Professor Benjamin Arthur Rasmusen, D.V.M, Ph.D., 29 November 1926--13 July 2009

Benjamin Arthur Rasmusen was born in 1926 in northern Illinois to Arthur Bennett Rasmusen and Honor Brodie Rasmusen, four years after their daughter Mary. His earliest memory was of the draining of Big Slough, now just a valley through which Route 52 goes. He grew up going to a one-room schoolhouse with his Brodie cousins. He started college in the Navy V-12 program at Penn State, but when World War II ended he transferred to the University of Illinois. Afterwards, he went through large-animal veterinary school at Cornell, winning a prize for being the kindest to animals, and then switched into a Master's program. He went to UC-Davis for his PhD under Clyde Stormont. In all, he had 13 years of post-high-school education, prompting his mother to say, "I don't know if people believed me when I told them Ben passed every year."

He married Marilyn Rue Suppes on July 14, 1957. They began married life in Davis, but then he took up his first (and lifetime) job at the University of Illinois Department of Animal Genetics, housed in the quaint old brick stables building. His subject of research was the heredity of the blood groups of pigs and sheep, and he often came home smelling of pigs on days when he had to bleed pigs. They had three children: Eric (1958), Mary (1960), and Andrew (1962). As a professor, he went on research leave twice, living in Edinburgh 1965-66 and Cambridge 1972-73. He twice was elected President of the International Society of Animal Blood Group Research (now the International Society for Animal Genetics), serving from 1976 to 1984. The first election was a very narrow vote, with the Russians, who were hosting the 1978 meeting at Leningrad, voting against him. The meeting went well nonetheless, and the re- election was not contested. His published several articles in Science as well as in other journals. In 1981, he co-authored the second edition of "Animal Genetics, " a textbook for veterinary students, with F.B. Hutt of Cornell University. He retired early, in 1983, mindful of the early deaths of his cousins from heart disease (unnecessarily, perhaps, but he did suffer from high blood pressure and at about age 80 had emergency pacemaker and bypass operations). After retirement, he moved to the farm in Somonauk where his wife had spent her earliest years. They later started wintering with their daughter Mary in Leucadia, north of San Diego, building a second story onto her house.

After growing up in the Methodist Church and being active in university groups, Ben attended the United Presbyterian Church in Urbana for some time and then was Recorder at the Friends’ Meeting. Eventually, he ended up at the Free Methodist Church, where he served on the Board of Trustees. He was most interested in genealogy, gardening, and politics. He also liked music, learning to play the accordion at around age 50 and writing a number of hymns.

He donated 27 acres of LaSalle County marsh, woods, and prairie from the Jones Farm where he lived as a teenager to the LaSalle County Soil and Water Conservation District to make what is now the Rasmusen Natural Area. The wettest part of the Suppes Farm where he lived became The Prairie, planted with native prairie plants and carefully burned over each year. He made paths through it, rather like an Indian maze. He was expert in pointing out all kinds of plants, whether trees, garden flowers, weeds, or forest vines.

He was highly intelligent and a good writer. When he entered the navy officer training program, they though there was some mistake with the entry test, because he scored so much higher than anyone had ever scored before. Underneath, he was always the shy farm boy and little brother, but he became gregarious and loved to tell stories of his academic life and travels. He loved being a host and making guests feel comfortable, especially foreigners who might feel lost in an American venue. .

He was perverse in his politics--- the ultraconservative in his university department, but arguing the liberal side often in his later years. Perhaps, like the Benjamin Rasmusen who was his grandfather, what he liked was the debate. He loved to argue with his son Eric, to the distress of his wife who worried about him getting overexcited. He fell out of that habit in his last two years, when he became very gentle. He was weakening, slowly and gracefully, in body if not in mind.

He and his wife and one granddaughter were killed instantly on July 13th, 2009 when his car was struck by a high speed Amtrak passenger train at Route 34 and East 23rd Road near Somonauk, Illinois. He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Sandwich, Illinois.

Eric, his oldest son, is an an economics professor at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana, married to the former Helen Choi and with four surviving children: Amelia, Benjamin, Lillian, and Faith (Elizabeth having died in the crash). Mary, now Mary Beale, lives in Leucadia, California with her husband Scott and son Jacob, where she is a software engineer for Sun Microsystems. Andrew, an investment consultant for Angeles Investment Advisor, lives in Santa Monica, California, near his ex- wife Gloria and daughters Monica and Veronica.


December 13, 2009. On the web at http://www.rasmusen.org/special/memorial/benjamin.rasmusen.htm. Erasmuse@Indiana.edu.