Memorial Resolution of the Faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the Death of Emeritus Professor Harold Paul Rusch

Harold Paul Rusch died at home on May 26, 1988, after a prolonged series of medical interventions that were designed to combat or ameliorate the disseminated prostatic cancer that eventually ended his life. During this trying experience he was courageously sustained by his wife, Louise Turner Van Wart Rusch, previously a widow and former acquaintance whom he had married after the death of his first wife, Lenore Robinson Rusch. He was also sustained by his daughter Carolyn, and by grandchildren Kristina and William.

His death was, in a sense, his last encounter with this cruel foe as Harold, as he was known to his many friends and colleagues, had spent his entire life devising experiments and overall strategies designed to combat cancer, mainly in terms that stressed basic research. Thus, while his death ended a long and productive career in fighting cancer, his life record lives on as an inspiring model of humility, responsibility, and competence for those of us dedicated to carrying on the campaign.

Harold Paul Rusch was born on July 15, 1908, in Merrill, Wisconsin, the son of Henry Albert and Olga (Brandenburg) Rusch. After a boyhood spent mainly in Wausau, he studied at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he received the B.A. degree in 1931 and the M.D. degree in 1933.

Harold Rusch's potential was recognized by Dean Charles Bardeen and by Professor Walter Meek while he was still a medical student and therefore was encouraged by these two mentors, after his medical internship, to take up a career in the developing field of cancer research. This he did as a Bowman Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. From that time on his energies were devoted to this field.

When money became available for the first McArdle building and to start a program of cancer research in the new facility, he was chosen to plan the building and to begin to recruit a staff. When William S. Middleton became Dean of the Medical School, he was equally supportive. When the U.S. entered the war in December 1941, Dean Middleton departed to help organize the Army's medical support, but before he left he admonished Dr. Rusch to remain behind and hold together the cancer research team that had barely begun to assemble. Dr. Rusch accepted this as a challenge-and from that moment on moved forward to create the McArdle group and to become internationally recognized as the Director of the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research. As a matter of record, he founded the McArdle Memorial Laboratory in 1940 and served as its Director until 1972. It is generally acknowledged that during this time it was among the finest cancer research institutes in the world.

Harold Rusch also found time to do significant research on cancer. He and his colleagues were the first to establish the range of wave-lengths of ultraviolet light that produces cancer of the skin in mice. His lifelong interest in the growth and differentiation of cells led to solid contributions on these cellular processes in studies on slime molds, especially Physarum polycephalum. These pioneering studies sparked the formation of an international group of researchers who have exploited the unique properties of this mold in a wide range of biochemical investigations.

In 1972 Dr. Rusch accepted a new responsibility-that of directing the growth of the newly established Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This move provided him with an opportunity to carry his knowledge of cancer derived from basic laboratory research to the field of ultimate application, the human cancer patient. He pursued these objectives relentlessly until his retirement in 1978.

The contributions of Dr. Rusch to the establishment of national and international policy with respect to cancer were of major importance. He served as President of the American Association for Cancer Research from 1954 to 1955 and as President of the Association of American Cancer Institutes from 1972 to 1974. He was also a member of the Commission on Cancer Research of the International Union Against Cancer from 1958 to 1966. From 1950 to 1964 he served as Editor-in-Chief of CANCER RESEARCH, the official publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, and he was also on the editorial boards of a number of other scientific journals. He was appointed to President Kennedy's Committee on Heart Disease and Cancer in 1961 and to the U.S. Senate National Panel of Consultants on the Conquest of Cancer in 1970.

Dr. Rusch was very active in the American Cancer Society as a member of its Research Advisory Council (1962-1965), Board of Directors (1965-1974), and several committees. In 1970 he received the Annual Wisconsin Divisional Award of the American Cancer Society, and in 1972 its Annual National Award. Other honors included election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959; the Distinguished Service Award of the University of Wisconsin Alumni Association in 1970; and the UW Medical Alumni Citation in 1973. In 1981 he received the Papanicolaou Award from the Papanicolaou Institute in Miami for his contributions to the understanding of cancer.

Throughout these award-winning activities, Harold Rusch was best known and appreciated by his immediate colleagues for his enduring support of their research and the growth of their careers. It was top priority in his way of life to provide an optimum research environment and to foster the research programs of his associates. The results of this dedication are detailed in his autobiographical account of the history of cancer research at the University of Wisconsin, Something Attempted, Something Done. This modest title, taken from a line in Longfellow's poem about a village blacksmith, is followed by another line in the original poem, "Has earned a night's repose."-This phrase aptly closes the life of Harold Paul Rusch.

Memorial Committee

  • Roswell K. Boutwell
  • James A. Miller
  • Gerald C. Mueller
  • Henry C. Pilot
  • Van R. Potter, Chair

UW-Madison Fac Doc 797 - 1 May 1989