Remembering Robert Bonneau

March 4, 2016 at 9:26 am 20 comments

Robert Bonneau

Robert Bonneau (file photo)

Robert Bonneau had a passion for Penn State College of Medicine and its students. Through his 25 year career with Penn State, he served in a number of roles that advanced both the education and research missions, and endeared himself to hundreds of medical and graduate students.

Bonneau died on Thursday, March 3 after an illness.

His association with Penn State started with his undergraduate degree in microbiology from University Park in 1983. He then attended the College of Medicine for his doctorate in microbiology, which he received in 1989. He joined the staff in 1991 as a research associate and was named a professor of microbiology and immunology in 2006.

“In the short time I’ve known Rob, I’ve come to treasure our many conversations about immunology, 30-plus year recollections of current and former members of our department, love of Penn State, and his unerring allegiance to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates,” said Dr. Aron Lukacher, professor and chair of microbiology and immunology. “I also had the pleasure of witnessing his immense skill and joy teaching our medical students. Rob was a wonderful colleague and friend. I will miss him dearly.”

According to Richard Courtney, emeritus professor and former chair of microbiology and immunology, Bonneau connected with the college’s medical students.

“He had a real passion for the teaching of immunology to medical students,” Courtney said. “The students were quick to recognize his total commitment and were the beneficiaries of the innovative approaches he employed within his lectures. He was not hesitant to invest vast amounts of time and effort to apply unique methods to make very complex topics understandable.”

He received several teaching awards over the years, including the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and a variety of class awards. He was named a Distinguished Educator in 2008.

That passion also showed in his work with the College’s graduate students.

“He demonstrated the finest qualities of a mentor associated with the training of young scientists,” Courtney said. “He challenged his graduate students and set the bar high for their performance. He was highly supportive; however, encouraged them to think independently in the development of their research projects.”

One of those students from 1999-2004 was Jodi L. Yorty, now an associate professor of molecular biology at Elizabethtown College. She recalled a time she made a mistake while working in his laboratory, and how he helped make the situation a positive.

“When I told him about my mistake he remained calm and developed a way to salvage the experiment,” she said. “In fact, that experiment led to others and resulted in a publication. He always found the positive in every situation.”

She said she learned how to write scientifically through Bonneau’s perfectionism, and also how to be a teacher.

“Rob had a methodical way of leading students through difficult concepts, continually building on past material, helping us all to see the big picture,” she said. “I teach immunology at Elizabethtown College, and I’ve structured the class in a manner that matches how he would teach the material. I’ve had a successful career here, and I credit much of my success to the important lessons I learned while working for and with Rob in the laboratory.”

David Spector, emeritus professor of microbiology and immunology, taught alongside Bonneau.

“He was always well organized, and his lectures were very clear and accessible, but I don’t think that was the main reason the students –and all of us – appreciated him so much,” Spector said. “Rather, it was his basic humanity: the respect that he always showed for others, the good humor and the desire to see everyone succeed.”

His research program in neuroimmunology earned him a high level of respect from his peers at national and international levels in the field of immunology. His research interests included mechanisms of neuroendocrine-mediated modulation of immunity to herpes simplex virus infection and the role of the neuroendocrine system in modulating immunity to neonatal herpes simplex virus type 2 infection.

He served on several research-related committees, including as chair of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee since 2005.

“He was exactly the right person to fill this challenging role and always approached difficult decisions with sound reasoning and judgement,” said Ronald Wilson, professor and chair of comparative medicine. He also assisted the department by chairing its promotion and tenure committee, assisting with recruitment of faculty and key staff and participating in many department functions.

“As a veterinarian, Rob would often ask me questions or entertain me with stories about his beloved ‘weiner dog,’” Wilson said. “He was an integral part of our work family.”

According to colleague Todd Schell, professor of microbiology and immunology, Bonneau’s influence is felt throughout the College in ways many may not even realize.

“Rob rarely turned down a request to serve the College of Medicine and University, where he impacted key decision-making bodies of the research, education and service missions,” Schell said. “Most do not realize the extent of his influence and accomplishments at Penn State given his humble approach and lack of need for recognition. A blue-blooded Penn State alumni and fan, he was known for his passionate support of the Nittany Lions, superseded only by his love of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates.”

He shared his love of science in the community, participating as a facilitator, panel member, judge and other roles in a number of events at local high schools and colleges.

“Rob was a gift to the students and to the College,” said Dr. Terry Wolpaw, vice dean for educational affairs. “He loved learning and inspired others to learn as well. He had that special ability to see difficult concepts through the eyes of a new learner. He would then start his teaching at just the right level, gently take hold of his learners and lead them on a smooth journey from the basic to the most complex.  He was a gentle man and a gentle teacher whose heart was always reaching out to his students.”

“He demanded excellence from himself and expected the same from his students and colleagues,” Courtney said.  “Personally, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interact and work with this truly outstanding teacher, mentor and nationally recognized scientist.”



Michael Chorney, professor of microbiology and of science, engineering, and technology, Penn State Harrisburg wrote the following:

I stayed home today and walked a dusty Milton Hershey field in brilliant sun

And an Arctic wind, my pup’s legs driving us back home to warmth

A thousand snow geese hovered and squawked in response to a passing pickup

And I thought of Rob.


A few times I thought tears were close as I wondered at his hundred T cell facts

And his PowerPoint stick figures admonishing a student to put something or other to memory

My mind ran through the thousand poignant memories burnished by repeated play


My privileged intersection with a uniquely caring, warm and gentle human being

has already been filed under cherish.

Entry filed under: News, Profiles. Tags: , .

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20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jim Song  |  March 4, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I will never forget this really outstanding teacher, mentor, scientist and friend in our community!

  • 2. Craig Meyers  |  March 4, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    One of the most dedicated educators you will ever meet. He was always a colleague you could depend on. Rob you will be missed. Hoped to see you on the other side, you will probably be teaching there.

  • 3. Ahmed Alkhateeb  |  March 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Rob was a great mentor. I was always amazed with his humility and personal approach to science.

  • 4. Kerin Fresa  |  March 4, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Rob Bonneau was one of my favorite compatriots while we trained in Satvir Tevethia’s laboratory. The College has lost a wonderful educator, the immunologic community has lost a productive member and the world has lost a good man. Rest in peace, Rob.

  • 5. Tatevik Broutian  |  March 4, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Dr. Bonneau was an amazing mentor, professor and friend. He had an immense passion for teaching and research. A true talent is lost.

  • 6. Robert Visalli  |  March 4, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    I have a terribly heavy heart upon hearing this news. Rob was such a wonderful, compassionate person. I will always treasure his advice during my post doc and I enjoyed every outside shot he drained during our weekly basketball games. You were a great human being Rob.

  • 7. Tina M Cairns  |  March 4, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Deeply saddened to hear of Rob’s passing. He’s in there with all the great memories I have of my time at Hershey. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

  • 8. Charles Wilson  |  March 4, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I am deeply saddened to learn of Rob’s passing. He was good human being and a good friend during my PSHMC career. RIP my friend.
    Charles Wilson

  • 9. Mary J. and Satvir S.Tevethia  |  March 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    It is difficult to crystalize in words who Rob was and how much he enriched those who knew him. The first words that come to mind are industrious, tenacious, dedicated, compassionate, principled, gregarious, and fun loving, and kind. Tev and I first met Rob when he entered the Graduate Program in Microbiology and began studying for the Ph. D degree. He consistently appeared undaunted by the demands of the program, the hours devoted to research well into the night, and a mentoring committee that always seemed to want more. He rewarded his Ph.D. Committee with the longest and most detailed thesis I can remember. We followed Rob’s subsequent career with pleasure and cheered his successes; and we were delighted when he joined the Faculty of the Microbiology and Immunology Department. Rob loved his research and his excellence is clear from his scientific publications. In equal measure, he loved teaching and mentoring students and was awarded the title of Distinguished Educator.

    You would be hard pressed to find a more excellent colleague and genuinely kind person than Rob. When people speak of Rob the phrases, “one of the good guys”, “friend”, and “great colleague” are at the forefront of the conversation. In the highly competitive field of science Rob was always ready to help others when there was no reward for doing so other than the pleasure of cooperating in achieving a goal.

    His personal courage throughout the time we knew him and especially during the physical and emotional demands of the past few years can only be marveled at and remembered with the hope that we would successfully find such courage when needed. We will always remember Rob with great fondness and with gratitude for the many years of friendship that we shared.

  • 10. Molly McLaughlin-Drubin  |  March 4, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    I have such fond memories of Rob. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

  • 11. Ed Harhaj  |  March 4, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Shocked and saddened to hear about Rob. He was a great teacher and scientist and truly one of the nicest people I have ever met. He will be missed.

  • 12. Bonnie whalen  |  March 4, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    I enjoyed working with Rob at Hershey he was a sweet and thoughtful man and I’m deeply saddened by the news of his death he will be missed

  • 13. Eric Hall  |  March 4, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    I recall interviewing with Dr. Bonneau before I came to Penn State. As a graduate student, I can recall several conversations of advice and guidance along my journey. His character was consistent throughout, his humility, leadership, and kindness always remained. My condolences to his family and friends, you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  • 14. Joe Blaney  |  March 4, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Rob was a great human being. He gave so much of his time to teaching, supporting, and encouraging us during our grad school days. I can’t think of anybody that I have met in science that was more selfless. We also had a lot of fun with Rob with his great sense of humor and love of sports. He will be missed.

  • 15. Neel Krishna  |  March 5, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    I am deeply saddened to hear of Rob’s death but what I remember about him is his enthusiasm, energy and good nature. As a young graduate student when Rob was a research associate in the early 90s, I was inspired by his work ethic and zeal for science. He will be sorely missed.

  • 16. Shao-Cong Sun and Minying Zhang  |  March 5, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Extremely saddened to hear the loss of Rob, a truly outstanding educator and a wonderful colleague.

  • 17. Bonnie Tressler Folmar  |  March 7, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    I graduated from Bellefonte High School with Rob, and unfortunately, didn’t see him again after that. It doesn’t surprise me about his accomplishments, as he was always so intelligent. Rest in Peace Rob, and God Bless your family.

  • 18. Mark Meadowcroft  |  March 11, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Rob touched the lives of all he came in contact with. His presence and continued benevolence will be felt for many years to come. My sincere condolences to his family those around him, you are in my thoughts.

  • 19. Tammy Smith Stamm  |  March 11, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I had the privilege of knowing this exceptional human being for many years. Rob was always caring and quick to laugh. He was there for me when I was diagnosed with cancer, and was a huge help when it came to critical decisions. I will always be grateful for that and inspired by not only his courageous fight in the end, but also by the way he lived his life – as a humble, positive man of tremendous character. I will treasure many fond memories. My prayers are with you, Carey.

  • 20. Ellora Sen  |  March 14, 2016 at 5:31 am

    Rob will always be associated with all the good memories my husband and myself have of our stay at Hershey. One of the nicest human beings I ever met, Rob was a blissful soul who radiated happiness wherever he went.
    On occasion as these which awakens one to the universal truth, I am reminded of Emerson’s quote “It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again”. Rumi has rightly said “Death has nothing to do with going away. The sun sets and the moon sets, but they’re not gone. Death is a coming together. The tomb looks like a prison, but it’s really release into union” ….The blissful Rob has set only to merge with the absolute.. the infinite. …the source from where this beautiful soul’s journey had started.


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