Bruce John Zobel

February 6, 2011 

Bruce John Zobel died at his home in Raleigh, NC on Saturday, February 05, 2011. Bruce was E.F. Conger Distinguished Professor of Forestry at North Carolina State University and a pioneer in the field of forest genetics.

Bruce was born in Los Gatos, CA on February 11, 1920 to Emma Meints Zobel and August John Zobel. He grew up on a farm along the central coast of California, where his father raised vegetables. During high school, he met Barbara Lemon, a fellow member of the school band. They attended Salinas Junior College together and were married in Carson City NV on June 21, 1941, before moving to Berkeley to attend the University of California. Bruce graduated in 1943 with a degree in Forestry and the family, including son Don, moved to northern California, where Bruce worked as a logging engineer in redwood forests until he was drafted in 1944. His service with the US Marine Corps was in California, Virginia (where he completed Officer Candidate School), and North Carolina. While stationed at Camp Lejeune NC with his family, now including daughter Kathy, Bruce was appointed Forestry Officer of that extensive forested military base. He learned about southern forestry, in particular the potential of the trees for rapid growth, an experience that eventually set the course of his career.

After discharge from the military, Bruce returned to Berkeley for Masters and PhD degrees in Forestry, specializing in the new field of forest genetics. He was employed in 1951 to run the new program in forest genetics for the Texas Forest Service, associated with Texas A&M College in College Station, where he worked until 1956, and where daughters Lois and Julie joined the family. In 1957, he joined the cooperative research program with the forestry industry, aimed at developing trees for southern forest that would grow faster and produce wood of higher quality than available at the time. He mentored many graduate students from all over the world, and taught a class about forest genetics. In 1979, Bruce retired as director of the research cooperative, but continued to teach part-time for about 25 years. He also brought his expertise to many parts of the world as a consultant, with long-term work in Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Indonesia. In 1986, he founded Zobel Forestry Associates Inc., and continued to visit foreign forestry operations regularly. During foreign travel, he was always accompanied by Barbara. During 1984-1998 he wrote 6 books about forest genetics and international forestry. He received many honors from his profession, university, and foreign institutions. Notable are his service on the Selection Committee for the prize from the Marcus Wallenberg Foundation in Sweden and an honorary doctorate from Syracuse University.

Bruce grew up hunting and fishing, and scheduled vacations to join his family for deer hunting in California. These trips often included salmon fishing and memorable family camping experiences. He bought a small farm south of Raleigh, NC in 1957 and lived there the rest of his life, raising heritage turkeys, chickens and sheep, and he was always an avid vegetable gardener. He bought land in the mountains of Avery Co. NC and loved to work improving his forests, planning the house that was built for the family on a high ridge top, and fishing the Elk River.

Bruce was an active member of Avent Ferry United Methodist Church, serving for decades as a teacher of adult Sunday School.

Bruce was preceded in death by his parents and siblings and by foster son Robbie Akers.

A Celebration of Life for Bruce will be at Avent Ferry United Methodist Church, 2700 Avent Ferry Road, Raleigh, at a date to be determined.

Donation in Bruce’s memory can be made to Avent Ferry United Methodist Church; or to the “Bruce and Barbara Zobel Scholarship Fund” and sent to NC State University, Campus Box 8010, Raleigh, NC 27695-8010; or to the charity of one’s choice.

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