Professor Emeritus John F. Hosner, who was recognized by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors with the tribute of “honorary founding dean” of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, died Sept. 13 in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Hosner played a significant role in the establishment of the college and received the honorary designation shortly before its 25th anniversary celebration in 2017. Recently, the College of Natural Resources and Environment was ranked as the No. 1 place to study natural resources and conservation for the fourth consecutive year by College Factual.

“We are saddened by John’s passing but also rejoice in his vision and commitment that laid the foundation for this college,” said Paul M. Winistorfer, dean of the college. “John was a rare individual: driven in all things, a bit impatient of those around him, and committed in a way that left no room for second guessing.”

Hosner joined the Virginia Tech community in 1961 when he was named head of the newly established Department of Forestry and Wildlife, which was then part of the College of Agriculture. He worked to build the department from four faculty members and was known to call department heads at other institutions to find out who their best doctoral graduates were so he could recruit them to Virginia Tech.

One of the first faculty members Hosner hired was Harold Burkhart, University Distinguished Professor and current holder of the Thomas M. Brooks Professorship of Forestry, which was secured by Hosner and was the first endowed professorship at Virginia Tech.

Burkhart described Hosner as “a visionary leader who pursued excellence with unrelenting perseverance and tenacity. He had an incisive sense of what programmatic directions to pursue, and he had keen instincts when recruiting faculty and students.”

Donald J. Orth, Thomas H. Jones Professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, also worked with Hosner during the formative years of the college and recalled that “Hosner was instrumental in nurturing what is now a top college in natural resources and environment from a small department he led in 1961. His unfaltering vision was an inspiration to all who knew him.”

In addition to his recruiting of top faculty, Hosner worked to gain the support of industry leaders in his efforts to grow the program into a college. In 1976, the department became the School of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, and in 1992, the school became the new College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, with Greg Brown serving as the inaugural dean.

Ken Morgan, founder and owner of Morgan Lumber Company, was one of the industry leaders who developed a partnership with Hosner and became affiliated with the college, a relationship that still continues today.

Morgan, who considered Hosner a mentor and friend, stated, “Dr. Hosner was a giant of impeccable integrity and unselfishness. I have been friends with John Hosner for almost 30 years and witnessed, during that time, him being solid as a rock with regard to moral character and placing the welfare of others and an entity above that of himself. Our world indeed progressed from the contribution of Dr. John Hosner.”

In his three decades of leadership from 1961 to 1992, Hosner’s continual focus on excellence propelled the college into the national spotlight among peer programs. According to Winistorfer, Hosner’s impact on the college was monumental. “John put Virginia Tech and our forestry, forest products, and fisheries and wildlife programs on the map nationally. Everyone in the nation knew something was up at Virginia Tech during those early years of transitioning from a department, to a school, and, ultimately, to a college.”

In addition to his administrative leadership at the university, Hosner was president of the Forest Farms Association (now the Forest Landowners Association) and served on numerous boards and committees, including the Virginia Forestry Association, the Biosphere Foundation, the Commonwealth of Virginia Board of Forestry, and the Virginia Forestry Educational Foundation.

In 1996, the Society of American Foresters honored Hosner with the Gifford Pinchot Medal, its highest award, for his exceptional contributions to the field of forestry throughout his 47-year-career. He was made a Fellow of the society in 1978 and served on its council from 1990 to 1993.

Hosner was also a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has received numerous other professional and academic awards. He chaired a committee that established the Southern Journal of Applied Forestry in the 1970s.

In 1982, Hosner once again engaged industry leaders in establishing an endowment fund to help provide for the future growth of the college. After being renamed in his honor in 2015, the John F. Hosner Legacy Fund continues to support students and programing in the college and serves as a reminder of Hosner’s dedication and leadership.

Many Blacksburg community members also knew Hosner as an accomplished athlete. He was a lifelong runner and was also involved in playing and coaching softball. At the age of 60, he set his first world record in the 1500 meters. He also set age-group records for the mile when he was 75, 81, and 85.

Hosner’s tenacity was evinced both in his athletic and academic career. “I found John to be very focused. He approached developing and supporting the programs in the then-School of Forestry and Wildlife with the same intensity he showed in his competitive running,” said Dean Stauffer, professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

Stauffer indicated that Hosner pushed faculty to excel but also encouraged their efforts: “He had very high standards and expected excellence from faculty in their research, teaching, and outreach. While demanding, he also was very supportive of individual faculty. Several times, I approached him with an idea and received support to pursue some new project.”

These same sentiments were also echoed by David Smith, the Honorable and Mrs. Shelton H. Short Jr. Professor Emeritus of Forestry and former associate dean of the college, who said, “John was a national leader in promoting excellence in higher education programs in the professional fields related to natural resources. He had a vision for the future, was a tenacious leader, had boundless energy, and was a fierce competitor. He fostered excellence in teaching, research, and outreach, and was an ardent supporter of faculty, staff, and students.” 

Hosner received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, his master’s  from Duke University, and his doctorate from the State University of New York.

Hosner is survived by his loving wife of 40-plus years, Tenna Hosner; his daughter, Angela Serody; his son and daughter in-law, David and Patsy Hosner; grandchildren Jason Hosner, Sara Serody, and Dylan Serody; and furry friend Peary.

Hosner asked that there be no service; however, there will be a celebration of his life at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John F. Hosner Legacy Fund by visiting the College of Natural Resources and Environment website or by contacting Emily Hutchins, chief advancement officer, at (540) 231-5525 or ehutch@vt.edu, or by giving to the charity of your choice.

Winistorfer, in commenting on the lasting legacy of Hosner, said, “I am thankful that we honored John a few years ago with the title and status of honorary founding dean of the college in recognition of the visionary seed he planted that has grown into the mighty oak that is the college today.”