CALS to honor biochemist Hector DeLuca and Dean Emeritus Leo Walsh

Biochemist Hector DeLuca and former dean Leo Walsh will receive Distinguished Service Awards from the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at an awards banquet on Oct. 25.

DeLuca is one of the UW-Madison”s best-known and most prolific scientists. Walsh served as Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences from 1979 until 1991.

The Distinguished Service Award, established in 1994, is given to individuals within CALS to recognize outstanding service to the university and beyond.

In a career spanning almost five decades, Hector DeLuca has left an indelible mark on the field of biochemistry.

“In terms of quality, productivity, and impact, his program provides an exceptionally good example of chemistry and biochemistry directed to the better understanding and more effective treatment of human disease and to the improvement of human health and well-being,” says J. Wesley Pike, professor of biochemistry at the UW-Madison.

In 1951, DeLuca began graduate studies at the UW-Madison under the tutelage of the legendary Harry Steenbock. By 1959, he was an assistant professor; in 1965, he was named Harry Steenbock Research Professor. He served as chair of the biochemistry department from 1970 to 1986, and again from 1991 to 2005.

During this time, he has trained more than 200 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, produced more than 1,120 publications highlighting his research in the fields of vitamin A, vitamin D, calcitonin and parathyroid hormone, and accumulated more than 150 active patents in the United States alone.

He is best known for his work on Vitamin D. He made the critical discovery that vitamin D”s function as a regulator of calcium homeostasis requires its conversion to biologically active metabolites. “Prior to this discovery, vitamin D had been recognized as an essential factor that had to be derived from the diet (i.e. a vitamin) or from exposure to sunlight. DeLuca”s work showed that vitamin D was, in fact, a hormone,” notes Elizabeth Craig, current chair of the biochemistry department.

Leo Walsh saw the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences through some tumultuous times. During his tenure as Dean, U.S. agriculture underwent its worst financial stretch since the 1930s, and the college was sometimes a target of farmers” frustration. Yet, while budgets were tightly restricted, Walsh moved the college past the acrimony and kept it at the top of its game. He ushered in several new programs, including the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the Center for Dairy Research. Walsh also played a key role in the establishment and the initial funding of the UW Biotechnology Center.

Colleagues praise his deep commitment to agriculture at all levels. In 1982, Walsh became the chair of the Division of Agriculture for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. In 1987, President Bush appointed him to the Board of International Food and Agricultural Development, where Walsh advised the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on programs to promote sustainable agriculture and natural resource protection in developing nations.

“As a university administrator, both department chair and dean, Dr. Walsh encouraged programs that improved the economy, preserved natural resources, and above all, enhanced quality of life for the people of Wisconsin,” says Robert Hoeft, professor and chair of the department of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Long before he took on leadership of the college, Walsh was a leader in his own discipline. His strong science background helped him develop extension programs that that moved science into the farming community at a greatly accelerated rate, Hoeft says.

Walsh”s research benefited farmers and non-farmers alike. He was one of the first scientists to evaluate the potential benefits and possible hazards of applying municipal wastes to agricultural land. Walsh”s research studies led to recommendations and regulations that utilized the nutrients in sewage sludge while simultaneously protecting the environment from accumulating harmful amounts of heavy metals or other toxic materials. Through his tireless efforts, Walsh also convinced agriculturalists that science was a good investment.

“Through his leadership, the Wisconsin fertilizer industry agreed to tax themselves to support research,” says Steve Ventura, chair of the CALS soil science department. In 1979 Wisconsin began collecting a research fee on the sale of fertilizer-an approach that has been used as a model in many other states.

Now retired, Walsh still advocates for his discipline, agriculture and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “In recent years,” Hoeft notes, “(he) has given his time and personal resources to establish programs that would advance science, and more importantly that would move science into the public arena where it would benefit mankind.”

The awards banquet will be held at the Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The reception to meet past and current honorees begins at 5:30, with dinner at 6:30. For reservations, please call CALS Outreach Services, (608) 263-1672. Parking is available in Lot 6 under Helen C. White Library on Park Street across from the Union, and at the Lake Street ramp.