quickly,” Vesley said. “There’s always something interesting going on.”

Jake Weyer covers faculty and staff and welcomes comments at [email protected]