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College of Arts and Sciences

Remembering F. John Vernberg, founder of UofSC marine science program

John Vernberg, a longtime University of South Carolina professor of biological sciences, died on August 19 at the age of 96. 

Vernberg came to the university in 1969 to become the founding director of the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences. In his 27 years at the university, he also founded the marine science program and the School of the Environment, which is now the School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment. His wife, Winona B. Vernberg, founder of what is now the Arnold School of Public Health, preceded him in death in 2008. 

A memorial service will be held Saturday, September 3, 2022 at 2 p.m. in the Wildewood Downs Retirement Community main building. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made online to the F. John Vernberg Fellowship in Coastal & Ocean Sciences at 

Vernberg’s full obituary is provided below. 

F. John Vernberg, 1925 - 2022 

John Vernberg was many things to many people. He was a devoted father, grandfather and great grandfather, a supportive husband, an accomplished academician and administrator, a Navy veteran, a mentor and a great friend. But most of all, he was a human being who took his role as a contributing member of society seriously and he used every day as an opportunity to make a positive impact. Whether it was by the face-to -face interactions he had, the research he conducted or the causes he supported, John knew it was the little things as well as the big things that count. If the goal was to leave the world a better place than he found it, he exceeded all expectations.  

John was born on November 6, 1925 in Fenton, Michigan and died peacefully in his sleep on August 19, 2022. 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, John joined the US Navy during WWII. 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, loving family.

John earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Zoology at DePauw University and his Ph.D. at Purdue University in 1951. After 18 productive years at Duke University, John 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 global premier research program it has become. 

In addition to his work at Duke and the University of South Carolina, John established an extensive professional footprint. He held leadership positions in many national organizations and on the editorial boards of academic journals. For example, 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.

John’s reach was not confined to the United States. He 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, John accumulated many accolades and awards. 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 have been 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 South Carolina Wildlife Federation Conservationist of the Year in 1983.

His biggest accomplishment, however, may be the zest for life, intellectual curiosity and love of travel that he has 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, eight great- grandchildren as well as a devoted companion with whom he has shared his life for the last seven years. They are all grateful for the time they were blessed to share with him but will forever feel the void his absence will leave.

There will be a memorial service on Saturday, September 3, 2022 at 2 p.m. in the Wildewood Downs Retirement Community main building. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made online to the F. John Vernberg Fellowship in Coastal & Ocean Sciences at 

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