There’s a sort of reverence that emerges when you mention the name Lee Truman around pest management professionals.
There are some who think of a bright, witty gentleman professor who faithfully attended the Purdue conference for 45 years. Others remember a fair boss who mentored them as president of Arab Pest Control or Pest Control Services, both of which still thrive today.
The younger ones simply know the 88-year-old as the original author to what many consider the bible of the industry, Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Control Operations.
All would be correct.
Dr. Lee Truman was born and raised in Butler, PA, migrating to the University of Pittsburgh for his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees (“I just couldn’t get away,” he notes with his customary dry humor).
He decided to major in pre-med at the onset, because that was the only curriculum that allowed him to take physics, biology and chemistry at once. He didn’t want to be a doctor, but he wanted to do something related to science. He figured he’d take the plunge and let his career sort itself out.
Biology won out over the other fields for him, and after receiving his Ph.D. he became a faculty member at UP. He is quick to point out, however, that there were no courses specifically in entomology at the school; it was taught as part of biology.
There was little money in teaching college during World War II, and Truman had a wife, Doris, and daughter, Fay, to support (son Ed came after the war). He decided to enlist in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.
“They asked me if I was an entomologist or biologist, and I suppose technically I’m more of a biologist,” he recalls.
That didn’t deter Uncle Sam from deciding he’d be more useful as an entomologist, though. Soon he was commanding pest control crews in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. During his stint in the service, he was stationed at both Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky and Fort Hayes in Ohio.
“I had a rough army life,” jokes Truman. “It was a headquarters job, and I only had to do things I knew how to do. I don’t even recall anybody ever giving me a direct order.”
Success in Civilian Life
Truman moved his family to Indianapolis and soon joined Arab Pest Control as a technician. He eventually became president of the company, but in 1950 decided to start his own company, Pest Control Services.
To set his new business apart from the competition, Truman decided that he would only hire graduate entomologists and biologists as technicians.
His company became a training ground of sorts for industry experts such as Stoy Hedges, John Craft and 2001 Hall of Famer Vern Walter. Truman kept his business small on purpose, so that he could remain hands-on.
“We sold a different kind of service, because I didn’t want to go out and try to sell a service that was entrenched already with so much competition,” Truman told Pest Control in a 1995 interview. “Instead, we serviced food manufacturers, pharmaceutical accounts and the like. We never felt we were doing work to kill bugs, but to help them produce a pure product. In a company that raises sterile mice for tests, for example, how do you keep the cockroaches out? Those were the situations we were facing.”
Walter, who worked for Truman from 1951 to 1963, believes his former boss was decades ahead of his time.
“Lee insisted we use crack and crevice treatments long before it became a buzzword,” Walter tells Pest Control. “Sanitation consulting was included on most large accounts. His company provided services the others didn’t, including municipal fogging for mosquito control, fly control for food processors, industrial weed control, rodent control for country grain elevators, bird control for office buildings and mothproofing for carpets. He even set up classes and taught others how to do these ‘new’ types of pest control.”
Walter also notes that ecology played an important role in Truman’s idea of training: “He often taught us the true meaning of ecology — the relationship between an organism and its environment — and how important an understanding of this was to proper pest control.”
Sharing so Much Knowledge
From January 1961 to June 1962, Truman published a serialized guide to pest control in Pest Control magazine. It was originally offered as a “Correspondence Course in Pest Control Technology” through the Division of Continuing Education, Purdue University, in conjunction with the magazine.
Truman explains the birth of what eventually became Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Control Operations, now in its fifth edition and authored by Drs. Gary Bennett, Robert Corrigan and John Owens.
“There wasn’t anything to hand anybody,” he recalls. “People would say, ‘I want to know about the pest control business, how do I find out?’ Dr. John Osmun approached me about it, and I agreed to do it.”
Truman says he only remembers that he was barely one step ahead of the monthly deadlines for the articles, but Walter recalls how Truman locked himself in his office and carefully penned the articles in longhand.
“It was definitely a labor of love for him,” Walter told Pest Control in a 1995 interview. “He’d come out of his office long enough for lunch and go back in with a legal-sized yellow pad. He’s quite a perfectionist.”
Don Resetar calls Truman one of the true early “professionals” of the industry.
“I learned a lot from Lee in discussions at Purdue, and was so impressed I took his company name for my own when I started Pest Control Services in 1975,” he notes.
Sharing information was always important to Truman, and he served as president in 1940 for the Indiana Pest Control Association (he is an inaugural member of the IPCA Hall of Fame) and in 1964 as president of what was then the National Pest Control Association.
Truman remained active in the industry even after he sold Pest Control Services in 1979. He was put on retainer as a consultant for Whitmire Research Laboratories (now Whitmire Micro-Gen Research Laboratories), helping develop the Whitmire System III aerosol line, considered groundbreaking for its time.
He also made a side career of testifying as an expert witness for lawsuit disputes.
Today, Truman has good memories about his life in the industry — and few regrets.
“It’s been interesting,” he concludes simply. “It was not easy, but it was fun.”