URBANA – Dr. Wallace Edmund LaBerge, 86, passed away Monday (July 22, 2013) peacefully at Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, surrounded by family.
Wally was born Feb. 7, 1927, in Grafton, N.D., to Emelia Flora Lessard and Daniel Joseph (Dieu Donne) LaBerge. He was the second child of seven and is survived by brothers Tom LaBerge, Dick LaBerge and Donny LaBerge, and his sisters Frances Ensminger and Suzanne Burns. His older sister, Georgette LaHaise, as well as his parents, precede him in death.
He married Betty LaMont, a native of Grafton, N.D., on Aug. 9, 1958; she survives. Also surviving is a son, Daniel (Venus) LaBerge of Arlington, Va.; a daughter, Lesle (Dick) Joanis of Cary, N.C.; a daughter, Laura (Tom) Carroll of Silver Spring, Md.; and three grandchildren, Brian, Daniel and Emelia Carroll.
Wally studied Zoology at the University of North Dakota, where he received a B.S. in 1949. As an undergraduate assistant in Biology, he was asked to teach fellow students due to the demand of veterans returning from World War II. In 1951 he studied under Dr. Charles Michener at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, as a research assistant. In 1952 he was appointed a National Science Fellow at the University, where he served as an instructor and assistant professor in Entomology.
Wally and Betty moved to Ames, Iowa, where Wally worked from 1956-1959 as an associate professor in Zoology and Entomology. In 1959 they moved to Lincoln, Neb., where their three children were born and where Wally was a professor in Entomology at the University of Nebraska.
Moving again in 1965 to Urbana, Ill., Wally worked at the Illinois Natural History Survey until his retirement in 1994. Beginning as an Associate Professional Scientist, he was also an Adjunct Professor in Entomology training new scientists. In 1969 Wally was honored to be appointed Principal Professional Scientist, Center for Biodiversity, Illinois Natural History Survey. He also served as acting chief of the Survey, as well as section head.
In 1982 Wally and Betty spent a year in Washington, D.C., where he served as Program Director of Systemic Biology at the National Science Foundation. A close work associate and neighborhood friend nominated Wally for the Thomas Say Award. As was written in the nomination: "In the last 34 years, Wally has amassed an unprecedented record of the systemic and evolution of new world bees." At the time of the nomination, Wally had revised 10 genera of Hymenoptera: Apidae and Andrenidae, with Melissodes and Andrena being his focal point. He examined over 1,088 type-specimens, stabilized the names of 514 species, described 166 new species, relegated 408 species names to synonymy or homonymy and examined over 153,789 specimens.
Wally was very thorough in his research: he updated the nomenclature of each species, constructed keys for identification, in addition to interpreting the phylogenetic relationship of the species within each subgenus. He also recorded the host plants, established feeding habits, and habitation, and mapped distributional patterns of the bees he studied. In addition to this research, he also investigated the zoogeography of bumblebees and the biology of various ants, spending time in Mexico studying solitary ground inhabiting bees. One of his sons-in-law, who studied Plant Biology at the University of Illinois, considered Wally the "James Joyce of bees."
Wally was a person of multiple talents. He was artistic and had a flair for baking. He kept a large garden and greatly enjoyed flowers; zinnias, irises, wild prairie sunflowers, and roses were among some of his favorites. He was known for his excellent tomatoes in particular, which his family admired and relished. He was a skilled craftsman renovating the kitchen of their home, adding rooms to their basement, constructing an entertainment center, and a tree house for his children to enjoy. He participated along with Betty in the construction of their community playground, and with the Care-a-Vanners group in over a dozen builds for Habitat for Humanity.
A committed Catholic, who was comforted by his faith, Wally was a member of the St Patrick's Church community, where he was elected onto the Parish Council, and served as a Eucharistic minister. He was an enthusiastic fan of Illini basketball and held season tickets, striving to attend every game.
Among Wally's passions was music, especially classical music, and he loved neighborhood sing-a-longs in the summers and holidays. He played the piano; classical pieces as well as 1930s and '40s tunes from musicals and movies. He played French horn and Glockenspiel in the Grafton band while growing up in North Dakota.
He also enjoyed the French language, which he spoke as a child, and French Canadian culture, and foods. He loved camping with his family and being in nature, sharing his delight in unique insects and plants. He once remarked that his first love in science was Botany.
Wally was offered a job at Harvard University but he had already accepted a position at the University of Kansas and felt he needed to keep his word. Edwin O. Wilson was offered the job at Harvard, and went on to become a popular and well-known author of social insects, ants in particular, and biology. Wally remarked that this was meant to be because E.O. Wilson had more talent.
Wally was a shy, gentle and unfailingly kind man; revered by his children. His delight in the details within nature was a great gift to his family. Always a gentleman, complimentary of others, his family and friends will sorely miss him. He delighted in children, in particular his grandkids, and he was unbounded in his gratitude for his family and his special neighborhood friends. He enjoyed comparing gardens with his dear neighbors. He also enjoyed reading mysteries, putting together puzzles, and playing card games or board games with his grandchildren.
A mass of Christian burial will be held at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Urbana at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 27. A light lunch will be held following the service in the Parish Center. All are welcome.
In lieu of expressions of sympathy, please consider a donation to one of the following:
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation - www.jdrf.org;
Student Sustainability Committee, University of Illinois - scc.union.illinois.edu; Food Pantry Program, St Patrick's Catholic Church of Urbana - www.stpaturbana.org.
Condolences may be offered at www.renner-wikoffchapel.com.