In honor of life’s work
Isadore “Ike” Robinson
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By Amy Vinchattle/The Tribune
Isadore Robinson, a Tuskegee Airman during WWII, smiles during an interview, while a photograph of him from when he
was in the service sits on a table Thursday at his home in Ames. Robinson worked as a microbiologist at the Animal
Disease lab in Ames and has had a strain of bacteria named after him in honor of his research at the lab.
Discovery named for Ames scientist
By Laura Millsaps
Published: Saturday, February 26, 2011 11:38 PM CST
Sitting in a chair in his home in west Ames, Isadore “Ike” Robinson held onto a lifetime of stories and
accomplishments in the form of two pieces of memorabilia: a photo of him in his Army Air Force
uniform and a copy of his master’s thesis, the paper still crisp after all these years.
Robinson, 89, is a World War II veteran and retired microbiologist. Robinson is a gentleman. His shirt
is pressed, his handshake is warm and strong, and his smile charming.
When a photographer showed up Thursday afternoon, he went to get an extra chair for her. Even
after years in Iowa, he and his wife, Wilma, both still speak in the gentle tones of their native West
Robinson suffered a stroke years ago, and speaking is difficult for him. His best friend and colleague,
Milt Allison, and Wilma Robinson joined him in the living room to talk. She was there because one of
his daughters, Cindy Robinson, had phoned to tell The Tribune about her dad.
“I think he’s a remarkable man,” she said. “Not just because he’s my dad, but because of all he’s
Robinson retired from the National Animal Disease Center in Ames in 1987, after a decades-long
career studying bacteria in the rumen of cattle and sheep.
Allison, still an affiliate professor of animal science at Iowa State University, met Robinson at the
then-named USDA Dairy Cattle Research Branch in Beltsville, Md., when Robinson joined as a
researcher in 1957. They’ve worked together ever since, both of them moving to the National Animal
Disease Center in Ames in the 1960s.
“What set Ike apart almost immediately was his work ethic. He was an extremely diligent scientist,”
Allison said of his colleague as they handed academic papers back and forth during the interview. “He
was also good with his hands. The methods we used back then, with glass needles to extract the
bacteria, were very delicate, and Ike had unusually good dexterity. It was almost a gift in a way.”
With those same hands, Robinson presented a copy of his master’s thesis, “Isolation and
Characterization of Anaerobic Mycoplasmas from the Rumen,” to the reporter. He earned a master’s
degree from ISU in 1973. Though he can no longer describe his work, it is there to see.
“It’s an extremely small field of study,” Allison said.
Robinson went on to author or co-author more than 50 papers on the subject, many of them
partnered with Allison. Allison and Wilma Robinson both described Ike Robinson as a world authority
on the subject, making work-related trips to Germany, France and Japan.
In 2009, a group of scientists with the Agricultural Research Service in Peoria, Ill., named a newly
discovered bacterial species after Robinson, in honor of his life of research. Robinsoniella peoriensis
was first isolated in swine, but Allison said the bacteria also have been found in diseased human
tissue, and its existence opens up new possibilities for research.
Robinson was working on a degree in biology in his hometown of Bloomington, W.Va., when World
War II began. He interrupted his education to join the Army Air Force, and trained at the Tuskegee
Army Air Field in Alabama.
He achieved the rank of a corporal, and served with the 10th Aviation Squadron in Florence, S.C., as
a medical technologist. In 2007, when President George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen,
Robinson was one of them. Though he was unable to attend the Washington, D.C., ceremony, his
Congressional Gold Medal is there in his living room, too.
After the war, he completed his college degree, and worked in Hinton, W.Va., as a high school biology
teacher. It was there that he met Wilma.
“I saw him,” she said with a little smile, gesturing at his handsome service photo, “and I thought,
‘Now that’s it.’” They were married in 1956. They have four daughters, including Cindy, and Ike
Robinson has two daughters from a previous marriage.
“You have a daughter in California who’s awfully proud of you,” the reporter said as she and the
photographer packed up to leave.
“Yes. I know,” said Robinson as he smiled his warm smile.
Laura Millsaps can be reached at (515) 663-6922
From The Tribune. Ames, IA. 2/26/2011.