"That fall I saw a tomato blight and a potato blight that I'd never seen in Wisconsin," he said.
To attack the tomato problem, he began crossing wild tomatoes with blighted tomatoes to try to eliminate detrimental characteristics.
"The wild tomatoes with the most disease resistance had fruit no bigger than a pencil eraser," he recalled. The disease resistance was positive; the tiny size, not so much.
"I crossed that source of resistance with commercial tomatoes that had large fruit," he said, explaining that the resulting fruit of the offspring is half the size of the larger-bearing plant.
"So you keep doing that, and at the same time you have to do it in the greenhouse and inoculate them with the diseases to pick out the plants that are resistant," Gallegly explained. "And every year you screen for resistance.
"It took 13 years."
Gallegly said the secret to that kind of project takes more than patience.
"You have to have a plan and stick with it. You can't jump around," he said.
He didn't work on the tomato intending to make a big splash with it during the state's centennial. The timing just turned out to be lucky.
Gallegly said the head of the West Virginia University Foundation called him that year and asked if he had a particular variety that would make for a nice release for the state's 100th birthday.
"I said, 'Yes, I can release a tomato. It might not be perfect, but it's good.'"
He's proud of its legacy for the university.
"We, as employees of a land grant university, worked for the people of the state. That's why it's been called the people's tomato. It's your tomato."
Gallegly and his wife just recently spent a few weeks enjoying the warm climate of Florida. Two of their children still live in West Virginia and another son is nearby in Staunton, Va.
When he's home in Morgantown, Gallegly still heads regularly to his little lab to work with tomatoes.
He has written a book with a co-author on the genus Phytophthora, a parasitic fungi that causes plant rot, and is now working on a revised edition.
And while he used to grow tomatoes in his home garden, he's given it up - not because of age, but because of a problem he can't cure: deer.
"I refuse to build a fence in my backyard," he said.
Contact writer Monica Orosz at mon...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.
* The West Virginia 63 took 13 years to develop by continually crossing tiny wild tomato plants with disease-resistant varieties until the desired fruit size and sturdy plant was achieved.
* If you want to save tomato seeds from your garden, you have to ferment them along with some of the tomato pulp for a few days, scraping off any fungal growth that shows up. Then you can rinse, dry and store them for later planting.
* Some of the original West Virginia 63 seeds are stored at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo. It was established in 1950 on the campus of Colorado State University.