Jim “Doc” Applegate, beloved professor of wildlife ecology at Rutgers, passed away on October 28.
Jim’s connection to Rutgers spans more than four decades. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1964 from the College of Agriculture. He went on to study avian malaria, earning master’s and doctoral degrees from Pennsylvania State University in 1968. After graduation, he continued his research on malaria for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War at the Bethesda Naval Medical Research Institute.
In 1971, Jim returned to Rutgers, joining the faculty at the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science. He remained a beloved part of the Cook Campus community until his retirement in 2003 as a professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources.
Jim served as curriculum coordinator in the department. In 1997, he spearheaded the development of a college-wide course, “Perspectives on Agriculture and the Environment,” and coordinated 30 faculty members in teaching more than 700 first-year Cook College students.
Jim, fondly known as “Doc” to his students, founded the student and the New Jersey state chapters of The Wildlife Society, actively serving throughout his career in volunteer leadership positions at the state, regional, and national levels of this professional organization. He made groundbreaking contributions to the human dimensions of wildlife management and his research paved the way for what is now a critical aspect of the profession.
He was a charter member of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee, serving for nearly 50 years. He received numerous awards over the course of a distinguished career in natural resource education matched only by his commitment to excellence in teaching.
Doc influenced the careers of hundreds of wildlife students, many of whom have also gone on to be leaders in state and national conservation policy. Some of these individuals speak eloquently below about Doc’s lasting impact on their lives.
“Doc Applegate was the most influential and impactful professor I had during my undergraduate years at Cook College — in the classroom, in the field, and as a beloved member of our campus community. Even today, he continues to influence how I approach teaching, engagement with students, and service to the communities we serve through cooperative extension. His passing saddens me deeply, but I smile knowing how many people across the country — in the wildlife and natural resource communities and beyond — share the same fond memories and gratitude as they think about Doc’s influence in their lives.”
— Brian Schilling CC’92, Director, Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
“Like many of Doc’s students, I have a memory from my undergraduate experience that stands out as impactful – Doc’s home, where I was introduced to birds from his kitchen table and where I shared Brunswick stew for the first time. His professional legacy is his heartfelt engagement with his students and the curiosity about the world he inspired but what I appreciate most, is the inspiration for nature he nurtured in his grandchildren Taylor, Ashley, Mia, and Sophie.”
— Ben Bobowski, CC’91, Doc’s son-in-law and superintendent of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
“I will always be grateful for the instruction and guidance Jim provided that positioned me for a successful career in the conservation arena. From my days at NJ Fish and Wildlife to my new career at the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, the conservation lessons (and life’s lessons) provided by him have stayed with me and provided a solid moral compass upon which to make decisions.”
— Dave Chanda, CC’1978, former director NJ Fish and Wildlife now CEO at Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.
“Doc taught us not only the lessons of wildlife conservation, but he also modeled how to live a life of joy, kindness, curiosity, fun, silliness, and love of your work. His smile was always infectious, and he made me happy to be in his class every day. Doc is a legend. How amazing to think about the lives he touched, the people he inspired, the joy he brought as he helped us to see and understand the natural world around us. More than ever, we need wild places where our hearts can be free, where we can see life simply with a quiet calm or perhaps howl from a mountain top.”
— Christine Hall, CC’95, National Innovation Leader, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“Throughout a person’s life, there are always people whose paths cross that can make a critical difference in someone’s life. Often, those people who make the difference don’t even realize the influence they’ve had on others. Doc was such a person in my life and his assistance and guidance is not forgotten by me and I’m sure by many others. He gave me encouragement when I needed it.”
— Mark Chicketano, CC’82, Retired Chief of Law Enforcement, NJ Fish & Wildlife.
“I’ve been teaching high school biology for 27 years and I continue to draw from the knowledge, experience, and most of all the personable methods and high expectations that Doc provided as my professor. He created such a tremendous ripple effect of excellence in science education that will continue forever through students like me and his amazing family. He provided the framework for a great education about the natural world and I can honestly say that his influence on me and my teaching style has come into play every single day over the last 27 years! And now my students are out in the world paying it forward.”
— Amy Biasucci, CC’94, Biology teacher, Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ.
“One of the best teachers I ever had; one of the best people I ever met. He was in my corner in moments when I most needed it… and him being there changed my life for the better. I know I am one of many who will continue to use his student-centered and community-building approach as a model to strive for.”
— Chris Martine, CC’96, GSNB’01, David Burpee Chair in Plant Genetics and Research, Bucknell University.
“I was in Dr. Applegate’s “Field ID of birds” class in 2015 — it was far and away my favorite class in grad school. I look back on that class so fondly — mist netting at his house, driving to so many cool places in New Jersey, searching for birds and learning to identify them. It’s left me with an abiding appreciation for birds and birdwatching.”
— Colleen Smith, GSNB’20, current postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
A celebration of Jim’s life is being planned by his family for summer 2024.