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Dr. Calvin Francis Konzak

Late of University House in Seattle and Professor Emeritus at WSU.

Dr. Calvin Francis Konzak, scientist, devoted husband and father, passed away October 27th 2016 due to complications of advanced age. He was born October 17th, 1924 to Peter Henry and Mary Ann (Dion) Konzak in Devils Lake, North Dakota. He grew up on a dry farm near Devils Lake where he learned to work hard and saw the devastation that wheat rust can cause, which evoked in him a desire to find ways to eliminate crop diseases that reduce food crop yields.

After graduation from high school he went to the University of North Dakota where he received a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1948 and married Mary Margaret Coe of Crary, ND. They had two sons together. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 1952 and conducted post-doctoral research as an Associate Geneticist at Brookhaven National Laboratory from 1951 until 1957.

In 1957 he moved his family to Pullman, Washington, to assume an Associate Professorship of Agronomy at the State College of Washington (WSC). He became a full professor in 1961 and achieved tenure as WSC became Washington State University (WSU). In his lifelong career at WSU, Cal used genetic mutation, crossbreeding, and selection to increase crop yield and quality, as well as eliminate diseases in food crops. He and Mary divorced in 1962.

In 1964 Cal took his sons to Vienna Austria on sabbatical leave to work a joint project with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), through which he became and continued afterward as a special advisor to the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section of the FAO. During the adventure in Vienna, he also met Margarethe Christine (Reiter) and married her on December 17th 1967 in New Rochelle, NY.

Cal was always loyal to WSU and during his time there he patented many varieties of grain that showed particular traits of resistance to disease, increased yield, or improved crop nutrition and quality. To open new opportunities to improve food crops and continue his research after retirement, Cal founded Northwest Plant Breeding (NPB) in 1982, becoming an Emeritus Professor in 1993. During his career, Cal developed over 18 varieties or cultivars of soft white and hard red spring wheats, durum wheats, and oats, among other crops. His achievements included plant breeding enhancing patents for microspore culture technology and the induction of mutations in polyploids, as well as a patent application for a single plant/row grain harvester. He was also co-inventor of a new systematic herbicide to enhance crop yield, an organic phosphate for early leaf (foliar) application. He retired from daily participation in the NPB in 1997 and moved with his wife to Seattle, WA. They joined the community at University House Wallingford, near the University of Washington, where he and Margarethe struck up many new friendships and enjoyed the cultural benefits of Seattle.

Cal is survived by his wife Margarethe, and his sons Kenneth C. Konzak (Patricia) of Concord, CA and Gary J. Konzak (Connie R.) of Salem, UT, 6 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and his siblings. The family wishes to offer special thanks to the doctors, nurses and staff at the University of Washington Medical Center and Columbia Lutheran Rehabilitation Center for their skill, efforts, and kindness during his illness.

A celebration of life for Cal will be held at 3:00 pm on Thursday, November 3, 2016, at University House Wallingford (4400 Stone Way N, Seattle). In lieu of flowers, Cal requested that donations be made to the National Park Foundation.


Make a donation to The Co-op Funeral Home of People's Memorial