INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A little known figure whose early works in mosquito control transformed the county into a “pleasant place to live” died early this week at age 95 following nearly five decades as director of the Indian River Mosquito Control District.
In an area marked on early maps as “Mosquito,” John Beidler, at age 27, became director of Indian River Mosquito Control District and led its efforts for 48 years to curb mosquito populations from 1955 to 2003 before retiring at 75.
He died Tuesday at 95, just short of what would have been his 96th birthday, according to his daughter, Melissa Beidler, who said all five of his children were with him when he passed away at VNA Hospice House in Vero Beach.
Doug Carlson was director of the district, which is an independent tax district entity separate from county government, until 2020 following Beidler’s retirement. Hired by Beidler in 1978, he said it was a “situation of a boss and a very good friend.”
“You don’t see that too much in life; I was very fortunate.” Carlson said. “Most of the residents of Indian River County did not know John, or did not know of him. He was one of the driving forces back in the ‘50s and ‘60s of making Indian River County a pleasant place to live.”
In the 1960s especially, he said it was extremely unpleasant with high mosquito populations.
“We’re kind of spoiled now,” he said.
One of Beidler’s major accomplishments was the creation of the roughly 30 salt-marsh impoundments, Carlson said. The intentional flooding of about 4,500 acres of mangrove swamp and salt marsh during the summer months proved to be a turning point in the effective control of the local mosquito population. It disrupted the reproduction cycle of certain mosquito species and reduced muddy areas where those species lay eggs.
“He was really the pioneer in IRC in implementing these new techniques,” Carlson said. “John’s influence has really gone way beyond Indian River County.”
Beidler and his wife Iris, now deceased, had five children who at times helped their father with research growing up in 1950s’ and 70s Vero Beach.
Melissa Beidler recalled the “number of different jobs” the children performed as junior entomologists with Beidler.
At times, she said they conducted “landing count(s),” which entailed going out to study areas and, “stick(ing) your arm out to see how many would land on you.”
“Others of us worked at the lab to identify mosquitoes, or count eggs in our summers and after school,” said Beidler adding, “We got paid for it.”
A favorite time, she said, was when the fog truck came around.
“We thought that was the best thing ever,” she recalled. “We would quickly hop behind our bikes and ride behind the fog trucks.”
Despite a long life spent researching disease carrying insects and developing potentially harmful insecticides, Beidler said her father remained healthy until his death.
“Basically 96 years of amazingly good health … nothing fazed him,” she said. “It just seemed as he was impervious to (it) all.”
In 2007, Beidler received the American Mosquito Control Association’s highest award – the AMCA Medal of Honor – for his accomplishments in the field of entomology, which were outlined in a four-page document of his life’s work.
Born in Orlando in 1927, he entered the field of insect research at only 15 in 1942 when he was hired while still in high school to help in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Division of Insects Affecting Man and Animals” research on the control of mosquitoes, house flies, sand flies and ticks.
He entered the military naval service during the last days of WWII and continued his work with mosquitoes and ticks in military laboratories and field research until 1946. Beidler later worked with crop-dusting services in the state and with an international chemical company, developing insecticides.
After landing a spot on what was then the Florida State Board of Health, he acted as consultant in its Bureau of Entomology overseeing 15 districts on the state’s west coast.
Once with the mosquito control district, Beidler continued research work with other U.S. and Caribbean states, including Jamaica and Grand Cayman Island.
“He was very proud of the organization he built and the people that worked there were extraordinarily hard workers,” Melissa Beidler said.
The family plans to have a private ceremony in remembrance some time next year.