G. Roland Vela, 93, of Denton, Professor Emeritus of microbiology whose long career included international recognition and the discovery of a bacterium, died Jan. 26.
Vela joined the microbiology faculty in 1965 and went on to serve as associate dean of science and technology in the College of Arts and Sciences and become the first Latino professor to be awarded tenure at UNT. His research on bacterial physiology and nitrogen-fixing bacteria included discovering a bacterium that was named after him -- Paenibacillus velaei. The bacterium is surrounded by a large capsule and its polysaccharide could be used in the food and pharmaceuticals industries.
He also was a Fulbright lecturer, a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, an industry consultant, an expert witness a textbook author and published history books on Bernardo de Galvez and Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. He wrote 75 scientific papers and lectured around the world. During his 35-year tenure at UNT, he supervised 20 doctoral students and 40 master’s students.
Vela served in the Texas State Guard as a teenager and transferred into the Navy. He earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.
In this 2014 North Texan article, alumni from around the world hosted a reunion in his honor to describe the impact he had on their careers – he even allowed one bedridden pregnant student to defend her dissertation at home. In an article for the Denton Record-Chronicle, doctoral students said they also had to give him a picture of themselves – which he then placed on his home’s walls. He also was the first Hispanic member elected to the Denton City Council. He served on the Texas Municipal Power Agency and the Denton Airport Board.
For all of his service, the G. Roland Vela Athletic Soccer Complex at North Lakes Park in Denton was named in his honor. He also was named one of the Outstanding 100 Texas Latinos of the Twentieth Century by Texas Latino Magazine in 2000.
The funeral mass is being livestreamed at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 1.