Founding Entomologist Passes On
Everett Joseph “Deke” Dietrick, entomologist and pioneer in the field of biological pest control, died at his home in Ventura on December 23, 2008. He was 88. His scientific training in entomology and his boundless curiosity about how insects and ecological conditions interact led him to collaborate in founding Rincon-Vitova Insectaries with the goal to help farmers use proven biological methods of pest control. Through the driving force of his leadership many hundreds of farmer clients rejected conventional chemical control and transitioned to biological control methods. Those farmers and activists who launched the movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s to promote organic agriculture especially valued his advice as a scientist.
Born in York, Nebraska, on June 24, 1920, the youngest of four brothers and one sister, he moved to Whittier, California, at the age of 5. Hard work and athletic talent allowed him the opportunity to attend Whittier College. He graduated in 1942 and immediately entered the Coast Guard where he served in the Pacific Theater. It was at Whittier that he met and married Gwyn Ellen Wardman who remained his steadfast partner for the next 66 years.
After returning from the war he enrolled in graduate studies in entomology at UC Berkeley and in 1947 he eagerly took an opening with the UC Statewide Department of Biological Control led by Prof Harry Smith. He and Gwyn moved to Riverside where he began doing research at the UC Citrus Experiment Station. Twelve years of university field research observing insect ecology, pesticide resistance, and the phenomenal success of classical biocontrol projects led him to believe that chemical pesticides usually cause more problems than they solve.
There were no funds to research non-chemical approaches and he believed he could help farmers as a consultant to transition away from chemicals, so he left the university to pioneer the new profession of pest control advisor. Augmentation with natural enemies was needed for his clients to maximize their success. In partnership with Ernest “Stubby” Green and later Dwayne "Jack" Blehm, he established insectaries in Ventura and Riverside, to grow various insect predators and parasites for commercial use against crop pests. The two companies merged in 1971 to form RinconVitova Insectaries, Inc. now owned and managed by daughter Jan.
With the help of family and friends Deke and Gwyn built an adobe brick house in Riverside--never quite finished--where they raised their five children. In 1986 they decided to close the insectary in Riverside and in another group family endeavor built a house in Ventura. They made trips to their “fish camp” on the Sea of Cortez near Cabo Pulmo where Deke loved skin diving with friends, an interest that lasted over 50 years, early on devising their own version of a “wet suit” with latex coated long johns.
While working at the university he needed a better way to sample insects than is possible with a sweep net. He collaborated in the invention of a vacuum device for collecting insect samples. It captures the complex of natural enemies associated with a pest on biological farms and allows more effective forecasting. He and Gwyn started the DVac Company, enlisting the help of his children and many of their friends, to manufacture the machines that are still sold around the world for research and field monitoring.
Deke was a Board Certified Entomologist and an Emeritus Member of the Entomological Society of America. In 1972 he served as an expert witness at Congressional hearings in Washington DC that led to the banning of DDT in the United States. He was asked for input by the state of California to possibly the first standards in the world for licensing pest control advisors and was among the first to become licensed.
Deke was a founding member of the Association of Applied Insect Ecologists that became the Association of Applied IPM Ecologists (AAIE) and was the first recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988. That year the Ecological Farming Association also made him one of its first Stewards of Sustainable Agriculture (SUSTY) at its annual Eco-Farm Conference. He was the only invited speaker at its first conference in 1981 and was in regular contact with early participants in the movement. He was honored by the US Department of Agriculture to be the spokesperson for the North American biocontrol industry at its 1989 International Vedalia Symposium in McAllen, Texas, part of a centennial celebration of biocontrol.
For over 40 years Deke mentored scores of individuals who wanted to be part of his work, many of whom followed his intuitive, generous, practical advice to build highly successful careers and businesses promoting biocontrol and sustainable agriculture. He labored to teach people in letters, articles, talks, and papers (some of which are posted on this site and accessible through the "Info" links ), and memoirs (to be published) and to assure that his enterprises continue to serve as a platform for educating people. He was increasingly hopeful in the last several years seeing the rise in environmental awareness and the tremendous growth of the organic industry.
In his white canvas hat shading his twinkling eyes, he was a familiar figure at the Ventura Farmer’s Market and recognized by many in the local area for his engaging, happy personality. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children Jan, Coby, Karen, Marc, and Marlys; grandchildren Eamon, Deke, Lyman, Clare, Jack, and Milo; and loving sons and daughtersinlaw. His family, many friends, and colleagues will miss him.