A steaming bowl of clam chowder in front of him, Jim Becker reached for the pepper to punch it up. But his lunch companion, Dr. Joe Duich, couldn’t believe the culinary act that Becker was about to commit.
“Becker,” Duich said brusquely, “how do you know it needs pepper? You haven’t even tasted it yet. If the guy who made that soup was sitting here, would you still put pepper on it before tasting it?”
Becker, startled by Duich’s comment, tabled the pepper. He thought about what Duich said for a moment and understood exactly where the legendary turfgrass breeder and professor was coming from.
“He was making a point about having respect for other people’s efforts,” said Becker, the president and CEO of EPIC Creative, an advertising agency in West Bend, Wis.
In this case, Duich was sticking up for the unknown soup maker. His point: The soup might be so good it didn’t need pepper, and it was unfair of Becker to assume the soup needed some spice.
Duich was just trying to teach Becker a life lesson. After all, that’s what Duich did – teach. And he did it very well, whether it was teaching students about agronomics or advising young superintendents about how to be better husbands.
Sadly, “Dr. Joe,” the famed longtime professor of turfgrass science at Penn State University, died Oct. 11 at 85. The golf course industry won’t be the same without him.
Duich joined the Penn State agronomy department faculty in 1955. He taught thousands of students, many who went on to become golf course superintendents. One of Duich’s most important contributions was developing Penn State’s two-year technical program in golf turf management into an internationally recognized program. Duich also bred several groundbreaking turfgrass cultivars, including Penncross, Penneagle, Pennlinks, and the Penn A and G series of creeping bentgrasses. Penncross, which debuted in 1955, is still the top-selling bentgrass in the world.
Becker came to know Duich through Tee-2-Green, the company that has marketed Duich’s cultivars for many years. Becker’s company has handled advertising and marketing for Tee-2-Green for nearly 15 years. In his role, Becker grew close to Duich and Tee-2-Green President Bill Rose.
“As a marketing person, it’s an amazing thing to be involved with a product that has been around for 60 years. And it’s the same product that it was 60 years ago and is still the No. 1 selling product,” Becker said of Penncross. “It’s a testament to what Joe and Bill came up with.”
Becker credits Duich for teaching him the Xs and Os of agronomics and so much more. Through his actions, Duich reminded Becker how important it is to be polite, respectful and kind to others, among other things.
Duich had a tough-guy aura about him. But once you got to know him, you realized he wasn’t like that at all.
Early in their relationship, Becker admits he was nervous around Duich and afraid he might say something stupid around him. But that all changed when Duich floored Becker with a heartwarming gesture that he will never forget.
In 2001, Becker’s daughter, Hannah, participated in a walk to raise money for diabetes. Becker helped her send out about 200 letters seeking donations. They sent a letter to Duich, who responded with a sizable donation and a touching handwritten letter to Hannah.
“That changed my whole perception of him from being a tough guy to being someone with one of the biggest hearts I’d ever met,” Becker says.
It’s easy for Becker to smile and choke up, almost simultaneously, when remembering Duich. Surely, Becker is not alone in his sentiment for one of the greatest people the golf course maintenance industry has ever seen.
“We lost somebody who can’t be replaced,” Becker says. “But the grass is greener in heaven today.”