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In memoriam: Geza Ifju


Headshot of Geza Ifju Geza Ifju

Aug. 15, 2014 – Professor Emeritus Geza Ifju, 83, passed away at his Blacksburg home on May 15 surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife, Beth, their seven children, and nine grandchildren.

Ijfu was the founding head of the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products and continued to serve in that capacity for 22 years. “He helped develop the department as one of the top wood science programs in the world, serving as department head from 1979 to his retirement in 2001,” said Bob Smith, current head of the department, now called sustainable biomaterials.

Ifju began his forestry education at the Forestry College in Sopron, Hungary, his home country. Despite being a top student, his father’s criticism of the political system forced him to leave school in 1951. He then worked as a plumber at an oil field and spent two years in a forced labor camp.

Many students supported the 1956 Hungarian Revolution but were forced to flee the country to avoid punishment after the resistance movement failed. Ifju eventually made his way to Canada where the University of British Colombia had adopted 200 students and 14 faculty members from the Forestry College in Sopron.

He earned his bachelor of science in forestry with honors from the University of British Colombia in 1959, his master of science in wood technology from Yale University in 1960, his doctor of wood science from the University of British Colombia in 1963, and was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California before joining the faculty at Virginia Tech in 1964.

“Geza was an esteemed colleague,” said David Smith, professor emeritus of forestry and Ifju’s colleague since they were young faculty members. “He was a no-nonsense person who was determined to have people do their best work and to have the best resources for his students, faculty, and staff.”

“Geza was always willing to do any work necessary, work with anyone, and would listen, compromise, and move forward,” Smith continued. “He pushed, but he also had a disarming sense of humor. At the end of the day he would never turn down an opportunity for some socializing.”

Among his many accomplishments at Virginia Tech, Ifju chaired the planning committee and raised funds for what became the Thomas M. Brooks Forest Products Center, and then divided his time between the center and his department on campus. He also helped establish the Commonwealth Center of Excellence in Wood Science and Technology at Virginia Tech.

Ifju exhibited Hokie Spirit in more than just his academic career. “He loved his Hokies,” recalled his wife, Beth. Proudly wearing his Virginia Tech orange and maroon, he called out “Go Hokies!” to anyone he saw wearing theirs. “He scarcely missed a home game, coming home from an island vacation early for a cold, windy football game,” she added.

During a celebration of Ifju’s life held on campus in June, tales were told of his “personalized” rules for tennis, a game he loved to play with his colleagues.

He also lived the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), coaching sandlot soccer and Virginia Tech varsity volleyball, chairing the resettlement committee for a Vietnamese family, and remaining active on behalf of education programs in his church and community.

“We — the university and our students, past and future — were very blessed to have a man of Geza’s vision and energy here for so many years,” said Dean Paul Winistorfer. “Dr. Ifju was an accomplished, first-class professional as a teacher, researcher, and administrator, and a special person in the lives of many. We will miss him dearly, but he made his mark that will live on a long time. He made a difference.”

To donate to the Geza Ifju Scholarship in Wood Science and Forest Products, contact Emily Hutchins at or 540-231-8859.

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