Dr. John A. Lipe
Tribute written by Larry A. Stein
Associate Professor/Extension Horticulturist
Goodbyes are never easy and they are exceptionally difficult when one must bid a final farewell to a close friend and trusted colleague - Dr. John Arthur Lipe. John passed away at his home on January 22, 1995 after a brief but seemingly endless illness. Seems to me I am writing these tributes all too often - first Tom Denman, then Gene Porter, next Liz Neuendorff and now John. John also makes the second horticulturist we have lost on active duty in recent memory. Dr. L. Austin Stockton, Extension horticulturist at Fort Stockton passed away some 7+ years ago.
As you may recall, John and Liz were close friends as Liz was John's graduate student at Overton working on blueberries. In fact, John sang the Lord's Prayer at Liz's wedding which is where I became acquainted with John's musical abilities and powerful voice. Ironically, Liz passed away from the same dreaded killer on almost the same day John was stricken. All I can figure out is that the good Lord needed John for a special project with persimmons or pears; or possibly he needed help in sending winter to the south this year. No doubt John would be especially nervous about the lack of chill hours accumulated so far this year.
Funerals are at best difficult times for family and friends. John's was no exception, but it was a celebration of John's life and memories with music. John was known as the "chief musician" at his church and truly loved to worship and praise the Lord with song. It is sort of amazing that few of his professional colleagues and growers knew of his vast musical abilities.
Not only was John a true Christian, but he was a darn good practical horticulturist and a nice guy. As a tribute to John, I will attempt to detail some of the many projects John worked on.
John began his career in 1971 as a researcher and assistant professor at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension center in Overton. Since 1982 John served as an Extension specialist for the Texas Cooperative Extension, headquartered at Fredericksburg. As Bluefford Hancock says, "My greatest day's work was when I hired John to go to Fredericksburg." I am sure the "boys" at the Experiment Station were not too happy when Bluefford pulled off that "steal."
John was a 3 degree Aggie earning his Bachelors in 1965, his Masters in 1968 and his Doctorate in 1971. John was one of those true 12th man Aggies who definitely bled maroon and always had the burning desire to outdo the "burnt orange." It was not uncommon to find John with headsets on at a band concert or going down the road keeping track of the Aggie football team. He was also a "dyed in the wool" Cowboy fan. John almost pulled them through the last NFC championship game. Jo, John's secretary was out to see John at the hospital on the day of the game. As everyone knows, the Cowboys were behind in a hurry. Jo told John that the Cowboys were going to lose but he looked at her and said "nope!"
John's youth and education included on-the-farm training growing up at Los Fresnos in the lower Rio Grande Valley. He often talked about irrigating various crops and growing citrus and avocados. So John was well versed to take on the pomology position at Overton in 1971. He did extensive testing of varieties on not only peaches but berries as well.
When John went to Fredericksburg in 1982, he was hired to work on peaches and pecans. John's background and experience were a natural for the position. John soon established variety trials and thinning studies, along with herbicide tests. John was the foremost Extension authority on new peach varieties. Just last year (1993), John gave an update on the new promising varieties for the Hill Country and Texas in general. John came to be known as a reliable source of information by the news media in San Antonio. No doubt he greatly enhanced the notoriety of "Hill Country Peaches."
However, even though peaches were the mainstay of his work, John loved to work with berries. John did an extensive study of the then new A&M blackberry varieties, Womack, Rosborough and Brison at Overton. So he had a lot of research data and practical experience on growing blackberries. John's research trials with blueberries at the Overton Center essentially paved the way for the industry to develop in East Texas.
John carried his love of blackberries to the Texas Hill Country. He continued to promote them and actually grew them personally. John like the thorny blackberry varieties because he thought they had the best flavor. However, he was truly excited about the new thornless cultivars out of the Arkansas breeding program - Navaho and Arapaho. Many of our best blackberry slides are photos which John took of his family working in a blackberry patch. John picked many a gallon of blackberries in his life and probably gave most of them away.
Still the crop which John truly loved to eat was the persimmon. John worked hard to promote Japanese persimmons. He could hardly wait for the "mushy, slimy, pulp" which was sweeter than "sugar," in the fall. He often placed persimmons in the freezer once dead ripe. Then he would then eat them with a spoon, after microwaving for a few seconds, for breakfast in the morning. To him there was nothing better and he delighted in attempting to share this delicacy with his colleagues and co-workers. Of course, none of us shared his opinion of that "mush and slime!" John went so far as to make fruit rollups or leather out of them. None of the office staff would even try them. Last year (1993) when John and I traveled to the central Texas Pecan Grading demonstration at Stephenville, John brought some of his persimmon leather along. Skeptical at first, I finally managed to try one. Actually, they were quit good, however, just a few went a long way as they were very "rich."
Another crop which John delighted in playing with was pears, especially the Asian pears. John had planted a bunch of pear rootstocks and then collected graftwood of the various types so he could see how they would perform. Of all the Asian pears he tried, he like the Hosui the best as far as flavor was concerned. John also collected other types of pears. Pears are long term, survival trees often remaining at old homesteads long after the house has fallen down. Over the years, John had searched out these trees and collected graftwood of several to see how they would perform under orchard conditions.
Dr. Lipe also worked extensively with pecans. John was good at identifying varieties and normally worked 7 to 8 county grading demonstrations a year, along with the Regional and State shows. John was an expert grafter of pecans and other fruit crops. John spent many an hour collecting and storing propagation wood of various varieties so he could evaluate their performance on a wide scale basis. The wood was always free for the asking by interested growers.
After all this, John still found time along the way to work with the apple industry in the Texas Hill Country. Early on, John tested all commercial apple rootstocks for resistance to coot root rot. His later efforts centered on thinning demonstrations.
John also worked extensively with the Texas Grape industry. His interest was mainly in table grapes but he helped the wine grape growers as well, even though the taste of wine never appealed to him. Dr. Lipe received the T.V. Munson Award from the Texas Wine and Grape Growers for his contributions to the industry.
One of John's major contributions to the Texas Cooperative Extension's fruit educational program was his development of sound herbicide programs for all fruit crops. He extensively tested all of the major pre and post emergent products. He knew the proper rate and timing for the products. He had a very well organized program which he presented at least once annually at all of the major commodity meetings. As everyone knows, these programs were very thorough as he covered chemicals, rates, equipment and calibration. John's last major meeting was a sprayer calibration clinic he conducted for the Texas Apple Growers Association.
John's work did not stop at fruit plants but he also branched out into home gardens and also native plants. John was a member of the local native plant society and often presented programs for them. John also established a native plant collection at the new Gillespie County Agriculture Building. In this way, folks could see how these plants grew and exactly what type of plants they were. No doubt many native plants found their way into landscapes because of John's efforts.
As you all well know, John was a very prolific writer. It was not uncommon to find articles every month in either Pecan South, the Texas Horticulturist, Texas Gardener or Neil Sperry's Gardens magazine. But John also authored numerous Extension fact sheets. John workedespecially hard on the homeowner publications because he wanted there to be no loss of meaning or misinterpretation from the writer to the reader. As such, his publications were highly valued by our clientele because they represented non-biased, reliable information. The loss of John's writing ability and common sense approach to subjects will be a void not soon filled.
Along with his writing skills came John's photography skills. John worked hard to take pictures which really showed what he was talking about, be it pruning or weed control, etc. The key to most photographs is light or in most cases lack of light. John had a polarizing lens by which he could manipulate the light so as to come out with great backgrounds. Many times I found John lying on the ground trying to frame the subject and get the light just right. Those of you who have witnessed his programs can attest to his great photography skills.
And so we could go on and on. I hate to stop because I know it is the end of another great chapter of fruit research and education in Texas and the world. Many who knew John were in awe of his vast knowledge and thought of him as their "security blanket." "Yes - that will work or.... maybe that is not such a good idea."
One who knew John about as well as anybody, his secretary Jo, sums up John as follows: "When I started working with John nearly 13 years ago, I had absolutely no knowledge of the difference between herbicides and insecticides. He patiently took the time to introduce and explain them. Being a city person, my knowledge of fruit was what I could buy in the supermarket. He introduced my family to growing fruit like he did so many others. His patience was unending with me and the public. He always made time to explain even the silliest of questions. I, like a lot of people, will sorely miss him."
Yes, John touched many lives. The fruit industry and we, the people of Texas, along with his wife Judy and family, will definitely miss his presence here on earth. Surely though when John dances on the Golden Streets with our Lord in his vast gardens, he will try to put in a kind word for the fruit growers of Texas. And as we said so many times before, See you later John!