Joseph K. Mertzweiller, who served the Society for Louisiana Irises as president, board member, chairman of the Scientific Committee and longtime chairman of the Publication Committee, passed away on June 26, 1997 at his residence in Baton Rouge.
He was born in New Orleans in 1920 and grew up in the area. In 1941 he graduated from Loyola University with a degree in chemistry. He obtained a Master's degree from the University of Detroit in 1943.
He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1946 he married the former Helene Reid of Fall River, Mass. He retired in the mid-1980s after spending almost 40 years with Exxon Research Laboratories in Baton Rouge.
Interested in horticulture since his boyhood, Mertzweiller became involved in Louisiana Irises when he met Professor Claude Davis in 1953 and, through him, Professor Ira Nelson. He became interested in hybridizing Louisiana irises and later developed a special interest in tetraploid Louisianas.
He has received the Society for Louisiana Irises Distinguished Merit Award in recognition of his years of work promoting Louisiana Irises, and he received the Service Award for his work on behalf of the Society.
As chairman of the Publication Committee, he supervised the production of the last seven of the Society's Special Publications. He also wrote the booklet on Louisiana Irises which was published by the Louisiana Extension Service and distributed free of charge for many years.
Mertzweiller co-edited the book, The Louisiana Iris, and was author of many of the book's chapters. Most recently, he was involved in successful negotiations with Timber Press to revise the book entirely; work on the revised edition is just getting underway.
He was a consistent contributor to SLI Newsletter, and also contributed many articles to the Bulletin of the American Iris Society.
As a member of AIS, he faithfully attended annual conventions, served a term as Regional Vice President and served two terms as President of the now-defunct Louisiana Iris Society of America (LISA).
He received the AIS Hybridizer's Award in 1984, primarily due to his ground-breaking work in developing tetraploid Louisiana irises, and he was named an MS Emeritus Judge in 1991.
He registered and introduced many diploid and tetraploid irises. Some of the most popular diploid introductions include COLORIFIC, PRESIDENT HEDT EY, JUST HELENE and CAJUN SUNRISE. His tetraploid introductions include the well-known "professors" line. His first two tetraploid introductions were named PROFESSOR CLAUDE and PROFESSOR IKE after his two early mentors in Louisiana irises. He introduced several other tetraploids, including, most recently, PROFESSOR BARBARA, PROFESSOR MARTA MARIE and PROFESSOR FRITCHIE.
He is survived by his wife Helene; two daughters and a son; and several grandchildren.