Joseph M. Vargas, Jr.

Funeral arrangements have been announced for Joseph M. Vargas, Jr., aka Dr. Joe, who passed away recently after a bout with pancreatitis.

  The Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member and professor of Plant Pathology (PhD) in the Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences Department at Michigan State University for over five decades, will be celebrated in a funeral mass on Saturday, June 1, at 12:30 p.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in East Lansing. A Celebration of Life ceremony at Reno’s East, in East Lansing will follow the mass.

  Fond memorials and expressions of sympathy may be made at https://www.villagefh.com/obituaries/Dr-Joseph-Martin-Vargas?obId=31298052.

 The family wishes memorial contributions to be made to the Dr. Joe Vargas Chair in Turfgrass Pathology at Michigan State University using this link: https://givingto.msu.edu/gift/?sid=18628, or by check payable to “Michigan State University” and including Joe Vargas Chair in Turfgrass Pathology or A108101 on the memo line of your check. Gifts by mail should be sent to: CANR Advancement Office, Michigan State University, 446 West Circle Drive, Room 319, East Lansing, MI 48824. Donations may also be made to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church: elcatholics.org\donate.

  Dr. Vargas produced research with international implications for turfgrass, authored over 200 articles on turfgrass diseases and related subjects, made over 1000 presentations at turfgrass conferences around the world, and authored the most widely used turfgrass disease book titled “Management of Turfgrass Diseases.”

  “MSU’s turf program has always been well respected, but his travels and innovative investigations and discovery of diseases that were unknown at the time brought world-wide attention to his work. He’s certainly the face of turf pathology,” Carey Mitchelson, executive director of the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation told the GAM for a recently published Michigan Links feature.

  “It was Dr. Vargas who put a microscope in as a valuable tool and his discovery of disease and the proper cure for them that turned the turf world, and particularly the golf course industry, into a new dimension in the 1980s and ‘90s. Golf courses went from being good golf courses to becoming great golf courses in all kinds of extreme conditions.”

Dr. Joseph Martin Vargas, Jr., of East Lansing, passed away peacefully with family at his side on April 18, 2024. He was born in Fall River, Massachusetts on March 11, 1942, the son of the late Joseph Martin, Sr., and Rita (Gallery) Vargas.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, MaryAnn Vargas; sons Joseph Martin Vargas, III; Michael (Vicky) Vargas; daughter Kathleen Vargas; grandchildren, Brennan Vargas, Madeline Vargas, Thomas Vargas; brothers Kevin Vargas, John (Veronica) Vargas; several nieces and nephews, and many dear friends and colleagues.

Joseph graduated from De La Salle High School in Tiverton, Rhode Island, in 1959. He spent his youth working on his Grandparent’s farm, milking cows, tending to the crops, and performing other various farm duties. He also worked at Fall River Country Club, which sparked his interest in turf grass. Upon high school graduation, Joseph attended the University of Rhode Island, where he received his B.S. in 1963, and met his future wife, MaryAnn Duffy. He went on to receive his M.S. from Oklahoma State University in 1965, and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1968.

Dr. Vargas has been a professor of Plant Pathology/Turf Grass Management at Michigan State University since 1968, where he has been involved in teaching, research, and extension. He has published over 200 articles on turfgrass diseases and related subjects. He has also published the most widely used turfgrass disease book entitled “Management of Turfgrass Diseases,” and co-authored two other books, “Poa annua: Physiology, Culture, and Control of Annual Bluegrass” and “The Turf Problem Solver.”
An accomplished speaker, he has given over 1000 presentations at various turfgrass conferences throughout the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Spain, Japan, Portugal, and South Africa, to name a few.

Although his career accomplishments are numerous, some of his major successes include demonstrating that annual bluegrass in the field dies from two diseases rather than from high summer-time temperatures, and determining that the true cause of black layer is excess sulfur in the soil. Dr. Vargas was instrumental in the development of the first mathematical prediction model for a turfgrass disease: the anthracnose fungicide timing model.

Dr. Vargas was always on call and was the number one friend to golf course superintendents throughout Michigan, and the world. He has received many awards throughout his stellar career, including the Michigan Turfgrass Foundations Meritorious Service Award (1996); Greater Detroit Golf Course Superintendent A. A. Distinguish Service Award (1996); GCSAA Distinguished Service Award (1997); Lawn and Landscape Magazine’s Leadership Award (2001); National Turfgrass Foundation Research Award (UK) (2002); USGA Green Section Award (2007); Ohio Turfgrass Life Time Achievement Award (2012); Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Induction (2016); Distinguished Faculty Award – College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University (2019); Michigan Golf Course Owners Distinguished Service Award (2021).

In his spare time, Joseph enjoyed deer and pheasant hunting with his sons. He was an avid Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, and Detroit Lions fan. Joseph was an honorary member of the Red Run Country Club in Royal Oak, where he participated in many golf tournaments. And of course, all who knew Joseph saw his second persona rocking the crowd – “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has entered the building!” He loved putting on his costume and performing his “Elvis” show at family gatherings and work events. Joseph was very proud of his family, and truly loved his work. He touched many lives, both personally and professionally. The “King” will live forever in our hearts.