Dr. Alan P. Roelfs retired from the USDA-ARS Cereal Rust Laboratory on January 2, 1994, after 32 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and 23 years in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Roelfs was born in Stockton, Kansas on November 18, 1936. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Kansas State University in 1959 and 1964. As a graduate student at Kansas State, he also worked as a research technician for the USDA Agricultural Research Service. In 1966, Alan accepted a position as Plant Pathologist with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in the Cereal Rust Laboratory on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. At the same time, he enrolled as a Ph.D. student in the Plant Pathology Department. When Dr. Roelfs received his Ph.D. in 1970, he was promoted to the position of USDA-ARS Research Plant Pathologist at the Cereal Rust Laboratory, and he became an adjunct member of the faculty of Department of Plant Pathology. Dr. Roelfs continued his career at the Cereal Rust Laboratory form 1970 through 1993, serving as Acting Director in 1981. In addition to his USDA research assignment, Dr. Roelfs participated enthusiastically in teaching, committee work, and other activities in the Department of Plant Pathology. During his career, he guided 11 M.S. and 8 Ph.D. students through their degree programs in Plant Pathology at Minnesota.
Dr. Roelfs devoted his career to understanding cereal rust diseases, particularly wheat stem rust and wheat leaf rust. His vast experience in rust surveys served as a foundation for his important contributions to epidemiology of rust diseases and to understanding complex interactions between resistant varieties of small grains and pathogenic races of rust fungi. His research with James Groth and other colleagues led to major advances in the study of population genetics of plant pathogens, culminating in their classic work on population structure of the wheat stem rust fungus in the Great Plains. Dr. Roelfs has published over 100 papers in refereed journals as well as numerous book chapters and other publications. With Bill Bushnell, he co-edited the two-volume treatise on The Cereal Rusts a comprehensive treatment of all aspects of host-parasite interactions and biology of cereal rust fungi. In recognition of his outstanding research contributions, Dr. Roelfs was named a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society in 1986.
Dr, Roelfs is recognized as one of the world's major leaders in cereal rust research. His name has been ranked with such past and present leaders in rust research such as I.A. Watson and R.A. McIntosh of Australia, J.W. Martens and D.J. Samborski of Canada, R. Johnson of England, and J.C. Zadoks of the Netherlands. Dr. Roelfs was the foliar disease expert on the National Academy of Science delegation to China for wheat studies in 1976. He was twice invited to serve as consultant for epidemiology of cereal rusts with the Intra-American Institute for Agricultural Research based in Brazil, and he was an FAO consultant on wheat diseases in Pakistan. He also served as an advisor for cereal disease research in India, Mexico, and Morocco. Dr. Roelfs' presence at the Cereal Rust Lab served as a magnet for visiting scientist from all over the world.
Dr. Roelfs’ great vitality and vast store of knowledge on cereal diseases was not lost to us on his retirement. He retains a part-time association with the Cereal Disease Laboratory (formerly named Cereal Rust Laboratory) and the Department of Plant Pathology, and he maintains several active research interests including studies of the biology and evolutionary relationships of rusts in the Puccinia recondita (leaf rust) species complex. From his home near Grantsburg, Wisconsin, Dr. Roelfs is also pursuing studies of the rusts of native North American prairie grasses and their accial hosts.
Additionally after retirement, Dr. Roelfs has served as a national coordinator of research on Karnal bunt, a consultant on the emerging virulent wheat stem rust race (Ug99) in Africa, and provided assistance in cereal rust race identification in Syria. He also updates weekly online bibliographic databases (cereal rust, Fusarium head blight and Karnal bunt). Frequently Dr. Roelfs is consulted from around the world on all aspects of cereal rust research including epidemiology, cereal rust surveys, techniques, etc.
Adapted from an article written by Kurt J. Leonard for Aurora Sporealis.