Francis Marion Summers
Professor of Entomology, Emeritus
In 1994, we lost a true gentleman, scholar, and colleague with the passing of Francis Marion Summers. Frank, as he insisted he be called when addressed as Dr. Summers, died on 15 July 1994 in Woodland, CA at the age of 88. He was born in Fredericktown, MO on 8 June 1906. Frank was very much a people person who cared deeply about others with whom he was associated, especially the students and growers he served. He was an outstanding scientist, teacher, and writer. He served his department members well by offering to peer review papers that they were submitting for publication. This was especially helpful to junior faculty and graduate students just getting started in the “publish or perish” world of academia.
Frank graduated from high school in Calexico, CA, and attended Junior College in El Centro. He made the local papers as the first student from Calexico High to graduate from college. He received his A.B. in zoology from University of California, Berkeley and his M.A. in 1932 and Ph.D. in 1935 in biology from Columbia University, NY. His Ph.D. dissertation was on cytology of ciliate Protozoa and he subsequently published papers on taxonomy and cytology of ciliate protozoan parasites of beach flea hoppers from the Woods Hole district.
Frank’s first publication was a privately printed guide to the anatomy of the cat in 1932. He subsequently taught biology courses, including human anatomy, at Bard College, Columbia University; Cornell University Medical College; and CCNY between 1934 and 1943. He also published a paper on biological aspects of radiotherapy in 1941.
From this diverse background, his career took off in a new direction. Frank was not trained as an entomologist, but came to California in 1943 to work for the CA State Department of Agriculture as an entomologist. He joined the University of California in 1944 and was stationed at Dinuba, CA where he began his research on Oriental Fruit Moth. In 1947, he was transferred to the Davis campus where he spent the remainder of his career studying insect pests of almond and stone fruits.
At UCD, Frank taught undergraduate courses in insect morphology and acarology, the study of mites. He spent considerable time prior to each morphology lecture making elaborate multicolored drawings on the black board, a technique undoubtedly influenced by his experiences in teaching vertebrate anatomy. Frank lectured from these drawings, making the rather mundane subject come alive for his students. Frank cared about students and constantly strived to accommodate them. Of special concern were students for whom English was not their primary language. One student who could read and comprehend class material, but who had great difficulty in writing out answers in English, was told by Frank to write the answers in his native language and Frank would find someone to translate the answers for him. He was of special help to his graduate students in ensuring that their papers were well prepared for submission for publication.
Frank also exhibited great concern for the problems that growers faced in dealing with insect pests. His research was very mission oriented and of direct practical use to growers. His papers appeared in industry trade journals and UC agricultural publications as well as scientific journals. He studied life histories and developed control methods for a number of important pests of stone fruits including: Oriental Fruit Moth, San Jose Scale, and a variety of mites.
Following his retirement in 1973, Frank continued to expand his interests into new areas. Frank loved to tinker with electronic equipment. He began helping out in a TV repair shop and became a very competent electronics technician. He even repaired TVs for some of his former colleagues. When Frank was asked by leaders of his church, the United Methodist Church in Woodland, CA, to take on the position of Treasurer, he accepted. However, he had no training for the position so he took courses in accounting that enabled him to straighten out the financial records for the church.
Frank also continued to be active in research publishing several papers describing new species and genera of mites. With our museum scientist, Robert O. Schuster, Frank published a monograph on mites of the family Diarthrophillidae in 1978 in which they described several new genera and species of mites that inhabit the space between the wing covers and body of tropical beetles that live in galleries in decaying wood.
Frank married Helen Fleming in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY in August 1940. When Frank was transferred to UC Davis, they settled in Woodland where they raised their son, Robert. Helen died in 1999. They are survived by their son, a professional musician living in southern California with his wife Marilyn and their two daughters, Samantha and Ashley.
Those of us who had the great pleasure of knowing and working with Frank, consider ourselves fortunate. For those who were not so fortunate, we hope this article conveys some of the sense of the amazing adaptability and diversity of interests of the gentleman and scholar who was Frank Summers.
Robbin W. Thorp, Chair
Oscar G. Bacon
Charles L. Judson