John Stoffolano, affectionately known as the Lord of the Flies, began teaching at UMass in 1969, when the radio played "Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly and the Family Stone, "Let the Sunshine In" by the 5th Dimension, and "It's Your Thing" by the Isley Brothers.
Stoffolano's thing was the physiology and behavior of synanthropic (non-biting) flies.
As a Cornell University graduate student in entomology, Stoffolano was the first to study the diapause (or overwintering behavior) of "Musca authmnalis," or face fly, during which he discovered the "Thelazia" nematode, a parasite responsible for eye diseases in dairy cattle. Due to his recognized abilities, he was invited to join the faculty of the UMass Entomology Department in 1969, even before the swift completion of his PhD. John published over 150 refereed research papers, numerous chapters in anthologies, and two books of his own.
Upon his retirement this year, Stoffolano is expected to receive emeritus status from the University.
Now an internationally recognized entomologist, John notes that by joining UMass he followed in the footsteps of another famed international and fly-focused professor of entomology, emeritus: Charles P. Alexander, both coming coincidentally from the same hometown of Gloversville, NY. Alexander headed the UMass Entomology & Zoology department until 1959, publishing over 1000 articles, drawing 15,000 detailed illustrations, and ultimately identifying nearly 13,000 species of crane fly, a collection he contributed to the Smithsonian Institute.
"A teacher affects eternity," says John, "They know not where their influence ends."
By the time of his own retirement a half century later, Stoffolano, like Alexander, has taught and mentored swarms of undergraduates in his laboratory, and he says he feels proud to see them go on to graduate school, to publish their own research, and to find good jobs contributing to the social and scientific good.
Former students of John may remember his interestingly titled classes: The Impact of Insects on Human Culture; Insect Structure and Function; Cultural Entomology; and Using Insects in the Classroom.
While John received a Distinguished Teaching Award from the Entomological Society of America as early as 1978, he is most proud of being selected by the presidents of all UMass campuses to deliver the very first distance learning course in the 1980's, which was then conducted via PicTel video conferencing hardware, and which served 200 elementary school educators from several states. Today, UMass is a top deliverer of online courses worldwide, through the University Without Walls internet education unit. Through it, Stockbridge now hosts the nation's largest fully online bachelor degree in sustainable agriculture.
Always affiliated with Stockbridge School of Agriculture through various restructurings of the University, Stoffolano's research interests expanded to let the sun shine on additional fly species: Musca domestica, Phormia regina, Protophormia terraenovae, and Tabanus nigrovittatus (greenhead horse fly). Bringing his students on the journey, Stoffolano lab expanded the known range of species through close and careful observation.
Stoffolano's research came to illustrate that while the primary purpose of the fly's "diverticulated crop," a unique foregut organ, was to achieve and regulate food storage, the same organ had undesirable ancillary effects, driving increased transmission of pathogens among humans and domestic animals.
He also joined ongoing research projects in countries around the world, including Italy, South Africa, Egypt, and Mexico, getting to see up close the importance of cleaning world food supplies as the planet's population grows.
Closely aligned with the Stockbridge School's focus on food safety through clean soils and environments, Stoffolano's research turned in 2013 to focus on the role of flies as transmitters of cholera, E-coli, and other diseases.
In his own parlance, "You can't eat a computer chip, but you can eat a potato chip!"
If that rhyming couplet style sounds familiar, it might have something to do with John's possibly oddest accomplishment. In his fiction book "Tonino: The Adventures of a Boy/Cricket from Boston's North End," Stoffolano reveals Tonino to be a distant relative of
"Grillo parlante,"the species of talking cricket first made famous as the character Jiminy Cricket, originally from Carlo Collodi's book "The Adventures of Pinocchio," and later known for singing "When you wish upon a star / Makes no difference who you are" in the Disney movie version.
Similar to his predecessor Alexander, whose idea of hot fun in the summertime was spending his retirement years at "Crane Fly Haven," his home laboratory in Amherst, Stoffolano has similar plans for his "retirement," which he'll spend with his wife "working on our farm in Leverett." Reflecting on his 54 years of service, John insists that he never had "enough time for critical thinking and reading," so he will be doing a deep dive back into the field he loves, with the purpose of publishing his next book "Impacts of Insects on Human Culture."
Stockbridge is sad to say goodbye to an institutional "old-timer" like John, and we are so very thankful for more than a half century of his service. Notes of thanks and congratulations can be sent to John at email@example.com.