Established in 1875

Nature 39


Ralph Stoner Wolfe

July 18, 1921 ~ March 26, 2019 (age 97)

Ralph Stoner Wolfe, 97, of Urbana passed away at 8:35 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at Meadowbrook Health Center in Urbana.

Ralph was born on July 18, 1921 in New Windsor, Maryland to parents Marshall and Jennie (Weybright) Wolfe. They preceded him in death. Also preceding him in death were his siblings; Noami Ardinger and Galen Wolfe.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years Gretka (Young) Wolfe; they were married on September 9, 1950 in Abbeville, South Carolina.

Also surviving are their children; Daniel (Lynette) Wolfe of Coventry, RI, Jon (Karen) Wolfe of Greentown, IN and Suzanne (James) May of Summerfield, OH. Four grandchildren and one great grandson also survive him.

Ralph completed his graduate work in 1953 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and began his scientific career in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Illinois. He taught a course in which students isolated and cultivated microbes from various natural environments. His research interests concerned a special group of microbes that produce methane in environments without oxygen. His graduate students found a simple way to grow these microbes and discovered new enzymes and vitamins that these cells use to produce methane.

In experiments with Carl Woese these methane-forming microbes were discovered by Woese to be the first members of a third division of life, the Archaea.

Ralph was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the Center for Advanced Study at the University. He was awarded the Selman Wachsman Award by the National Academy of Sciences, the Carski Distinguished Teaching Award, the Abbott Lifetime Achievement Award and the Proctor and Gamble Award in Environmental Microbiology by the American Society for Microbiology.

After serving 38 years, he retired to become an Emeritus Professor in 1991.

Memorial contributions may be made in Ralph’s honor to Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, 401 N 3rd St. # 290, Minneapolis, MN 55401.

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