Editor’s Note: The PMP staff is saddened to report that Harry Katz passed away August 28, 2016. He was 101. Learn more here.
In the modest Florida condominium that Harry Katz and his wife, Ruth, share, there’s an extensive library of books, papers and publications devoted to all aspects of pest management. What’s more impressive, however, is the “library” of Katz himself.
While he passed up the chance to attend college in order to care for his parents and run the family hardware business, the wealth of knowledge that Katz, 85, has amassed from studying and working in the industry rivals that of many Ph.D. entomologists.
As the story goes, Katz became friends with Fred Pollock, who supplied Katz Brothers Hardware, Canonsburg, Pa., with pesticides. The process of insects and management strategies for them were fascinating to Katz, who at the age of 31 bought Elco Manufacturing Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., from Pollock when he retired. It was through Elco that he built a reputation for himself as “Killer Katz.”
However, Katz’s first foray into pest management can be traced to his hometown of Canonsburg. A log cabin was built there in 1781 as a Presbyterian school, and eventually became Jefferson College, a historical building for Canonsburg.
The school itself is known today as Washington & Jefferson (W&J) College, and since 1869 has been located in nearby Washington, Pa. However, a fraternity that was begun in the log cabin wanted to relocate it to Washington as part of its centennial celebration in 1944. Katz, who was fond of the cabin (“I walked past it on my way to school for 12 years, it was a part of my life,” he notes), began a campaign to save the cabin for Canonsburg.
“Here was a Presbyterian landmark that was being saved by the son of a Jewish immigrant,” Katz quips.
The Log Cabin Preservation Committee, of which Katz was a founding member, won the cause and the cabin remains in Canonsburg to this day. Every few years, Katz would return to his hometown from Pittsburgh with the wood preservative he manufactured to spray the cabin. In later years, he used borate treatments to guard against termites.
“That’s what’s saving it now, boric acid,” he intones.
A Special Honor
Katz was thrilled, yet humble when he learned that Pest Control readers had nominated him to the Pest Control Hall of Fame, and that an anonymous panel of judges had deemed him to be an inductee.
However, it’s a distinction to add to an already impressive list of honors for Katz, including the Entomological Society of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Frederick Melsheimer award, as well as honorary membership in the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), the Pennsylvania Pest Control Association’s (PPCA’s) Western division (of which he helped found) and the Certified Pest Control Operators of Florida association (CPCO).
He’s a life member of the American Wood Preservers Association, a former NPMA director and a well-established author, including chapters in Arnold Mallis’ The Handbook of Pest Control. In addition, he is a member of the industry fraternity Pi Chi Omega.
“I didn’t think I should belong to Pi Chi Omega because I didn’t go to college, but they insisted that I join,” he admits. “I’m glad they did, because every time I need to call somebody important I look in their membership list in order to find a home phone number.”
The company Katz has kept over the years has added to his industry knowledge, with such legends as Mallis and fellow Inductee J.J. Davis.
“J.J. would never have possibly dreamed when he started to look at the pest management industry, at these old-fashioned exterminators who had secret medicines and formulas, that one day he’d be honored by them,” Katz tells Pest Control. “I think he deserved this honor more than anyone else, because without him, I don’t know where we’d be. When he started giving them the university background, and now we have so many pest management people who are university graduates, this is becoming a real profession, not just a trade.”
Because of his interest in education, Katz established an annual award through the PPCA for an outstanding graduate entomology student attending a Pennsylvania university. As yet another testament to the importance he places on studies, however, he shares his take on some research of Mallis’ that he was literally able to “save.”
“When Mallis died (in 1984), it was the week I was attending a conference at the University of Maryland,” Katz recalls. “Jay Nixon took me over to Mallis’ widow’s house. I asked her what happened to his papers, and she said ‘I threw them out.’ I asked when, she said today. So I went to the basement, into the garbage bin, and I heaved out boxes and boxes and boxes. There’s some stuff in there that’s still very valuable, very precious.”
Katz is well-known for being an authority on pest management, being interviewed for such publications as The Wall Street Journal. Also, when he talks, the industry listens. Sure, his knockdowns of various “myth conceptions” through the years have spawned conversations and controversy throughout the industry, but it was Katz who helped publicize the use of vacuum cleaners as part of integrated pest management (IPM) in the early 1990s.
He was also an early supporter of diatomaceous earth (DE) and helped introduce the use of aerosol injections into the holes of wood to kill termites and other insects.
In fact, in a 1961 Pest Control article, Katz wrote about treating veterinary hospitals. Industry Consultant Vern Walter, who used to work for Whitmire, informed Katz that his article was what inspired Blanton Whitmire to come up with the expression “crack and crevice.”
“So it was my concept and his expression that did the work, according to Vern,” Katz reports.
Katz is quick to point out that his wife of 53 years, Ruth, a Temple University journalism graduate, was the sounding board and copy editor for many of his writings.
“Without her, I’d be Ruth-less,” he says simply.
A Generous Man
Pest management professionals (PMPs) who know Katz know of his generosity in both professional and personal venues. He is always willing to share the knowledge he has gathered from his years of studying and working in the industry, and his enthusiasm for learning quickly becomes contagious.
“Harry has literally trained generations of PMPs. I have been in pest management for more than 30 years, and Harry was a legend when I started,” affirms Norm Smith, assistant to the executive vice president for the CPCO, Tamarac, Fla. “Harry has written numerous articles, conducted hundreds of seminars and consulted with hundreds of pest management companies.”
Adds longtime friend and associate Dr. Austin Frishman, a Pest Control columnist and president of AMF Pest Management Services, Boca Raton, Fla., “Harry’s dedication and willingness to share his knowledge with others is legendary. Anyone who has come in contact with Harry comes away a better PMP.
“While most people his age are long retired, he continues to expand his knowledge and those of others,” Frishman continues. “With more than 50 years in the industry, his impact is everlasting. He recognized the need of professionalism as an industry long before it was fashionable. In addition, his charity work is a story in itself.”
For example, when Katz first moved to the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkins Township in the early 1950s, he learned that it had no synagogue. So, he began the Parkway Jewish Center, which is still in existence today.
“It was in my house for a year-and-a-half, actually,” he recalls with a laugh.
Katz has also been a longtime board member of the Hebrew Free Loan in Pittsburgh, a group that gives interest-free loans to people of any faith who are unable to borrow from a bank.
Not Slowing Down
Katz is hardly in official retirement. He writes for his community newspaper, discussing Florida pests in his monthly “What’s Buggin’ You?” column. He also just became a co-holder of a termite bait station patent. In addition, he is constantly experimenting with ant treatments.
Katz has given hundreds of talks both professionally and informally over the years, from Israel to Jamaica to Canada, and everywhere in between. Even his hobby is industry-related—collecting insects has been a longtime interest.
“Whenever I’d see a new development going up, I’d go in there and use my net to sweep them up and I’d send back hundreds of different specimens, some of them rare, to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History,” Katz tells Pest Control.
In fact, because of his vast collection for them over the years, the prestigious museum appointed him as a research associate.
Nothing beats the tale of the short-lived “Katz bedbug strain,” though.
“In 1959, I found a bedbug in Pittsburgh,” he recalls, chuckling at the dubious honor of having such a pest named after him. “It looked so big to me I didn’t know whether it was a bedbug or not. It was two or three times the size of the biggest bedbug I ever saw. So, I took it over to Mallis, and he sent it Dr. Robert Usinger, the No. 1 bedbug specialist in the world. It turned out to be more resistant to DDT than any other bug. They asked me to go back and find some more, but I couldn’t find any more. I guess I did too good a job.”