Whitmire Micro-Gen Research Laboratories’ Senior Vice President of Technical Development Dan Stout is a unique man. Not only is he one of the industry’s top entomologists and a researcher, he’s also an avid collector. Collector of what, you may ask? The answer to that would certainly be nothing that is ordinary.
Most importantly, though, is that being unique, someone who stands out from the rest, is why Stout is one of Pest Control magazine’s 1997 Hall of Fame winners.
Pest Control had the opportunity to visit with Stout at his home in Kirkwood, Mo., to find out why our readers so favorably nominated him to our Hall of Fame. Wow! What a treat that was!
Every nook and cranny of Stout’s home is filled with his collectibles. Artifacts including paperweights and ebony statues are among the unusual items that line his shelves. Now, mind you, these paperweights are not the kind that your local bank gives out to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Rather, these are beautiful hand-crafted paperweights that range in size from very tiny to enormous.
His ebony collection even boasts a fertility statue, which “they” say helps a woman to get pregnant upon touching it. This editor resorted to the old “bob-and-weave” technique to keep a safe and assured distance away from that piece of work.
Oh yes, and let’s not forget insects. Stout has more insects in his home than his yard has blades of grass. Not live insects, of course, but items such as an artist’s rendering of various beetles and a beautiful dragonfly night light, just to point out a few. Actually, there was so much to look at and wonder about that it was impossible to really see it all.
Even Stout’s wife Margie has succumbed to the collecting “bug,” so to speak, as she has her own glass-encased set of Hot Wheel cars that are an interesting attraction themselves.
However “dangerous” (one might consider a fertility statue dangerous), these kinds of unique interests are the hobbies that make the man, and a carryover of this kind of peerlessness into his professional life is what makes Stout worthy of Pest Control’s Hall of Fame. Upon a visit to his home, it becomes clear that insects are not just a job for him—they are, in fact, Stout’s life, as his career at the St. Louis, Mo.,-based company will attest.
How It All Began
Stout couldn’t help but have an interest in insects since he was born and raised in the country of Cape Girardeau, Mo., and lived near a wooded area called Zimmerman Woods, where some of the oak trees in the area were approximately 350 years old.
“I grew up during the Depression, so there was no money to buy toys or bicycles, etc., so the woods and insects were a natural pastime for my twin brother, Don, and me.”
His earliest memories of having a fascination with insects take him back to around age three, when Dan and his brother attacked a yellow jacket nest.
“This is one of the ways you learn about good and bad insects, or insects that harm you and insects that don’t harm you,” he chuckles.
After a stint at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo., where he started out as a veterinary major, he attended Southeast State University in Cape Giradeau.
“I loved every minute of it, I loved collecting insects,” he exclaims. “We weren’t limited to the number of courses that we could take. So, we could go in as a freshman and basically go right into entomology.”
When he finished school, Stout headed West to California and obtained a job with the Alameda Mosquito Abatement District, where he worked for about seven months. Next, he went to work for Gring Pest Control in Oakland, Calif., which, at the time, was owned by Gene Armstrong.
This is where Stout says he learned some of the principles of structural pest control. He says it was a real learning experience, because things were done in “the old-fashioned way of just walking in and spraying the place down.”
Even then, before this age of environmental awareness that we are in now, Stout always thought there had to be a better way of doing pest control.
“It was a promiscuous way of applying material and indiscriminate application. There was no need for it. Many technicians didn’t have the slightest idea as to what they were doing. They were just following instruction,” he admonishes.
A Twist of Fate
After a while, Stout returned to his hometown, but he found that there wasn’t an outpouring of jobs for entomologists. Upon arriving, he headed out to see Charlie Knote, owner of Cape Kil Pest Control, looking for a job.
“I walked into his office and said, ‘I’m Dan Stout, I’m an entomologist and I think I want your job,’ to which his reply was, ‘You can’t make any money in this business,’” Stout remembers.
However, he had to support himself in some way, and if wasn’t to be his passion of entomology, then he’d have to look elsewhere. So, he went to a Montgomery Ward store that was hiring and asked to see the manager.
“He hired me on the spot as manager of the hardware department,” he says.
Apparently, though, hardware wasn’t to be his life’s work. Upon returning from a company meeting in Chicago, Ill., Stout’s boss approached him with the news that he had been chosen to complete training to become a store manager. So, okay, that’s good news, but the problem was, in order to be manager, he’d have to pick up and move to Kansas. Stout was faced with a decision.
“I can either try to get into the field that I love or I can stay in the retail industry. It was frustrating and difficult,” he remembers.
Needless to say, Stout didn’t go to Kansas. First, he spoke with Orkin about a technical position, but he really had aspirations for the developmental side of the business.
As a last resort, he put his name in with a head hunter, and soon received a call from St. Louis. It was Whitmire Research Laboratories.
“During my first interview, Dr. Homer Whitmire, the founder and owner of the company, described the position to me and gave me a tour of the laboratory, which was certainly not like the sophisticated labs that I was used to, but I needed a job,” says Stout.
So, Whitmire agreed to hire Stout on a trial basis as research director. His first pay stub, which he still has in his possession, dated Oct. 31, 1958, was worth $133.84 for two weeks’ work.
“I could’ve made more money digging ditches, but I wanted to work in my field,” he proclaims.
Lucky for him. Keep in mind that, he was hired in October 1958 and married in November of the same year.
There had been four other entomologists at Whitmire there before Stout, but none of them withstood the job.
“Homer Whitmire was extremely demanding. If he called you at 10 p.m., he expected you to come to the lab. He was disciplined, and you had to be disciplined to work for him,” Stout explains.
In his new position, Stout was responsible for manufacturing, purchasing, research and development, in addition to all biological testing and selling. Today, Stout has more than 30 patents, with the first coming around 1962. His early yellow jacket experience may have even been an inspiration.
“My first patent was on a product called Wasp Stopper, which reduced the body temperature of stinging insects, and therefore, they would fall to the ground, rendered unable to sting,” he explains.
Within two years’ time of starting with Whitmire, Stout had developed and registered more than 60 new products. In his opinion, the most successful, and the one closest to his heart, is abemectin, which is a patent held jointly by Stout and Merck Chemical Co. Abemectin is primarily used against cockroaches, but it can be used for many pests.
Stout says his best work is usually done about 4:30 a.m.
“As I’m lying in bed, things race through my mind, and sometimes, I get up and jot them down,” he muses.
A New Beginning
Stout’s success doesn’t stop with patents. In an unfortunate twist of fate, Dr. Homer Whitmire had a stroke, which rendered him unable to work. His sons, Blanton and Bill Whitmire, jointly replaced him.
From there the company continued to grow, but in 1987 some of Whitmire’s principle management employees, including Stout, decided that they wanted to buy the company. Whitmire’s children were not interested in owning the company at the time, and so the management group was able to make the purchase.
“Marge and I hocked everything that we had. Everything that we’d ever saved, we put into the company—that’s how much we believed in its success,” he states.
In 1995, Whitmire merged with Micro-Gen Equipment Corp. in San Antonio, Texas, and has since become Whitmire Micro-Gen Research Laboratories. When Stout began at Whitmire, there were approximately 30 employees. Currently, that number has more than doubled, checking in at around 70 to 75.
Some things haven’t changed though, one being Stout’s work ethic. He continues to work in development, and is currently working on a fly control concept, as well as a universal termite bait. Some things never will change.