CORVALLIS - Sheldon Ladd, an agronomist who led one of Oregon State University's largest departments for more than 15 years, died unexpectedly Monday after a brief illness.

Remembered by colleagues as a skilled communicator and organizer, Ladd grew up on a cotton and alfalfa farm in California. He earned his Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from the University of California at Davis.

Ladd worked for the U.S. Air Force in toxicology, and as a plant geneticist in Hawaii before joining the faculty at Colorado State University. Ladd's teaching and research into barley and oat breeding led to his appointment as acting associate dean of CSU's College of Agriculture.

Ladd came to OSU in 1985. Known as an easy-going, soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes administrator, Ladd used those skills to successfully merge OSU's highly diverse departments of crop science and soils science.

Michael Burke, the associate dean of OSU's Department of Agricultural Sciences, said Ladd accomplished the huge task with great skill and melded the two departments into "one of the strongest crop and soil science or agronomy departments anywhere in the country."

"He liked to operate more behind-the-scenes and didn't grab a lot of attention to himself, but really empowered people to accomplish things," Burke said. "And in fact, they did."

Burke said that Russell Karow, associate department head, will oversee the department until an interim head is named. Faculty and administrators of the department will meet Monday to begin the process of seeking a permanent replacement for Ladd.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, Aug. 4, at 1 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Corvallis. The church is located at 114 S.W. 8th St.

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Russell Karow, 541 737-5857