Let’s drink, raise your glass,
make a toast to the days that are in the past.
We’re never thinking of the bad, we’ve had a lot of fun, we’re a long way from done.
Let’s drink, raise your glass,
‘cause wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.
We’re never thinking of the bad,
we’ve had a lot of fun, we’re a long way from done.
– Jon Nicholson
Fifty years is a long time, the “golden anniversary,” but for these turf industry legends, they’re just getting started.
Dr. Joseph Vargas
Dr. Joe Vargas was recently honored for 50 years of service as the turfgrass pathologist at Michigan State University. He started there in 1968 not long after earning a bachelor’s of science from the University of Rhode Island, a Master’s of science from Oklahoma State and a doctorate in plant pathology from the University of Minnesota. He has conducted research and guided graduate student research in areas of turf disease management, fungicide resistance, and chemical, biological and genetic turf disease control.
Dr. Karl Danneberger of Ohio State University and Dr. Brandon Horvath of the University of Tennessee are two of his graduate students working in academia, and Dr. Rob Golembiewski and Dr. Paul Giordano, both of Bayer, work in industry. Joe has given presentations for superintendents throughout the U.S. and to g reenkeepers in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and South Africa. His book “Management of Turfgrass Diseases” can be found in many superintendent’s office, as well as the Poa annua book he co-authored with Dr. Al Turgeon. He also has produced many scientific articles throughout his career at Michigan State.
Joe received the GCSAA Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award in 1997, the USGA Green Section Award in 2007 and, in 2016, he was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame — probably the only turfgrass pathologist in any golf hall of fame. He continues to contribute to the turf industry because he enjoys what he does, evidenced from his recent accomplishment with the release of Flagstick, a creeping bentgrass with resistance to dollar spot.
Lee Kozsey grew up near Cleveland, but today resides in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Although he has a famous second cousin – former Miami Dolphins coach and NFL Hall of Famer Don Shula – he is better known for the most widely used fungicide in the turf industry.
If you see a vehicle in a parking lot with a license plate that reads DACONIL, it belongs to Lee Kozsey. In 1963, he was working for the Diamond Alkali Company in the laboratory that first synthesized DAC-2787, which is known today as Daconil fungicide. He recalls sleeping in the lab many times, since the chemical reaction took 48 hours to complete. Back then, Lee was elected to the board of the American Chemical Society, Technical Engineers Section, as a result of his work in chemistry research. He eventually shifted gears from research to sales and in 2012 Lee was honored with a 50-year pin from his employer, Syngenta.
Today, Lee represents Syngenta in the Mid-Atlantic region and is always present at conferences, superintendent association meetings, field days and anywhere he can help. In 2010, he was honored by the New Jersey Turfgrass Association for his distinguished career. Lee attributes his long and productive career to working with great people and really enjoying what he does. His advice to young people early in their career? “To be recognizable by what you do,” he says.
George Thompson grew up in Massachusetts and studied under Dr. Joe Troll at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture. George started his first superintendent job at Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood, Illinois in 1962. He then served as superintendent inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway at Columbia Country Club from 1963-82 and the Country Club of North Carolina from 1982 to 2001. Because of his positive impact and influence in the turf industry, George received the GCSAA Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award in 2000.
Many of his former assistants are superintendents throughout the country. One of his former assistants even leads a turf team in Caribbean. “He is a true gentleman, calm and patient with a scientific mind and the skills to manage people to the best of their ability,” says Damon DiGiorgio, the director of agronomy at Playa Grande Golf and Ocean Club in the Dominican Republic.
After he retired as a superintendent, George launched a second career as the golf course management instructor at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He continues to teach those students and prepare them for a career in turf in the same successful way as he mentored his many assistants on the golf course.
James “Speedy” Lipari
Jim Lipari is better known as “Speedy,” and his famous card trick and storytelling has become a staple on the trade show floor at the Golf Industry Show.
He grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania, the son of Sicilian parents that arrived in America through Ellis Island. Jim started working on a golf course in 1941 at age 11, and a football and basketball scholarship enabled him to graduate with a degree in ornamental horticulture from the National Agricultural College (formerly the National Farmers School and now known as Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania). In basketball, he was the first athlete at the school to score 1,000 points — playing just 12 games per season.
He was working toward a career as a golf course superintendent, but in 1956, he began a 30-year career with TUCO (The Up-John Company), which manufactured Acti-dione fungicide, whose active ingredient is cycloheximide. He worked throughout the country and soon became the West Coast sales manager, with a region from Chicago to the Pacific coastline. He established close friendships with turf industry pioneers Dr. H. Burton Musser of Penn State University, Dr. O.J. Noer of Milorganite, Joe Valentine of Merion Golf Club, Eb Steiniger of Pine Valley Golf Club, Tom Mascaro of West Point Products and many, many more.
In 1985, TUCO left the turf industry and Jim launched a second career from his Thousand Oaks, California, location by forming a company called Speedy Enterprises, which represents manufacturers of golf course maintenance accessories. Although his daughter and son-in-law operate the company today, Jim still drives an average of 1,200 to 1,500 miles per week visiting customers for Speedy Enterprises. He’s not slowing down at all.
And what about that card trick? It’s called Speedy and it originated in Louisiana. Jim first performed it during the GCSAA trade show in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1976, and he’s been performing it ever since. He’s even won amateur talent contests on cruise ships doing that trick! There isn’t anyone he doesn’t know, and once he meets you, he’ll never forget your name or where you work. An industry rep says, “one of my best days in this business was spent playing a round of golf at Torrey Pines with Speedy.” Jim continues to work for Speedy Enterprises because he thoroughly enjoys it and he loves the people in this industry.
Melvin B. Lucas
Mel Lucas began working on a golf course in 1957 and is a graduate from turf programs at Penn State University and the University of Massachusetts. He began his career at Homestead Golf & Country Club in Spring Lake, New Jersey, where his father, Melvin Lucas Sr., was golf course superintendent. The majority of Mel’s superintendent days were spent on Long Island.
Throughout his career, Mel has always been active with industry associations and served as GCSAA president in 1980. After he retired as a superintendent, he launched a second career as the de facto “turf extension specialist” in Europe, providing sage agronomic advice to greenkeepers throughout the continent. Mel has helped many European greenkeepers further their education through the University of Massachusetts winter turf short course.
He helped the Slovenian Greenkeepers Association launch their annual turf conference, which has a reputation for high quality and impact, and has attracted many participants from the United States. In fact, Mel is an honorary member of the Slovenian Greenkeepers Association, a rare honor bestowed on a very few.
In between consulting activities, Mel has assembled a historical collection of golf course superintendent memorabilia, books, magazines and documents that would rival any library. Mel is always at the Golf Industry Show, and you’ll see him proudly wearing his past-president’s jacket. In 2015, Mel received the GCSAA Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award as a testament to his positive impact in the industry as well as being a great friend to the golf course superintendent.
Dr. Joe Vargas, Lee Kozsey, George Thompson, Jim “Speedy” Lipari and Mel Lucas together have more than 250 years of knowledge, experience and wisdom in the turf industry and in life. They really enjoy what they do, they enjoy the people in the industry, they continue to give back to the industry, and they’re just getting started.