John Cerveny: 1933-2016

I first met John Cerveny at the 1996 International Association for Food Protection meeting in Seattle in 1996.

john.cervenyI was a newly minted PhD, venturing out to the food safety world, and John quickly made himself known, and was quick with a quip and encouragement.

Two years later, I took the four daughters and wife to IAFP in Nashville. The kids become a recurring feature at IAFP for a few years, and John always greeted them with a big smile and often a toy Oscar Mayer wienermobile.

John Gerald Cerveny passed away on April 10, 2016.

He was born on June 23, 1933, in Racine, Wis., and was raised there with his sister, Jean, by his loving parents, John and Thelma. Following graduation from high school, John spent two years at the UW before he was drafted into the U.S. Army and eventually served for 16 months in Korea. After his military service, he returned to the University of Wisconsin in Madison obtaining a degree in Microbiology in 1958. Upon completion, John joined Oscar Mayer as a food quality and safety microbiologist. While at OM, he met Miriam (McKee) and they were married in the fall of 1960.

During John’s distinguished 37-year career at Oscar Mayer, he was instrumental in protecting the processed meat industry against food safety problems. During that time, he co-authored many significant publications and is acknowledged on three significant patents. After his official “retirement” in 1996, and during his time as an industry Food Safety Consultant, he remained actively involved in issues relating to food safety and was recognized as one of the country’s leading food microbiologists. Additionally, he had long standing relationships with many professional organizations including the International Association of Food Protection, the International Life Sciences Institute, the Institute of Food Technologists and the UW-Madison-Food Research Institute. Because of his lifetime of knowledge and experience in the area of meat and food safety, and many years of informally mentoring friends he met along the way, each of these organizations thoughtfully recognized his many contributions over the years.

John’s deeply modest nature once led him to remark that his greatest satisfaction was sleeping well at night knowing he had made a small contribution to improving food safety. His many friends and colleagues would say that his contribution and impact went well beyond his career.

Away from work, John enjoyed gardening, listening to a wide variety of music, reading, and people watching on the Union Terrace with popcorn and a local beer. John’s greatest joy was his family, and his fondest memories were family vacations to Wisconsin lakes and to the family farm in Iowa. More recently, he very much enjoyed visits to the West Coast and a variety of travel adventures with his kids and grandkids.

He is survived by his son, John (Raquel) and daughter, Sarah Grimm (Art); Miriam, his former wife and friend of many years; his sister, Jean Brackett; and his four beloved grandchildren who were the light of his life, Cayman, Cate Molly, Catalina and Kellan. He took particular interest in each child’s activities and was never surprised at their accomplishments, often stating that it was “in the genes”, with a twinkle in his eyes.

oscar.mayer.wienermobileJohn was a tireless volunteer and enthusiastically jumped in wherever he could. Some of his favorites were local literacy programs, a variety of activities at St. Luke’s Lutheran, and helping sell flowers with friends at the farmer’s market on the square. He will be greatly missed for his tremendous energy, bright smile, warm humor, generous spirit, insatiable curiosity, and the always predictable, “Say, I have a question for you…”.

John was a recipient for the IAFP Harold Barnum Industry Awards, the Harry Haverland Citation Award and Honorary Life Membership Award.  On May 5, 2016, he was to be inducted in the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame.

John was a great friend and mentor to many in the food safety world, an excellent scientist, very humble, and led by example. He always encouraged others to make a positive impact being actively involved and taking a leadership role in their professional organizations and at work.

That Oscar Mayer toy wienermobile? It’s still around..