Photos by Paul Flessland
When plants get sick in the Midwest, farmers call an unlikely duo at NDSU to nurse their crops back to health. Before they were professors of plant pathology, this offensive lineman and middle blocker tandem found their start with the Bison as star athletes in the same decade.
INSIDE WALSTER HALL
In the shadows of the high-rise dorms on NDSU’s campus, Walster Hall is an extensive root system of scientists who anchor the Plant Pathology Department. With hallways narrowed by beakers and bookshelves filled with catalogs and data detailing mother nature for generations, the building dates back to 1962, the same year the first extension plant pathologist was hired to university staff.
Today, Dr. Julie (Sherman) Pasche and Dr. Samuel Markell work in tandem from Walster to research, experiment, educate the public, enlighten students and ultimately understand the intricate fine-print of biology. Just west of this historic hub is an expansive network of connected greenhouses, the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) Research Greenhouse, where high-tech systems negate the seasons with a hybrid heating mechanism of campus steam and geothermal heat pumps.
As they walked together across 18th Street to observe their research students’ work on sprouts suffering from root rot, the two established branches of NDSU’s athletic and academic legacy took a look back at their origins with the Herd.
“I would say a lot of it is based on the relationships,” said Dr. Pasche. “I still have quite close relationships with a lot of teammates. So, we’ll go back to memories, it’s not so much win, lose or otherwise, as it is some quirky thing that happened, or someone forgot their shoes as a freshman, those things as much as anything are what you remember. That and the idea of being pushed beyond what you thought you were capable of.”
DR. JULIE PASCHE
Inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010, Dr. Pasche led the NCC in kills and hitting percentage en route to Player of the Year honors in 1991. The Bison advanced to NCAA Elite Eight all four seasons, placing third in 1988, 1989, 1991 and second in 1990. She was coached by Cathy (Olson) George her freshman year and then Jolyn (Koppinger) Montgomery.
“The game was a little different back in those days,” said Dr. Pasche. “We didn’t have as many exchanges of people in and out of the game. We played a lot more of the whole game.”
Dr. Pasche double-majored in athletics, competing in the high jump with the women’s track and field team under Jerry Gores in addition to volleyball. She obtained an undergraduate degree in microbiology and biotechnology, followed by a master’s degree and Ph.D. in plant pathology. Her present research concentration includes diseases that affect dry bean, pulse and lentil crops.
From growth chamber to growth chamber in the 41,600-square-foot AES Research Greenhouse, a whole host of plants in various growth stages serve as test subjects for the department’s professors and their students. Each plant is a vital source of information about pathogens, how they affect crops and how farmers can prevent or treat disease.
DR. SAMUEL MARKELL
As an extension plant pathologist, Dr. Markell’s main crop responsibilities include canola, chickpeas, dry edible beans, lentils, flax, peas, soybeans and sunflowers. In addition to applied research in the greenhouse, Dr. Markell writes articles aimed at extending his knowledge to farmers through various publications.
“I was an offensive lineman for Rocky Hager then Bob Babich after that,” said Dr. Markell. “We used to run the veer. Basically, we just ran the ball. That’s all we did. It was so fun to be a lineman in an offense like that because all you did was run around and hit people.
“I believe in 1996 we held the NCAA team rushing title in all divisions. We averaged 335 yards a game on the ground, which is a phenomenal amount of rushing yards. Like Julie, it was partly because of the game.
“My career was cut short by concussions. The last regular season game of my second year as a starter I had a concussion on the field. I had problems for three to four days. But there wasn’t as much information about it 20 or 30 years ago, so I started the next game as well and had another concussion. After that, I had headaches for months and a neurologist said you should do something else.”
Even though his spotlight on the turf was cut short, Dr. Markell is part of a historic and present lineage of dedicated student-athletes who found a home and platform for professional success with a nationally competitive program.
“Regarding memorable things, Julie mentioned the personable and personal experiences, that’s all really important and I would echo that, in addition to being part of something bigger than yourself. It was nice to be part of a team that could accomplish significant things no individual could.
While their opponents have changed from fury mascots to elusive contagions, Dr. Pasche and Dr. Markell have continued and expanded their devotion to the Bison team. As professors, they help lead students towards unthinkable success and nurture curiosity.
They’ve also developed their own families since their athletic glory days. Mother of two sons, George and Ted, Dr. Pasche is married to Steve. Father of twins, Isabelle and Sophia, and son Keegan, Dr. Markell is married to wife Veronica.
“There’s a legacy and history that every one of us who played is a part of that transcends from one sport to all sports with NDSU athletics,” said Dr. Markell. “I have a tremendous amount of pride in that success.”