Retirement is only a word for OSU’s Bug Doc

At the 2016 edition of the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation Turf Research Field Day, Dave Shetlar, Ph.D., was bid a fond farewell prior to his pending retirement. At this year’s event, it didn’t look like much had changed for Shetlar, who was Ohio State University’s turfgrass entomologist for nearly 20 years. As about 200 attendees packed the OTF facility in Columbus to hear the latest in turfgrass management research from the OSU faculty, there was Shetlar, holding a cup filled with white grubs and talking to turf managers about how to kill them.

“The retired Dave Shetlar doesn’t look very retired to me,” said Joe Rimelspach, Ph.D., OSU’s turfgrass pathologist.

The Bug Doc, as he’s affectionately known, might be retired, but unlike the grubs he was toting around during field day at the OTF Research and Education Facility, he’s still quite active.

Shetlar, 71, still is doing a lot of extension work around the state. He is teaching an online course that is continually being tweaked and that he described as so exhaustive it will give students virtually everything they need to know about any invasive turf pest found anywhere in the world. He also is in the process of revising “Destructive Turf Insects” which he co-authored in 2001 with Harry Niemczyk, Ph.D.

His annual bluegrass weevil trials in the Cleveland area are ongoing, and after a mandatory 60-day separation agreement after his retirement last spring forced him off campus temporarily, he soon will have an office on campus and trials under way at the research facility.

“I had to move work off university property for a while. But in 2018 I will be back at the research facility working on sod webworms on bentgrass, billbugs, etc.,” Shetlar said.

“I’m still trying to figure out what retirement really means. I have the chance to say ‘no’ to some extension work when I want to, but the reality is that I will be doing exactly what I’ve been doing. I’ll still be doing field testing, still doing conferences and shows. Right now, all retirement means is I’m not getting a paycheck from the university. I’m getting a retirement check.”

In the short amount of time he has been “retired” Shetlar already has been missed, said Rimelspach.

At a recent field day for lawn care operators, “more than one person asked ‘where’s the Bug Doc? And where is his replacement?” Rimelspach said. “If he’s not here, his replacement should be here.”

Shetlar said there are no plans to replace him as the university’s turf entomologist. Contraction through attrition is a disturbing trend in turfgrass academia as researchers nationwide compete for a shrinking pool of funds.

John Street, Ph.D., who has been a turfgrass professor since 1975 when he headed the OSU-Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, has been on the main campus in Columbus since 1980 and since then has been one of the leading voices in sports turf management research, extension and education. Although he retired in 2015, he still retains professor emeritus status and directs the educational components of OTF’s annual summer field day and the conference and show held each December.

“There will not be a replacement for John Street, and there will not be a replacement for Dave Shetlar. The bottom line reality is that the extension funding line of federal and state dollars has been on the decline,” Shetlar said. “And the easiest decision to make is that when those positions are vacated we just won’t fill them.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted grant proposals to federal agencies and got top marks for it. But it isn’t food. You can’t eat it, so it’s not going to get funded. That’s been my biggest frustration, and if you talk to any other turf entomologist they’re complaining about the same thing. We have ideas; we have an industry that needs our expertise. But, try to get money for it. It isn’t going to happen.”

Shetlar came to Ohio State in 1990. Before that, he was a professor at Penn State and spent six years as a research scientist in the private sector for ChemLawn (now TruGreen).


In that time, he’s helped countless golf course superintendents, sports field managers, lawn and landscape professionals and residential homeowners find solutions to their insect pest problems.


Fortunately for turf students, turf managers and homeowners throughout Ohio and elsewhere, he hasn’t lost his zeal for sharing his knowledge about bugs in turf.


He is working with Purdue entomologist Doug Richmond, Ph.D., to revise “Destructive Turf Insects” and the online course he teaches – Entomology 5608-Turfgrass Insect and Mite Pests: Identification, Biology and Management – include 28 modules that cover virtually every turf pest on the planet, how to control them, and how to get the most out of insecticides and biological controls.


“Anyone who takes that course should have everything that they would ever need,” he said. “It actually has more information than my book.”


He also is developing a virtual pest tour that he hopes will be ready for students next spring. That module will present students with different problems at different locations during different times of the year and will prompt them to make recommendations for control based on their observations.


“The idea,” he said, “is to get people thinking about different things that they need to be doing.”


That’s pretty innovative thinking for someone who is retired – or at least is supposed to be.- John Reitman,