The fund was established by Dr. Kontaxis to honor his wife. The first travel award was given at the 2009 APS Annual Meeting in Portland, OR.
Evanthia (Vanta) D. Kontaxis was born in Didymo-teichon-Evrou, Greece, on August 15, 1930. She passed away on May 8, 2001, after a long, painful illness. She graduated from high school in her hometown. After graduation she was trained as a social worker. In 1950, she was appointed school principal of one of Queen Frederica’s of Greece Northern Provinces Fund. She served in the same position for the following eight years. In 1951, she met Dr. Demetvios Kontaxis who was then director of all 10 technical Queen Frederica’s schools in the area of Orvestias Evrou, Greece. Evanthia came to California in October 1959 to study English. In December 1960, she married Dr. Kontaxis in San Francisco. She was a superb wife, mother, relative, and friend. Indeed, she was the personification of kindness!
Dr. Kontaxis was born in Psari-Trifilias-Greece on February 7, 1925. He graduated from the Agricultural University of Athens, Greece, in 1950. In 1957, he came to California to pursue post-graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Plant Pathology Department. He received his Ph.D. degree from the same department in 1960 under the direction of Dr. David Schlegel, a gentle, friendly person. The title of his thesis was “Basal septa of broken trichomes in Nicotiana as possible infection sites of Tobacco mosaic virus.” About 2 months prior to completion of his thesis, he was hired by Del Monte Corporation and was sent to Hawaii to familiarize himself with pineapple and its cultivation. He worked with the scientific staff of the Pineapple Research Institute in Honolulu for 5 months. He was then transferred to the Philippines, Mindanao Island, to study the epidemiology of pink disease of the pineapple fruit. This disease is bacterial in nature and is caused by several strains of Acetobacter aceti and Gluconobacter oxydans, which are disseminated by insect vectors and mites.
Based on his studies, the number of insecticidal sprays of the plantation was reduced from 12–18 to only 5–6 sprays per cycle. This resulted to substantial savings to the company. He then discovered that the water used to spray the pineapple was heavily contaminated with the pink disease bacteria. The company took measures to clean up the spray water. This reduced considerably the pink disease incidence and resulted in substantial savings.
In the Philippines, Dr. Kontaxis discovered new bacterial strains unknown in Hawaii and other pineapple-growing countries. In 1973, he joined the University of California and worked in Imperial County for seven and a half years as county pathologist and nematologist. On May 10, 1978, he discovered powdery mildew (Oidiopsis taurica Tepper) on tomato. This was the first recorded incidence of Oidiopsis on tomato in the United States. He reported the first epiphytotic of powdery mildew (Erysiphe polygoni D.C.) on sugar beets in Imperial Valley—the first epiphytotic in California and probably elsewhere in the United States. He reported the first epiphytotic of rust (Puccinia asparagi D.C.) on locally grown asparagus.
On sabbatical leave with his wife, he went to Almeria, Spain, and the island of Crete, Greece, to study capers (Capparis spinosa). He imported 600 caper seedlings from Spain. Many of these seedlings survived transplanting and are now cultivated in various parts of the state. Dr. Kontaxis was the first to introduce caper to California.
To meet people and learn, he traveled extensively with his wife to Hawaii, Hong Kong, India, Lebanon, Greece, Italy, Spain, England, the Netherlands, Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama Canal, Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand. He published in Virology, Phytopathology, Nature, and Plant Disease Reporter. He presented his research findings at several professional conventions. In 1991, Dr. Kontaxis retired, and he now lives in Concord, CA, where he grows caper, many fruit trees, and ornamentals.