George C. Poppensiek, M.Sc., V.M.D.
June 18, 1918 – September 8, 2015
Dean Emeritus, and the James Law Professor of Comparative Medicine Emeritus, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.George Charles Poppensiek was born in New York City, NY on June 18, 1918, the eldest of three children of Emily Amelia (nee Miller) and George Frederick Poppensiek. Raised in Bogota, New Jersey, he matriculated in the College of Agriculture at Cornell University as a pre-veterinary student in 1936. In 1937 he transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania to complete the requirements for admission to the School of Veterinary Medicine in that University, from which he was graduated in 1942 as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine V.M.D.
After serving as an intern in large animal medicine at the School of Veterinary Medicine during the following year, he was called to an appointment as Assistant Professor of Veterinary Science at the University of Maryland, to serve as a teacher of Farm Animal Anatomy and Physiology; also as a teacher of Farm Animal Health and Diseases. Those courses were offered to students in the College of Agriculture. He also served as Veterinarian for the University of Maryland’s herds and flocks. Further, because of previous experience with rabies, Dr. Poppensiek was given major responsibility for clinical and laboratory diagnosis of a serious and extensively spread outbreak of rabies in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in which the University is located.
Because of his experience with rabies, he was invited to become a Department Head in Lederie Laboratories of Pearl River, New York, where he was responsible for veterinary virus vaccine production. After serving Lederie Laboratories for four years, and with the enthusiastic encouragement of his wife, Edith, he decided to pursue advanced studies in virology, pathology and biochemistry at Cornell University, preparatory to embarking on a career in infectious disease research.
In 1949, during a severe epidemic of rabies in Tompkins County and adjacent counties, he was appointed Director of the Diagnostic Laboratory in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell. That appointment permitted simultaneous matriculation in the Graduate School at Cornell, from which Dr. Poppensiek earned a Master of Science degree in 1951. In 1952, at his request, he was transferred from his position in the Diagnostic Laboratory to that of a Research Associate in the Baker Institute for Virology, a subunit of the Department of Microbiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. There he was primarily involved in immunological studies on a combined vaccine for canine infectious hepatitis and distemper. Serving in this position until 1955, Dr. Poppensiek resigned to become Supervisory Veterinarian for Immunological Investigations at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a highly biologically secure research center located on an island in the Atlantic Ocean, three miles east of the northeastern tip of Long Island, New York. The center was established on an island that is separated from the deep, navigable water, and not connected to the mainland by a bridge or tunnel. The United States Congress prohibited the study on the mainland of highly transmissible infectious diseases of livestock and poultry that do not exist in North America, even though they are dangerous threats to the agricultural economy of the United States if introduced to the mainland. Hence, Plum Island was selected for the construction of a federal bio-secure research center, where highly transmissible infectious diseases of food-producing animals and beasts of burden can be safely studied.
While serving the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Dr. Poppensiek was called in 1959 to become Dean and Professor of Microbiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. His stewardship in that position continued for the next 15 years. In 1974, he resigned and was given a distinguished title: the James Law Professor of Comparative Medicine. In that position, for the next 15 years, he taught second-year students a course in Foreign Animal Diseases; diseases with which he became experienced with while working on Plum Island.
From 1962 through 1967, he served as Chairman of the United States Delegation to a joint United States-Argentine Commission on Foot-and-Mouth Disease. The United States Delegation served under the Aegis of the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. The delegation was selected and appointed with the concurrence of John F. Kennedy, President of the United States. A similar delegation was selected and appointed by Arturo Frondizi, President of Argentina. The purpose of the Joint Commission was to study and recommend mutually agreeable international procedures to deal with contentious import-export restrictions between U.S. and Argentine Departments of Agriculture; restrictions that relate to foot-and-mouth disease of ruminant animals and swine (a disease that is latent in Argentina and other South American countries, but not North America).
At the time of his appointment in 1974 to the James Law distinguished professorship at Cornell, Dr. Poppensiek was appointed as Research Professor in the department of Biometry and Epidemiology of the State University College of Medicine in Syracuse, NY. He held these appointments simultaneously for 14 years, until his retirement in 1988.
At Cornell University, deans do not get sabbatical leaves for advanced study. However, at his resignation from the position of Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Trustees of the University granted Dr. Poppensiek a study leave for the academic year 1974-75. The first four months were spent in the Department of Biometry and Epidemiology in the State University College of Medicine in Syracuse, NY, with Dr. Harry Feldman and his associates. The following eight months were spent in the laboratories of Professor Dr. Hans Fey at the Bacteriological Institute of the University of Bern in Switzerland. Professor Dr. Fey worked particularly in microbial immunochemistry.
Among honors received during his professional career, Dr. Poppensiek was elected, during his final year as a student of Veterinary Medicine, to a national veterinary medical honor society, the Society of Phi Zeta, which is acclaimed as the “Phi Beta Kappa” of Veterinary Medicine. Later, as a graduate student at Cornell, he was elected to the Society of Sigma Xi, the national honorary scientific society. He was also elected to Phi Kappa Phi, the national honorary scholastic society. He holds centennial medals from the University of Pennsylvania and from Ohio State University, each awarded independently for contributions to veterinary medical education and research.
For 5 years he served as an external examiner in microbiology and pathology at the Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine in Starkville, Mississippi. There he also had the privilege of serving as the College’s Chairman of its External research Advisory Council.
In 1977, Dr Poppensiek was selected to receive the XIIth International Veterinary Congress Prize for distinguished service to veterinary science; a prestigious award made by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In 1978 he was inducted into the Polish Society for Veterinary Medicine during ceremonies held in Wroclaw (Warsaw), Poland, and in 1981 was inducted as an external member into the National Argentine Academy of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine during ceremonies held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Dr. Poppensiek was told that he was the first veterinarian from North America to be inducted into each of these two societies.
He has served as an editorial consultant for veterinary medical terminology to the W.B. Saunders Publishing Company, publishers of Dorland’s Medical Dictionary.
Dr. Poppensiek has served the Harold Wetterberg Foundation of Princeton and Montclair, New Jersey, as its’ scientific advisor for almost two decades. The Philanthropic Foundation has been providing substantial financial grants for biomedical research, and also substantial scholarship awards to students who have lived or worked in New Jersey, and who are interested in continuing their university education toward an advanced degree; principally in the biomedical sciences of veterinary medicine.
Dr. Poppensiek has been a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Microbiology, and of the Veterinary Radiology Society. He is a Fellow and Diplomate of the American Society for Microbiology and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Between 1976 and 1979, he served as a member of the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.
In 1981, he was made a charter member of the American Society for Virology. In 1986, he became an honorary diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventative Medicine. In 1970-71, he served as President of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.
He is the author of 48 professional publications and 68 biomedical or petrological monographs. In addition, each year he produced and refined a newly printed and bound set of “Class Notes” that were given to second-year students as supplements to the lectures on “Foreign Animal Diseases”. In 1988, the Canadian Department of Agriculture purchased 320 copies of the current “Class Notes on Foreign Animal Diseases” for distribution to each member of the Canadian Department of Agriculture’s staff of veterinarians in field service.
Further, for more than a decade he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Cornell Veterinarian, Inc. That professional, peer –reviewed journal was a locally produced veterinary journal, independent of management by the College of Veterinary Medicine.
From 1963-1974, Dr. Poppensiek was a member of the Board of Directors of the Cornell research Foundation, which fosters inventiveness and patent protectiveness at Cornell University.
During the period between 1965 and 1969, while serving as the Chairman of a Subcommittee on Morbidity and Mortality Statistics of the Committee on Animal Health, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, the need for a national agency to monitor the incidence and prevalence of transmissible diseases of animals (particularly those of importance to the agricultural economy and to the public health of the hemisphere) was recognized. Of equal importance, the need to monitor the flow patterns of such animal diseases in North America became crystal clear.
Out of the intellectual probings of the subcommittee and concurrent discussions with visionary officials in the US Department of Agriculture, action was taken at the federal level to establish a national animal disease surveillance system under the aegis of the Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. It was named “The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS)”. This was one of the most gratifying developments occurring during Dr. Poppensiek’s opportunities to serve in an ancillary leadership role at the national level.
Between 1979 and 1981, he served a member of the United States Delegation to a technical Advisory Committee which serves the Executive Board of a United States–Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD). That binational fund supports agriculture research projects that have potential benefit for both nations. His responsibility was to represent the United States Department of Agriculture’s interests in project proposals focusing on food-animal production and protection.
In 1988, when Dr. Poppensiek retired from Cornell University, Dr. Robert D. Phemister, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell, prevailed upon the President and Trustees of Cornell University to establish an annual lectureship in which distinguished scholars from other countries would be invited to share their global experiences with Cornell students and faculty during one full week each year. The lectureship includes one or more lectures and a series of seminars with faculty and students. It is entitled “The Poppensiek Lectureship in Global Veterinary Medicine”.
In this curriculum vitae, it is of utmost importance to note that George Charles Poppensiek and Edith Marion Wallace (who was Secretary to the Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and subsequently Secretary to the Controller of Drexel University), were married in 1943. Their marriage, extending over a period of 63 years, was blessed by the birth of two loving and gifted children; Neil Allen and Leslie Marion; and by the expansion of family size with the forthcoming of 5 talented and well educated grandchildren.
Edith died in 2006, and Neil, a Commander in the US Navy, in 2008.
Private interment for Dr. Poppensiek will occur at Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Ithaca, NY.
For those who wish to remember him in the form of a memorial contribution, please consider the George C. Poppensiek Visiting Professor of Global Health Lecture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Box 39, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-6401; or Hospicare & Palliative Care Services, 172 E. King Rd., Ithaca, NY, 14850; or First Congregational Church, 309 Highland Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850.
The family is being assisted by Lansing Funeral Home.