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In Memory Of

Robert Emerson Allan

Robert “Bob” Emerson Allan passed away Sunday, March 28, 2021, at home in Pullman. He was 90 years old. He was born Jan. 12, 1931, to Helen Slattery Allan and William E. Allan in Morris, Ill.

He attended grade school and high school in Morris and spent several summers as a cadet at Northwestern Military Academy near Fontana, Wis. As a teenager he developed a keen interest in agriculture working on the family livestock farm in Walworth County, Wis. Bob credited both his dad and his high school vocational agriculture teacher for steering him toward studying agriculture in college.

After his junior year of high school, his dad decided Bob would benefit from changes in his environment and his social behavior. During the summer of 1948 he and his dad took a road trip, presumably to buy a bull in Wyoming. As it turned out they got no further than Ames, Iowa. After taking entrance exams for two days, Bob suddenly became a freshman at Iowa State College rather than becoming a senior in high school and Student Body President. He graduated from Iowa State in 1952 with a degree in agriculture and a commission as a lieutenant in the Army Reserve. After a short courtship, he and Barbara Butler were married that June. Needing income, Bob volunteered for active duty in the Army and was sent to Field Artillery Officers School. After graduating, he was shipped overseas to Japan and Korea. He was a decorated combat veteran of the Korean War serving as a field artillery forward observer. After six months, the war ended. He returned home the spring of 1954 and was discharged from Army active duty. While he was overseas, the family farm was sold, which ruled out Bob becoming a farmer. He came to view this as fortunate, because otherwise he may not have pursued a career as a crop scientist.

Having the GI Bill, he applied to graduate school and sought a crop science research assistantship at several colleges. Turned down by his first and second choices, he was offered an assistantship in the wheat breeding program at Kansas State College. There he worked under an outstanding mentor, which equipped him for his life-time career as a wheat geneticist and breeder. Luck continued for him; upon graduating from Kansas State College, he was offered a U.S. Department of Agriculture job in Pullman. The job was in the wheat breeding program of Dr. Orville Vogel. Vogel became a world-famous crop scientist by breeding wheat varieties that set world yield records and developing the genetic stocks that made the Wheat Green Revolution possible. Bob believed that the chance to work with Orville Vogel, gaining insight as to his approaches and philosophy to wheat breeding had a profound impact on his own career.

Bob spent his entire career in Pullman with the USDA. He served 24 years as Research Leader of the Pullman Wheat Research Unit. This unit is nationally and internationally recognized for its research. His personal scientific accomplishments included explaining the inheritance of semidwarf plant height in wheat, isolating, characterizing and naming the two semidwarf genes used in the Wheat Green Revolution. With colleagues, he was among the first to use molecular markers to facilitate breeding for wheat disease resistance. He bred several wheat varieties that were grown in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Several of his varieties had durable resistance to the major wheat diseases in the region. They reduced the need to use pesticides that were expensive and potentially damaging to the environment. The capstone of his career was receiving the “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2017 from the National Association of Plant Breeders. Bob was fond of saying he was a one-trick dog. Even after retiring in 1996 he continued making wheat crosses and conducting genetic experiments in his garden on the Old Moscow Road farm.

After his first marriage ended, Bob became closer to his four children. Downhill skiing, camping, sailing and trips to the Idaho tree farm were activities they all enjoyed, perhaps Bob most of all. Later, he and his four children went on several trips including back to Illinois and Wisconsin where he grew up.

In 1973, fate smiled on Bob when a beautiful Hispanic graduate student sought his advice concerning a wheat disease. After sharing his advice, Bob ignored accepted faculty-student protocol and asked her for a date. She agreed and Carolyn (Carrie) Roybal and Bob were married in August of 1974 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman. In addition to becoming his soulmate, Bob credited Carolyn with reuniting him with Catholicism, his mother’s faith and where he was baptized. Bob joked that Carrie was both his wife and his long-term care insurance policy. This actually became very true. Both Bob and Carrie pursued their separate careers; his as a wheat geneticist and hers as a pharmacist. Together they enjoyed the theater, dancing, biking, camping and running in Bloomsday Races. They were avid WSU Cougar fans; Bob admits Carrie was more dedicated than he was. They enjoyed traveling in USA, Mexico and several European countries. Bob and Carrie’s extended family all had four paws and were adopted from shelters, deceased neighbors or strayed to the farm. Bob was certain these four-pawed critters added years to his life.

Bob valued his friendships, beginning with his older brother, Tom. Perhaps because they were so different is why they enjoyed each other’s company so much. Both had quick wits and sharp senses of humor. Well, at least they thought so. Most of Bob’s close friends were his colleagues at WSU. Long after he retired and as the only conservative, he diligently made every effort to regularly go to Johnson Hall for coffee. He and his cronies never tired of repeating the same old jokes and solving the world’s problems.

The family put up with Bob’s many yarns, noting that they tended to vary over time due to his penchant for always making a good story better. This was not surprising because he had actually kissed the Blarney Stone when he and Carrie toured Ireland.

Bob had great interest in the genealogy of his family. He was fond of sharing the many colorful accounts of his Irish, Scottish and Norwegian ancestors with the rest of the family. These stories were passed on to him by his parents, grandparents and older aunts and uncles. His family has promised him to continue this tradition.

Bob enjoyed a long, happy and full life, as a son, brother, soldier, husband, father, scientist, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was thankful that the Lord allowed him to share his life with Carrie, his children, their children and their children as well, and of course, with the four pawed critters.

Bob was preceded in death by his parents, brother Tom and son Jeffrey. He is survived by his wife Carrie of 46 years; his children Pat and Janet Allan, Scott and Teresa Allan, Robin Allan and daughter-in-law, Jennifer Hoffmann Allan; grandchildren Jessica and Travis Schlaman, Naomi and Rodrigo Bebin, Robert and Nikki Allan, Brian Allan, Heidi and Craighton Vance, and Nathan, Riley, and Quinten Chadwick. At the time of his death, he had 17 great-grandchildren.

Clan Ranald’s motto: “My hope is constant in thee, Gainsay Who Dare.”

Bob’s final request was that he be in Heaven a half hour before the Devil knows he is dead.

There will be a private family Funeral Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman. Bob will be laid to rest at the Pullman Cemetery. Kimball Funeral Home of Pullman has been entrusted with arrangements. Memorial donations are suggested to the Whitman County Humane Society, Circles of Caring – Adult Day Care, or to the National Parks. Online condolences may be sent to Kimball Funeral Home.


Bill Johnston

Retired/emeritus Turfgrass Management faculty member for 35 years in CSS:

William “Bill” John Johnston, 78, passed away Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, at his home in Pullman.

Bill, the oldest of four sons, was born Aug. 30, 1942, in Detroit to William V. and Nancy (Fiedor) Johnston. He grew up in Pittsburgh and received his early education there. Bill attended Penn State where he received a B.S. degree, after which he came west and began his studies in geology at the University of Idaho.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army while at the university. Bill served as a medic during the Vietnam War and was stationed in Japan during his service. Following his honorable discharge, he returned to his studies at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. Bill received both a Master of Science and a Ph.D. from Auburn.

While at Auburn, he met Ellen Scarsbrook. They married Sept. 11, 1976, and in 1979, their first child, Miriam, was born. In 1980, he accepted a faculty position at Washington State University and moved to Pullman with his wife and young daughter. A year later, Bill and Ellen had their second child, Scott.

Bill had a distinguished career in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, retiring several years ago. Teaching was his passion and he loved all of his students. He was fondly known as “Dr. J” to his students and was active with WSU’s Turf Club. Bill enjoyed the outdoors, especially golfing, fishing and snow skiing. He loved his family and was a devoted husband and father. Bill was a member of the Pullman Presbyterian Church, serving as both a deacon and elder of the congregation. He was also involved with various church committees.

Bill is survived by his wife, Ellen, of Pullman; his daughter, Miriam, of Tacoma; his brothers, Clifford Johnston, of Middleport, N.Y., and Paul Johnston, of Pittsburgh; and his cousin, Joan Garbin, of Export, Penn. Bill was preceded in death by his son, Scott; his parents; and his brother, Richard. The memorial service will be planned at a later date when it is safer to gather. Kimball Funeral Home of Pullman has been entrusted with arrangements. Memorial donations are suggested to Orphan Acres (P.O. Box 110, Viola, ID 83872) or the Whitman County Humane Society. Online condolences may be sent to Kimball Funeral Home.


HH Cheng

Former CSS faculty member (1964-1989) and then Univ. Minnesota professor and Department Head:

As a young boy, Hwei-Hsien Cheng and his family saw their lives uprooted by the Chinese Communist Revolution.

But the longtime soil scientist devoted himself to education, a career path that would bind him to his native country.

Cheng, 88, died Jan. 24 at his St. Paul home after complications from COVID-19, said his eldest son Edwin Cheng of San Francisco.

“He was a very gentle and patient father,” Edwin said. “He gently guided us, and there was always the expectation we would be staying at school as long as we could.”

Known as “HH” to friends and colleagues, Cheng was born in China in 1933. Education was his family’s ticket to the U.S. and a path that gave him lifelong connections with the scientific community back home. Minnesota was already known to the family, because his father had attended Hamline University in the 1920s on a scholarship.

Cheng earned his bachelor’s degree from Berea College in Kentucky and received a doctorate at the University of Illinois, where he met the love of his life, Jo, then a graduate student studying music. The two married in 1962 and traveled widely, including to Belgium for a Fulbright scholarship and Ames, Iowa, for a postdoctoral fellowship. They settled in Washington state, where Cheng taught soil science and served in a number of administrative roles at Washington State University.

After 25 years in Washington, Cheng moved to St. Paul with his family. In 1989, he was named head of the Department of Soil Science at the University of Minnesota. Under his leadership, the name of the department was changed to the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate to reflect its increasing scope of expertise.

He remained at the helm until his retirement in 2001. During that time, Cheng helped the U foster collaboration with major universities in China. Cheng was widely known for his research on carbon and nitrogen cycling in soils, transformations of natural and anthropogenic chemicals in soil, water quality, precision agriculture and agricultural sustainability, said Carl Rosen, professor and head of the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate at the U, who was a faculty member when Cheng chaired the department.

Meanwhile, Cheng was the president of the Soil Science Society of America in 1996, and in 2000 he led the American Society of Agronomy — two giant national societies. Because of his service to his field, the U awarded Cheng with an honorary degree in 2004.

“He was instrumental in shaping departmental direction with a broadened vision,” Rosen said. “HH was a true leader, not only for the department but also for the profession.”

Besides academia, Cheng relished singing with a local Chinese choir directed by Jo, who tapped him to sing bass because it was difficult to find male singers. Since 2018, he and Jo lived at an assisted-living facility in St. Paul, where Cheng fostered new friendships, sang in the residents’ choir and cherished his morning ritual of eating a “hearty” breakfast, reading the newspaper by the fireplace and taking a stroll in a land where he and his family found refuge.

“Just as Minnesota had given my father the beginning for his lifelong career devoted to education, Minnesota has provided me the opportunity to continue the efforts in enhancing the quality of life for people in China and in America through education,” Cheng wrote in a letter a decade ago.

Cheng was preceded in death by his parents, Chi-Pao Cheng and Anna Cheng, and his brother George. In addition to his wife and son Edwin, he is survived by son Tony Cheng of Fort Collins, Colo.; brothers Francois Cheng of Paris and David Cheng of Cupertino, Calif., and four grandchildren. Services will be held at a later date.