Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Dr. F. John Vernberg



Dr. John Vernberg, the founding director of USC’s Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Science, died August 19. He was 96.

Frank John Vernberg was born November 6, 1925, in Fenton, Mich. He spent most of his youth in Michigan, although he spent significant amounts of time with his grandparents in New York. Shortly after graduating from high school, Dr. Vernberg joined the Navy during World War II. It was there in Chicago that he met his wife, Winona. For the next 63 years, their personal and professional partnership led to distinguished careers in academia and a growing family.

He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in zoology at DePauw University and his doctorate at Purdue University in 1951. After 18 productive years at Duke University, Dr. Vernberg joined the faculty at the University of South Carolina. For the next 27 years, he dedicated his efforts to establishing the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences as the premier global research program.

On the 50th anniversary of the institute, he recalled coming to Hobcaw Barony in 1969 to see the 17,500 acres that had been set aside for research.

“It was amazing to think a site like this was going to be available for study,” he said.

While he searched for grant funds to build the program, it found quarters in the hangar on the property where Belle Baruch had kept her airplane as well as Hobcaw House.

He recalled that graduate students had also built their own boat in order to collect samples in North Inlet.

“It was his vision and his determination, and his skills as a scientist, an administrator, and a communicator that put this institute on the world map,” said Dr. Dennis Allen, the longtime director of the Baruch Marine Lab.

In addition to his work at Duke and USC, Dr. Vernberg held leadership positions in many national organizations and on the editorial boards of academic journals. He was president of the American Zoological Society (1980-82), the Estuarine Research Federation (1975-1977), the Ecological Society of America (the Physiological Ecology Division) (1969-1971), The Southeastern Estuarine Research Society (1974), and the Southern Association of Marine Laboratories (1992). In addition, he worked with several federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Naval Research, and the Office of Technology Assessment.

He also served as a consultant to the United Nations Environmental Program, the joint US/ USSR Research Program on Physiology and Biochemistry of Marine Animals, and the National Academy of Science’s International Biological Program.

As a result of his service and his 154 books and article research publications, Dr. Vernberg accumulated many accolades. He was a Guggenheim Fellow, which allowed him to expand his research to Jamaica in 1957. In 1965, he was awarded a Fulbright-Hays fellowship that funded a year of collaboration with colleagues in Brazil. His research contributions were acknowledged by awards such as the Russell Award for Research in Science and Engineering, the William S. Proctor Award for Scientific Achievement, and the Waddell Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also named the S.C. Wildlife Federation Conservationist of the Year in 1983.

His biggest accomplishment may be the zest for life, intellectual curiosity, and love of travel that he instilled in his family. His extensive travels created a sense that the world is a big place that you have to see to understand, but there is also a common thread of humanity that exceeds geographical boundaries.

He leaves behind three children, six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren as well as a devoted companion with whom he shared his life for the last seven years.

A memorial service was held Saturday at the Wildewood Downs Retirement Community.

Memorials may be made to the F. John Vernberg Fellowship in Coastal & Ocean Sciences at In the box titled “Select Fund(s),” type “ Vernberg,” and select the “F. John Vernberg Fellowship in Coastal and Marine Sciences.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.