CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In early 1950, a young West Virginia University professor embarked on a painstaking, 13-year project to develop a blight-resistant tomato.
It was formally unveiled for the state's centennial in 1963 and appropriately named the West Virginia 63.
The hard work has paid off many times over for that professor, Mannon Gallegly, who turns 90 this month and still is enjoying the fruits of his labor, literally.
Yes, he likes to eat the tomato variety, though these days he either has to eat them cooked or remove the seeds if he eats them raw.
"As you age, you develop diverticulitis and tomato seeds can be bad for that," he said.
He also has a continued professional interest. Gallegly, as a professor emeritus for WVU, still has a lab there and continues to study seeds.
About five years ago, he realized subsequent generations of the West Virginia 63 had started to produce smaller fruit.
"So I started over to bring back the proper size of the tomato," he said.
That involved contacting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo., and asking for some of the original seeds.
The West Virginia 63 is a good, solid citizen of tomatoes. Think Ford sedan rather than Porsche convertible. It's not flashy in size or color - no crazy stripes or giant fruit here. It is medium-sized, nicely rounded and flavorful. Of course, because of Gallegly's work, it is not prone to disease. It doesn't grow so large that it is prone to cracking, either.
Avid gardeners know about this tomato and have saved its seeds for years. In honor of the state's sesquicentennial this year, WVU Extension had a limited supply that it offered for free to folks who sent a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and all the available seeds were snatched up immediately.
"We have lots of people who ask for them and who know about them," said John Porter, an extension agent in Charleston. "I got an email from a lady in Charleston who said her mother grew them the first year they were offered. She remembers them 50 years ago.
"I grow them in my own home garden," Porter added. "I have friends who grow them. We typically get some plants in our office every year, and we give a few hundred plants away."
It's a pretty good legacy for Gallegly, whose work took time and patience.
A native of Arkansas, he grew up on a farm and lived through the Depression, recalling his family had plenty to eat and clothes on their backs, even if they didn't have money.
"I went to college on the Sears and Roebuck scholarship that I'd won, which was for the School of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas," he said. "So I had financial support that took care of my tuition."
Gallegly first intended to become a teacher.
"I had a vo-ag (vocational agriculture) teacher in high school, and I thought, 'My goodness, I like this guy and it's a good field,'" Gallegly said. "I was going to become a vo-ag teacher.
"But at the University of Arkansas I needed a part-time job, and I went to work in the plant pathology greenhouse. So as an undergraduate I started helping professors in plant pathology, and I started helping to solve diseases."
It wasn't just interesting work; it was important work. Think of the potato blight that caused widespread famine in Ireland in 1845.
And so a passion was born. Gallegly changed his major to general science and then headed to Wisconsin to earn further degrees in plant pathology.
"In my graduate school and for my PhD, I worked with tomatoes that had wilt diseases," he said.
He moved to Morgantown in the summer of 1949.
"I had a new PhD, a new baby and a new job all in the month of June," he recalled. "That was a banner month.