Born November 27, 1947 in Oudenrijn, The Netherlands, Petrus (Peter) Veneman attended the acclaimed Wageningen University known for agricultural sciences. He arrived at the University of Massachusetts in the fall of 1977 after completing graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Peter was promoted to full professor in 1989, and he later managed the unification of several departments into a new Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences (PSIS), for which he served as department head from 2002 to 2009.
Known as a dynamic problem solver, Peter designed and built his own research lab in the basement of Stockbridge Hall. He also designed and built labs for newly hired professors.
The outstanding faculty he recruited to PSIS, and the funding he secured for on-campus greenhouses and the nearby Troll Turfgrass Research Center, created the launching pad for the current structure of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.
Today, Stockbridge manages a Research and Education Greenhouse packed with climate control technology and including fully-enclosed growing chambers. Our Turfgrass Research Center is the nation's longest running facility of its kind, and our plant and soil science labs conduct cutting-edge scientific research.
Current Stockbridge Director and Distinguished Professor Baoshan Xing expressed his gratitude for Dr. Veneman’s unwavering support to the School and to him personally.
“He helped me tremendously in my early career development,” recalls Xing. “Peter was an instrumental mentor to me at UMass. He was the chair of the search committee for my position back then, and he put his trust in me. Once I was here, Peter was always ready to address my questions and provide advice when needed.”
The courses that he taught included Introductory Soils, Soil and Water Conservation, Soil Genesis and Classification, Hydric Soils, Advanced Hydric Soils, and Wetland Delineation. He therefore played a role in the studies of most of the undergraduate students in the Plant and Soil Sciences B.S. program, and in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture A.S. degree programs, for more than three decades.
Peter’s research interests included not just basic soil morphology and genesis, but also the fate of different anthropogenic pollutants in both soils and wetlands. He was instrumental in the formation of the New England Hydric Soils Technical Committee, as well as the creation of the Massachusetts DEP Soil Evaluator Program, and he trained many local health agents in the field today. Peter was a prolific researcher who published more than 39 refereed journal articles.
But Peter’s greatest contributions to soil science perhaps came through his mentorship of graduate students, many of whom now pursue careers in soils, wetlands and turf. Veneman’s former graduate student Alyssa Rusiecki, now Assistant Director of Environmental Health at UMass, remembers.
“As a professor, graduate advisor, and mentor, Peter was very generous with his time and knowledge,” says Rusiecki. “He always made time to advise and provide encouragement to me, and to all of his students. He was an inspiration to all who met him.”
Veneman trained 7 doctoral students during his tenure, one who has worked for the World Bank and World Health Organization, and another who became President of the Soil Science Society of America, and is currently the head of the Soils Division of the USDA.
He was also the committee chair for 12 master’s degree students, some of whom continued on to PhD programs with other professors or at other schools. Most have become major environmental professionals in Massachusetts and throughout New England.
Peter firmly believed that he had a duty to assist other working soil scientists and environmental consultants continue their professional development and education, and he was instrumental in developing the Off Campus Master’s Degree Program, which has graduated an additional 11 MS students.
Veneman retired in the fall of 2011 and leaned into his personal passion—building and playing with elaborate model railroads, and rising to a leadership role in the organizational planning of the Railroad Hobby Show at the Big E, which is one of the largest railroad hobby shows in the country.
Peter is survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren, and by the countless undergraduate, graduate students and working professionals whose lives were enhanced by his knowledge and spirit.
A celebration of life is planned for May or June 2024. For additional information please email RememberPVeneman@gmail.com
Thanks to Mickey Spokas and Deb Henson, who provided article content.