Bill Olkowski's Biography
Time sure zips by doesn't it? Here I am now 68 and on my third career. Or is it my fourth? Or fifth? I like to think my first career was athletics—football. After all, it got me to college. I added up the four years of free tuition, room and board granted me at the University of Delaware and divided it by the number of hours I had to practice football. It seems, at $75/hr (not even adjusted for inflation), football was one of my best paying jobs. That wage beats all my years as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Specialist. But this was a conscious choice. I never wanted a usual life and subsequently have an unusual one. Football, however, especially at the college level, was a rough go, to say the least. I acquired a number of injuries and saw many far worse. I do not recommend the sport, and I no longer watch it or am interested in it or anything like it.

My next career was as an entomologist/plant pathologist, which led to a Bachelor of Science degree. It was a chance encounter with a large number of displayed insects, from which I realized this life changing and abiding interest. This seems odd now, but at that time I was amazed that plants had diseases, much as humans. I took a chance and switched my major from physics to agriculture. Later at the graduate level, this extended into medical entomology and eventually parasitology at UC Berkeley. That was such a bad scene for me that I left there before finishing the PHD program, primarily because my major professor decided to publish my work as his own. I was trapped so I left to spend a year at UC Davis working on computer models of bubonic plague with Ken Watt who was primarily focused on developing computer models for human society, aimed at political decision-makers.

I left there to return to UC Berkeley to finish the PHD under Dr. Robert van den Bosch, who became a mentor to me. This was another major turning point in my life. He would travel the world each year, shipping parasitoids that attacked aphids and other insects that had invaded North America. He shipped them back through the quarantine laboratory and I would release them in protected locations for colonization. This work was revolutionary at the time, since there were no Bio Control (BC) programs on shade trees. This effort led to the development of an entire Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for, first, the City of Berkeley and, later, other cities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I met my wife before obtaining my doctorate, which she must know was made possible by her encouragement and data collection. She joined my 1-man research team as coach and editor, and, of course, permanent companion. Concurrently, we expanded our work to deliver IPM-BC programs to eight or so cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, reducing pesticide use by 95% or more. It was a heady time for us, as I helped start the Ecology Center in Berkeley, then the first in the US.

I then started the first recycling center in the US at the corner of Sacramento and University Ave in Berkeley. Lecturing led to two other recycling centers, leading to an explosion of recycling centers that started appearing all over the Bay Area.

Helga and I formed a teaching team, first working at UC Berkeley, where we invented a class on food –raising. Helga wrote our first book: City People's Book of Raising Food (Rhodale Press). We taught and wrote together. We also helped start an alternative college in San Francisco, called Antioch College West, where Helga got her MS degree. We designed the undergraduate Ecology Program and MS program in Ecosystem Management. We were working on a PHD program when the dean died and everything changed.

During this time we also helped start the Farallons Institute. This lead to our second book, called The Integral Urban House. The first edition was erroneously published as if Sim van der Ryn was the primary author and designer, but he was not. Subsequent editions correctly identify Helga and me as primary authors.

Later we expanded to have IPM programs in Flint Michigan and Washington DC. In DC we worked with the US National Parks System (NPS) and other federal agencies, and with funds from the Mott Foundation. The National Parks System still teaches to its resource managers the IPM educational program we instituted. When we finished with them they said our work led to a 70% reduction in pesticide use throughout 300 or so National Parks in the US and other areas. This was our greatest accomplishment.

We started The IPM Practioner in 1978, writing almost every word of the monthly publication for years - it is still going under the hard work of Editor Bill Quarles. And later, joined by others, especially our longtime friend and collaborator, Sheila Daar, we started a quarterly magazine, Common Sense Pest Control. This lead to our popular book of the same name, Common Sense Pest Control (Taunton Press).

In about 1990 we started an organic farm and research station in Northern California called Sky-Hi Ranch. It had many incarnations, but eventually grew into a school for disadvantaged young women - aged 13-17. Sue Temple and Ann Byer were the principle teachers in this effort, along with a group of farm workers and us.

We sold the farm (the third career) and our house in Berkeley ( in 1999 and 2001, respectively, and moved to Santa Barbara after Dave Martin, Helga’s farther and our principle supporter, died, leaving Tosia, his wife. Another year passed until she died. It was most discouraging to see her waste away, since she was devoted to modern dance her whole life, and taught well into her eighties. We made changes in order to take care of Tosia, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Watching this process set up our next career as health nuts. No way will I die of Alzheimer’s!

Since about 2000 we also have been snowbirds (SnowBird Diaries link here), traveling between the southwest desert areas we love (Anza Borego State Park, 100 or so miles east of San Diego), Tucson (with its world famous Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park), the Mojave Preserve (now also a National Park), and Mendocino, the art village north of San Francisco coast. Thus we enjoy the coastal and desert environments. This gave me the opportunity to develop further as a painter.

The next career is now continuing with both of us recovering glucose victims. I had a heart attack that led to triple bypass surgery (don’t let them open your chest -- use a catheter based approach (see Cleveland Clinic). I continue to read health literature just like in the IPM days when I read entomological research. Helga, age 78, is recovering from a stroke. The medical profession, like pest control, takes about 25 years, more or less, to institutionalize new research. There are strong homologies between pest control and medicine.

Although I keep my medical research going, I still hope for further growth as an artist. I think of myself some days like a worker bee that changes roles as it ages.

I am 68, Helga is 78, and we are greatly saddened by the direction the country has taken with the Bush gang and the rise of the right wing, especially the religious right. It will take decades to recover a sense of national justice and compassion.

Now life has never been better for us. Our friends are our chief resource and contacts with the wider world. Mostly now I stick with painting, avoid the news and newspapers, and continue keeping our lives together as head nurse and bottle washer, rereading the entire collection of Ann Perry mystery novels. I am still trying to live a good life, and maybe create some beauty before I die. Maybe this website will give us greater opportunities to engage in cultural activities.