Arthur Muka, economic entomologist, dies at 98

Arthur Allen Muka, M.S. ’52, Ph.D. ’54, whose work in applied economic entomology supported growers in New York and around the globe, died Dec. 7, 2022, in Ithaca. He was 98.

A professor emeritus of entomology, Muka conducted research and trained growers on insect control strategies for vegetable, field and forage crops in New York and throughout the Northeast. According to colleague Donald Rutz, Muka’s biggest contribution was in forging connections between researchers, growers, industry representatives and state officials.

Arthur Muka

“Art was a people person,” said Rutz, professor emeritus of entomology who took over as extension leader from Muka when he retired. “He knew how to bring people together, and that really benefited our work.”

 For example, in 1965 Muka began organizing a yearly aerial applicators conference that brought together aerial pesticide applicators, growers, researchers, policymakers and officials with the New York Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture and Markets, Department of Environmental Conservation and others to discuss strategies to protect New York’s food supply and environment. In addition to the annual conference, Muka hosted multiple informal gatherings throughout the year, from 1965 until his retirement in 1988. These relationship-building efforts led to greater cooperation among parties when it came time to update regulations or address new insect challenges, Rutz said.

Muka spent a year as a visiting scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Philippines, from 1965-66. There he conducted the final field insect screening and regional adaptability study on IRRI’s famine-averting “miracle rice” variety before it was released in November 1966. 

Muka was born Oct. 23, 1924, and grew up on a dairy farm in northwest Massachusetts. World War II began while he was still in high school, and Muka served as an “aircraft spotter” early warning volunteer. After high school, he enlisted in the V-5 Naval Aviation Pilot Training Command, where he served through the duration of the war. He retained a love of flying throughout his life.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in entomology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and his master’s and doctoral degrees at Cornell, Muka taught briefly at Virginia Tech before returning to Cornell as an assistant professor in 1956.

A committed community builder, Muka served as a volunteer firefighter with the Cayuga Heights Fire Department for 25 years and as a volunteer leader with the Ithaca Cayuga Rotary Club, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the East Hill Flying Club and the Boy Scouts of America, among others. He was also one of the founding charter members of the St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in northeast Ithaca.

Muka is survived by his wife of 70 years, Betty, M.S. ’53, MBA ’70; their children, Diane ’75, MBA ’88, Stephen ’78, Christopher ’79, Martha ’83 and Deborah; and 12 grandchildren.

Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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