- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Dr. Raski, known for his research on nematodes in the vineyards and sugarbeet fields, made great strides in establishing relationships between nematodes and the plant viruses they transmit. He and other campus researchers pioneered alternative approaches to nematode control that support sustainable agricultural practices.
He authored the book, “The Biology and Morphology of the Sugar-Beet Nematode, Heterodera schachtii (Schmidt)” and was the main author of the book, “Nematodes and Their Control in Vineyards.” He retired from UC Davis in 1987.
Dr. Raski received his doctorate in entomology in 1948 from UC Berkeley. He began his academic career on the UC Berkeley faculty that same year and then transferred to UC Davis in 1954 to establish the teaching and research program on campus. He chaired the UC Davis Department of Nematology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) from 1959 to 1964, and from 1969 to 1973.
In 1998, he received a UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ Award of Distinction. He was a founding member of the Society of Nematologists, bringing representation of the discipline in California to the attention of national and international nematologists. In India, he served as the catalyst that developed its first department of nematology, modeling it after UC Davis.
Dr. Raski was the lead author of “A History of Nematology in California,” with colleagues Ivan Thomason, John Chitambar and Howard Ferris. In the document, they related how they and fellow researchers sought to reduce the impact of nematodes on California's agricultural production, and to foster safer pest control that promotes sustainable agricultural practices by decreasing agricultural impact of plant and animal parasitic nematodes and reducing use of toxic pesticides; advancing knowledge of fundamental nematode biology; and promoting the beneficial uses of nematodes, including the biological control of insect pests.
Born Dec. 12, 1917 in Kenilworth, Utah, Dewey was three years old when he moved with his family to Los Angeles. He graduated from UC Berkeley in entomology in 1941. The start of World War II interrupted his graduate studies. He and two fellow students drove to Sacramento to enlist in the then Army Air Force: Dewey for pilot training, Phil Crane for gunnery training and Harold Reynolds for navigator training. All three returned to Berkeley and entomology after the war ended in 1945.
At first, there were few or no job opportunities, he recalled in “A History of Nematology in California.” Professor E. O. Essig, then chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Entomology and Parasitology, advised most of the returning students to continue their education toward a doctorate of philosophy.
Beginning in 1948, Dr. Raski taught a formal course in plant nematology at UC Berkeley. In 1954 he was transferred to UC Davis to establish “teaching and research on the campus” in the newly created Department of Plant Nematology. He taught formal courses in general plant nematology, principles and techniques of nematode taxonomy and morphology, nematode taxonomy and comparative morphology.
"The evolution of nematology at Davis was slow but sure, gaining wider acceptance every year and ultimately succeeded as a full-fledged department for research and teaching,” Raski wrote in the “A History of Nematology.”
On Jan. 9, 1954, Harrison “Harry” Wellman, then UC vice president for agricultural sciences announced plans for a statewide Department of Nematology and selected Dr. Raski of UC Davis as the chair, with the vice chairs at UC Berkeley and UC Riverside.
At UC Davis, “there was, from the beginning, a constant flow of national and international visitors of every sort and for variable periods of time,” Dr. Raski said. “The shortest period must have been one chap who arrived at the door asking for a briefing of what we knew about nematodes. He requested that this be done in less than one hour as he had a tight schedule! Some were post-doctorals or visiting scientists more likely to be three months to a year in collaborative research with a prearranged and agreed-upon subject. The collaborative research projects carried out at UC Davis covered a wide range of subjects the results of which made significant contributions to nematology.”
Dr. Raski recalled that space was tight in his first years at UC Davis. The Department of Entomology faculty “occupied a building that had previously served as the garage for University cars and trucks. Imposing three more faculty into that tightly crowded facility was an unreasonable burden on that department. The answer was found in a tiny corner room used for storing cans of old insecticide chemicals, diluents, lubricants, etc. That storage room was cleared, then together with a small adjacent area which served mostly for coffee breaks was thoroughly cleaned and painted. Finally a temporary wall and door were added and the resulting space proved barely adequate for three desks and chairs. It served as office quarters for Raski, (Bert) Lear and (B. F.) Lownsbery for several years in the early humble beginnings of Nematology at UC Davis.”
“Fortunately the special appropriations by the State Legislature provided funds for a full greenhouse and headhouse/laboratory. The site chosen to build these facilities was conveniently in the central part of campus and fully equipped to carry out various research projects. Later, campus plans designated this site as within the 10-minute zone, so-called to define the central part of campus within which students could walk between classes from one to another anywhere within that zone. Greenhouse work was to be located in a more distant area to the west and Nematology’s greenhouse itself was moved and reassigned to another department. The original headhouse/laboratory was reassigned to the Department of Botany but Nematology was privileged to redesign completely new, up-to-date facilities and equipment.”
Dewey Raski and his wife, Evelyn (Calmett), celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on April 20, 2013. The couple raised four children: Carole Juergenson of Oakdale, Paul Raski of Dixon, Maya Bodine of Davis and the late Bill Raski. A Davis Enterprise news article of May 16, 2013 related that they had 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, with “two more on the way.”
“My grandparents are loved by many; they have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that may not be blood, but are as dear to them as family,” granddaughter Angela Raski said in the news article. “They are some of the kindest, most compassionate, loving, faithful, and generous people you will ever meet. Seventy years of marriage is a rare and priceless jewel, and only becoming more so!”
Dr. Raski was also a humanitarian. Responding to a need for affordable housing in Davis, Raski helped organize the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity.
Said colleague and emeritus professor of nematology Harry Kaya: "Dewey Raski led a wonderful life as a caring husband, father, grandfather, scientist and chair of the Department of Nematology. I believe he was a
wrestler in college and I do know that he trained pilots during World War II. He is known in India as the scientist who was instrumental in bringing nematology to the fore front and trained many Indian scientists. He was an excellent nematode systematist and taxonomist, but also did significant work in nematode control. He was involved in the research that showed that grapevine fanleaf virus was transmitted by a nematode."
Sources: “A History of Nematology in California” (as of January 2003); UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ Outlook publications, and the Davis Enterprise. Special thanks to nematologists Steve Nadler and Harry Kaya.