George L. Hockenyos (2012)

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Pest management has come a long way since the early 20th century and George Hockenyos, founder of Sentinel Pest Control and 2012 inductee into the Pest Management Professional (PMP) Hall of Fame, is one reason why.

“Dad always was interested in scientific issues,” says Jon Hockenyos, George’s son and CEO of the Springfield, Ill.-based company. “As a young boy on the farm, whenever they wanted to find him to help in a field, they’d find him up in a tree with a book in his lap, reading.”

George loved learning, even when contracting typhoid fever kept him out of high school for more than two years. He graduated from high
school — earning an award as the “best potential scientist” — before telling his father he wanted to go on to college.

“His father, being a second generation farmer from the old country [Germany], didn’t understand the need to go to school,” Jon says. “But Dad wanted to go, and Grandpa loaned him the money.”

Hockenyos graduated from the then-called school of floriculture at the University of Illinois and stayed another year to work on his master’s and doctorate degrees.

“He would have had a doctorate, but the Great Depression hit,” Jon says. “He didn’t have the money to get the doctorate.

“Then he got on with William Cooper & Nephews,” Jon says, referring to a British-based manufacturer of sheep dip and AL63 anti louse powder.

Hockenyos started testing pesticides in Florida citrus groves during the middle of winter before working his way north. By mid-summer, he was in Traverse City, Mich., where he’d work in the apple orchards through the fall. Unfortunately, that position fell victim to the Depression as well, so in June 1932, Hockenyos started his own company, Sentinel Laboratories.

“He came back to Springfield and decided to become a scientist for three or four different companies,” Jon says. “They’d send him compounds to work with and he’d field test them. He tested flea and tick control.”

Around the time Sentinel Laboratories needed a cash infusion Hokenyos decided it was time to marry Gwen, his assistant at the company. According to family lore, the ever-practical Hockenyos went to a local banker and asked who was making deposits. He was told insurance salesmen and pest control operators did regularly.

“Dad knew which way he was going to go, and Sentinel Laboratories became Sentinel Pest Control,” Jon says.

An industry steward

“As a businessman, he was good, but not business-oriented,” Jon says about his father. “He took pleasure in experimenting with different materials and was able to manufacture DDT long before it came on the market.” That’s when George Hockenyos’ contributions, the ones that earned him entry into the PMP Hall of Fame, began.

“He was interested in keeping the industry from being seen as the crude trade it was in the early ’30s and ’40s,” Jon says. “He went to a couple of regional meetings and was flabbergasted at how unsophisticated the industry was. His contributions to the industry began when he looked at situations and saw what could be done to make them better.”

In his memoir, Hockenyos says he attended his first convention of the National Association of Exterminators and Fumigators (NAEF), known today as the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), in the early
’30s. He explains how surprised he was by the lack of technical knowledge operators had.

Hockenyos served on a several committees, and was president of National Pest Control Association (NPCA) in 1947-48. In 1955 he was instrumental in creating the “Serviceman’s Manual” in 1955, which sought to standardize the industry. (The manual features a caricature of a pest management professional that suspiciously looks like Hockenyos.)

“In 1939, he bought a 54-acre farm on an eroded clay hillside where he grew fruit and nut trees,” says Karen Goodwin, Hockenyos’ daughter. “He loved trees and enjoyed experimenting with different varieties.”

By 1960, Hockenyos was semi retired and spent most afternoons on his farm.

George Hockenyos passed away in August 1983 but not before leaving a huge impact on the industry (see box above) and his family.

“We probably could have been a lot wealthier but I don’t think we could have lived better lives,” Jon says. “That philosophy is still in our business. After watching Dad, I figured this is a pretty good way to make a living.”

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