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McNabb, Harold Sanderson “Sande” Jr.

Published onJul 30, 2021
McNabb, Harold Sanderson “Sande” Jr.

(November 20, 1927 – May 12, 2011)

Quick Facts

For 47 years McNabb was a forest pathologist and professor of plant pathology and forestry at Iowa State University.


In almost every article in the Des Moines Register on the spread of Dutch elm disease in the 1950s and 60s one name was always mentioned or quoted; Harold “Sande” McNabb. For 47 years McNabb was a forest pathologist and professor of plant pathology and forestry at Iowa State University (1953-2000).

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska he graduated from Lincoln High School in 1945. As a youth, McNabb tried breeding irises, was active in Boy Scouts of America attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, and he developed a life-long admiration for the botanist and Iowa State alumni, George Washington Carver. He attended the University of Nebraska where he earned a degree in Botany/Chemistry in 1945. In his undergraduate years, McNabb worked summers for the U.S. Forest Service as a fire lookout, fire chaser, and dispatcher. He pursued advanced degrees at Yale University receiving an MS in 1951 in Plant Science and a PhD in Forest Pathology/Plant Physiology in 1954.

McNabb interviewed for a faculty position at Iowa State in 1952 and was offered the position with the condition that Iowa State would wait until his research at Yale was completed in 1953. Besides teaching, McNabb’s research focused on Dutch elm disease and Oak Wilt research. He focused on methods of infection, transmission, and possible cures. He later work on the development of hybrid poplar trees in which a gene was spliced that made the tree more disease and pest resistant.

At Iowa State he was involved with the faculty senate for six years, serving as president from 1993 to 1994. In civic life he served on the School Board of the Ames Community School District from 1963 to 1972. He was Scoutmaster of Ames Troop 158 for twenty-five years. Before and after retirement McNabb was actively involved in promoting the State of Iowa High School Science Fair and judged at the National History Day in Iowa events. McNabb and his wife, Margo, were active in Story County Democratic politics.

McNabb received many honors during his career, but of them all he was most proud of the George Washington Carver Distinguished Service Award he received in 2006. One of his personal dreams come true was when Iowa State awarded an honorary PhD to George Washington Carver, the role model from his youth.

In 2018 Thomas Harrington, a ISU professor of plant pathology and microbiology, and Doug McNew, a mycologist, identified three new species of a fungus called Tubakia. They added the fungi‘s names to the scientific nomenclature in honor of three former Iowa State colleagues and Tubakia macnabbii is named for H. Sande McNabb.

Selected Sources

Obituary, Harold Sande McNabb Jr;

Harold S. McNabb, Descriptive Summary, RS9/18/55 Iowa State University Special Collection and University Archives.

“ISU to test gene-altered, insect-resistant trees,” The Des Moines Register, Thursday, July 13, 1989.

“Elm Disease Now in Iowa, Experts Find,” The Des Moines Register, Wednesday, July 31, 1957.

“New Dutch Disease Case Found at Davenport.” The Des Moines Register, Thursday, July 17, 1958.

“Back Tree Injection for Disease,” The Des Moines Register, Thursday, April 14, 1966.

“Tally Cost in Long Fight with Dutch Elm Disease,” The Des Moines Register, Thursday, October 29, 1970

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