On Thursday, May 15, 2014, Geza Ifju’s spirit broke the bindings of the insidious disease, lung cancer, soaring to meet new challenges and watch over his loved ones as he did every day of his 83 years. Geza died at home in Blacksburg, Va., with family by his side. He was preceded in death by his parents, Jeno and Margit (Jung) Ifju. Born in Hungary, Geza escaped as the Russian tanks approached in 1956. Leaving his homeland; everything and everybody he knew, Geza eventually landed in Vancouver, British Columbia. He earned an undergraduate degree with honors at the University of British Columbia, master’s degree at Yale University and a doctorate in Wood Science also from UBC- all the while studying in his second language.
In 1964, Geza joined the faculty of Virginia Tech and eventually became the “founding father of Wood Science and Technology”, serving 22 years as department head. His leadership and vision provided a legacy, scattering his influence throughout the Forest Products industry and universities all over the world. He also served as president of the two foremost national associations in his field.
But that was Geza the professional and now more importantly-Geza the man. He loved his family, loved visiting them in their homes as well as having them gather in Blacksburg, Hilton Head Island, OBX or wherever the water was warm and the sun shining. He loved puttering in the yard, growing flowers (he had a torrid affair with Miracle-Gro), building a “real fire”, and keeping the house in tiptop shape. He was the consummate recycler before it became the in thing, rarely throwing anything away because he could probably find another use for it someday. And we appreciated him for it.
Geza loved competition and tennis became a constant companion. He played year round in several groups stymying them with his famous “Hungarian Goulash”, a deadly spin almost impossible to return. And they loved him for it.
Geza and his wife, Beth, spent many happy times at The University Club where he loved meeting up with old friends and making new ones. AND he danced-with any takers; wife, daughters, granddaughters, friends, acquaintances… as long as they let him lead.
AND he joked-the good ones, the bad ones and the “punny” ones. He always had one ready, or he simply made one up for the occasion. He loved a good time and we all laughed with him.
AND he loved his Hokies! Proudly wearing his VT orange & maroon, he called out GO HOKIES to anyone he saw wearing theirs. His tailgating group was a source of many fun times. He scarcely missed a home game, coming home from an island vacation early for a cold, windy football game.
After retirement, Geza and Beth traveled to many destinations finally choosing those with warm, sunny days and maybe a casino or two. But he was always happy to come home to his beloved Blacksburg.
Husband, father, grandfather, friend, scholar, scientist, leader-Geza led a good life, loving and much loved. We’ll miss him forever but will remember him with smiles and stories.
He is survived by his wife and best friend for 33 years, Beth Ifju; children, Katti Ifju Scott (Tom), Peter Ifju (Diana), Paul Ifju (Melanie), Castle O’Neill (Bruce), Shawn O’Neill (Chris), Mickey O’Neill (Nancy), and Shannon O’Neill (Reinhard); grandchildren, Molly O’Neill Wilson, Marcela and Daniela Ifju, Hayden and Grayson Scott, Nicolas and Zoey Ifju, Connor Rock, Lukas Schaefer and by his former wife, Mara Ifju. And in Hungary, sister, Zsuzsa Csizmadia, her two sons and their families and dear cousin, Klari Vass and her family.
An informal celebration of the life of Geza Ifju will take place, sharing memories and stories, Sunday, June 8, 2014 at 6 p.m. in the War Memorial Chapel on the Virginia Tech campus. All friends and family will gather at The University Club afterwards.
Geza asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be considered to the Geza Ifju Scholarship in Wood Science and Forest Products Fund. His family hopes that his influence will continue indefinitely through the scholarship’s recipients. To donate, call Emily Hutchin.