Renowned vegetable breeder Henry Munger dies at age 94
By Susan S. Lang
Professor Emeritus Henry M. Munger, a well-known vegetable breeder who introduced more than 50 varieties of cucumbers, died Aug. 25 at Kendal at Ithaca. He was 94.
According to saveseeds.org, the disease resistance and improved color of nearly all U.S. slicing cucumbers stem from Munger's breeding program. The organization also reports that half of all commercial carrots sold in the United States and Europe have benefited from Munger's discovery of a wild carrot plant with pink-petaled flowers in 1953; that plant became the mother stock for hybrid carrot seed production, which has enhanced carrot carotene content and taste, uniformity and appearance.
Born in 1916 in Ames, Iowa, Munger was raised on a farm in Byron, N.Y., educated first in a one-room school, and enrolled at Cornell at age 16. He received his B.S. in 1936, M.S. from Ohio State University and Ph.D. from Cornell; his doctoral research produced the first fusarium wilt-resistant muskmelon, Iroquois. He started teaching at Cornell in 1942 and was head of the Department of Vegetable Crops for 15 years. He advised more than 60 Ph.D. students, and his breeding work with melons, cucumbers, squash, onions and tomatoes resulted in numerous new, disease-resistant varieties available to commercial growers and home gardeners.
Munger was active in the American Society for Horticultural Science, and in 1995 became the first living person inducted into its Horticultural Hall of Fame. Widely recognized for his teaching and research, his awards include the World Seed Prize, an honorary doctorate from University of Nebraska and Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award.
In addition to vegetable breeding, Munger consulted with researchers in the Philippines, Egypt, Ecuador and India, and in 1974, he was part of the U.S. plant science delegation to the People's Republic of China. He was a strong advocate for the potential of vegetables to enhance nutrition and health throughout the world.
After his retirement in 1981, Munger remained professionally active and was among the original residents of Kendal at Ithaca.
Munger was predeceased by his wife, Norma, and is survived by two daughters, two grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
There will be a memorial service at Kendal at Ithaca on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Munger's memory to Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, 274 Roberts Hall, Ithaca, NY 14850; or to United Way of Tompkins County, 313 N. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY 14850.