Dr. Paul R. Heller Obituary

Posted: February 22, 2010

PAUL R. HELLER, Professor of Entomology, passed away on 19 January 2010 in State College, PA, after a long and valiant fight against cancer which lasted for over 1½ years.

Paul was born in Wooster, OH, and attended the Wooster Public Schools graduating from Wooster Public High School in 1964.  He received a B.A. in biology from Malone College in 1970, and an M.S. (1972) and Ph.D. (1976) in entomology from Ohio State University.  Following a summer with the Earle S. Raun Pest Management Company in Nebraska, he joined the Department of Entomology at Penn State in September, 1976, as an Assistant Professor of Entomology Extension with primary responsibilities in Christmas tree and turfgrass pest management.  He advanced to Professor of Entomology in 1989, serving the University for over 33 years. 

Early in his career, Paul devoted considerable time to Christmas tree pest management, both through field trials of new insecticides and formulations against a number of pests and through numerous Extension meetings and Field Days throughout the Commonwealth.  With colleagues in the Departments of both Entomology and Plant Pathology, and in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, he was instrumental in developing a long-running two day annual course in Christmas Tree Pest Management that was a ‘must attend’ event for virtually all of the major growers as well as for those entering the business.  His information was always the most recent available, much of it as a result of his own field trials, and accompanied by copious slides and handouts.

Gradually his primary interests and activity shifted to management of turfgrass pests, a field in which he was an acknowledged leader.  Paul was often asked to speak at conferences and workshops around the nation, not only because of the importance of the material he presented but also because of his clear and entertaining delivery, excellent supporting visual material, and his ability to engage his audience actively in his subject.  His research focused on conventional and biorational management of annual bluegrass weevil, black cutworm, bluegrass billbug, hairy chinch bug, nuisance ant, and various white grubs among other pests, and studies with annual bluegrass to develop best management techniques for the golf course industry.  Paul co-authored the publication Turfgrass Insect and Mite Manual, which became a widely-used reference for identification and management of pests in the industry.  For more than ten years, Paul served as the Ornamentals and Turf Section Editor for Arthropod Management Tests, shepherding countless reports through the editorial process.  His work with golf course superintendents and other stakeholders brought him special satisfaction, and he became a personal friend of many of them.

Over the years, Paul produced numerous Extension Notes, Fact Sheets, and other short, user-oriented publications, Insecticide and Acaracide Tests publications based on his extensive field trials, and refereed publications in the primary literature.  Extension meetings were conducted in cooperation with County Educators and the Pennsylvania State Department of Agriculture.  For many years, he produced a newsletter for county extension staff on Christmas tree and landscape pest management. His two long-time project assistants, Bob Walker and Danny Kline, worked many long hours at Paul’s side as they laboriously gathered the data which served as the basis of his well-informed management recommendations.  His Extension efforts also encompassed greenhouse commodities, pesticide certification license programs, and the preparation of integrated pest management slide/tape training programs.

Although Paul did not have a teaching appointment until recent years, he was especially gifted and intuitive when it came to mentoring students, and he made a tremendous difference in many of their lives and career paths.  For many years he gave lectures in several Turfgrass courses and gradually assumed responsibility for required courses in what is now the Turfgrass Science major as well as the 2-year certificate course designed for Golf Course Turfgrass Management specialists.  He also offered a Turfgrass Insects track in the Entomology Department.  In the classroom, Paul was a ‘people person,’ fully engaging all of the students in a highly interactive and almost conversational format rather than more traditional lecturing.  He relished – and insisted on - audience participation which enhanced his teaching efforts.  Paul was widely known as a result of the several courses he has offered from the earliest days of Penn State’s World Campus on-line educational program, drawing students from around the world, once even enlisting a student on a Navy ship in the Gulf.

Among Paul’s gifts were the support and uncanny intuition he was always ready to share.  This showed up in so many ways to so many people and he was frequently to be found listening attentively to the confidences of people he had just met, even though he was an intensely private person himself.  It was known that confidential information would remain just that with all his resources, and always thought of others first. .  He was generous

The Eastern Branch of the Entomological Society of America benefitted over the years from Paul’s active involvement, and service on a number of its Committees.  Typically, just last fall when no one had stepped forward to Chair the Awards Committee, Paul, even though he was in the midst of a very challenging battle with his cancer, stepped up and volunteered.  Paul couldn’t say ‘no’ when there was need to be filled, taking on far more than his share of Committee responsibilities in the Department and the College as well as in his professional society.  When Paul said ‘yes,’ there was no question that the task would be done well, and on time.

For many years, Paul worked as a volunteer disk jockey at the local Christian radio station, WTLR, and was known affectionately by his large audience of regular listeners as “Uncle Paul.” Even though he traveled extensively for his work, after his marriage to June Harder on May 19, 1990, his interest in traveling changed as he and June did some extensive traveling together.  The highlight of their travels was a two week trip to New Zealand. They especially enjoyed taking one- and two-day trips around Pennsylvania and the surrounding states; he would take June to wherever she expressed an interest to visit.

Paul was a very private, unassuming, and modest person. He was far more comfortable nominating a colleague for an award than accepting recognition for his own work. Few colleagues were more dedicated to students, and their education, than Paul. He extended many acts of kindness to students (and others) that were done privately. Paul will be remembered as a caring and humble man.  Throughout his ordeal, Paul often advised friends to "Reduce Your Stress and Keep Healthy!!" His advice is important for us all.

Paul was preceded in death by his parents, Robert and Mabel (Haas) Heller. He is survived by his wife, June, of Spring Mills, PA; a brother, David (Deb) Heller and their two children, Andrew and Eric of Wooster, OH; a cousin, Bill (Carol) Heller of Shreve, OH; many other relatives and friends.

A Memorial Service was held on Saturday, January 23, 2010, at Bethel Mennonite Church in Mountain Lake, MN, with interment following at Mountain Lake Cemetery.

Paul, you are greatly missed.

    E. Alan Cameron, Professor Emeritus
    Gary W. Felton, Head
    Department of Entomology
    Penn State University
    University Park, PA  16801


The Department of Entomology has established the Paul R. Heller Memorial Award, to benefit graduate students. Paul is remembered as a caring and humble man who was dedicated to students and their education. This award will help provide support for student travel to professional meetings.

If you would like to contribute to the Paul R. Heller Memorial Award, you may write a check, made payable to The Pennsylvania State University.  Please place this notation in the memo area: "Allocation Code: SCAH5".

Mail to:
The College of Agricultural Sciences Development Office
240 Agricultural Administration Bldg
University Park, PA  16802