Stephen T. Cockerham

February 19, 1939December 30, 2018
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Known as the humble farmer, Stephen T. Cockerham, 79, forty-year resident of Riverside, CA, passed away on December 30, 2018, at Riverside Community Hospital following complications from treatment for melanoma.

Steve was born on February 19, 1939, in Elwood Indiana, to Theodore and Inez Cockerham. He has one younger sister, Joyce Valley (Duane), who lives in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. He was preceded in death by his son, Garrett Charles in 1985 and by his parents.

Steve graduated in 1961 from Purdue University as an agronomist in turfgrass science. He earned an MS in Turfgrass Science from New Mexico State University and an MBA from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. He had an amazing 56 year career in turfgrass-related endeavors including 30 years consulting with the LA Coliseum beginning with the 1984 Olympics, assisting with the design of the Bank One Ballpark (Chase Field) in Arizona in the mid 1980s, and ensuring the quality of the multiple playing fields used for the 1994 World Cup. For five years (1979-1983) he was a farmer in Perris, CA with his own sod farm. From 1983 through 2009 he served at the University of California at Riverside as Superintendent of Agricultural Operations. During his tenure there he conducted extensive research with his colleagues, especially Dr. Victor Gibeault, his best friend. His technical professional writing was highly valued in journals and books.

Steve served as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador from 1962-64 where he met his wife of 54 years, Barbara, who was serving as a missionary secretary. They enjoyed spending time with other volunteers and driving around in a little blue jeep.

Steve is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their son, Fernando Gabela, and wife Alicia, and two granddaughters, Jessica and Jackie, who reside in Diamond Bar. Steve also leaves to cherish memory, exchange student, Franz Leforestiere, who resides with his family in Miami. His niece Jodie also lives nearby in Norco. Nephews Scott and Randy reside in Minnesota. He has innumerable grand nieces and nephews in Minnesota as well. Also an integral part of the family system includes Laurie McLaughlin, Barbara’s sister, and her daughters, Erin (Josh), Meaghan (Tony), and Kate (Matthew) and their children. Laurie lives two houses away from the Cockerham’s.

Steve loved to travel and a trip to Hawaii was planned for the spring. His favorite travel destinations were southwest US areas such as the Four Corners. A recent valued moment was enjoying the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon. His hobbies included golf, photography, Purdue sports, reading and music: country to classical, He was noted for his dry wit and sense of humor.

Funeral arrangements are entrusted to Garden of Prayer, Acheson and Graham, 7944 Magnolia Avenue, Riverside, CA. Visitation will be 5 - 7 pm on Wednesday, January 2nd at Garden of Prayer. Services will be held at 4:00 pm on Thursday, January 3, with a reception immediately following. The burial will be conducted at Olivewood Cemetery on Central Avenue on January 14 at 10:00 am.

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at for the Cockerham family.


  • Barbara Jean Cockerham, Wife
  • Fernando Gabela, Son
  • Alicia Gabela, Daughter-in-law
  • Jessica Gabela, Granddaughter
  • Jackie Gabela, Granddaughter
  • Joyce Valley, Sister
  • Duane Valley, Brother-in-law
  • Laurie McLaughlin, Sister-in-law
  • Steve also leaves to cherish his memory numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.


  • Celebration of Life Service Thursday, January 3, 2019
  • Reception Thursday, January 3, 2019
  • Committal Monday, January 14, 2019

Stephen T. Cockerham

have a memory or condolence to add?

Eugene Mayer

January 9, 2019

May God grant you strength,comfort and peace during this time of loss and sorrow. I had the opportunity to know and interact with Steve for numerous years even from my home in Ohio. Working in the turfgrass industry at the Scotts company I met with Steve on occasions at the California research station plus interacted with him at the national Sports Turf Managers Association. In 1994 we served as advisers and consultants for World Cup Soccer. Steve will be remembered by many and I will always remember Steve during my lifetime.
Eugene Mayer

Pat Gross

January 9, 2019

Barbara and family - I’m sorry for your loss. Steve was a very special guy in the turf world. Although his research and publications made a big impact on the industry, it’s his sense of humor I will remember most. My prayers are with you.

Michael Tarantino

January 7, 2019

Dear Barbara and Family,
I met Steve through the Sports Turf Managers Association and while I did not know Steve all that well, Steve always had time to chat, he was a good listener and always had words of wisdom to offer.
Steve set the bar for us California sports turf managers we will miss him.
With Deepest Sympathy,
Mike Tarantino, Past President SoCal STMA

Larry Stowell

January 7, 2019

Dear Barbara and family,

First, thank you for sharing the wonderful photos of Steve and your family. They all made me smile and realize the tremendous loss.

I always respected Steve for his work at UCR and the huge responsibility he managed with his job. More specifically, as a turfgrass professional, I used the information that Steve and the UCR team delivered to the turfgrass industry - the fun part of his job. Thank you for sharing Steve with us over all of the years.

With Love and Sympathy,
Larry Stowell

Tom Cook

January 7, 2019

I was one of Steves turf research friends. We first met back in 1975 or so when I was at Washington State University. I got to know Steve through various meetings and conferences we attended for over 30 years. Several times he came to Oregon State University while I was working there. Steve was very smart, very perceptive, and very blunt and I really respected him for those qualities. Most of all I enjoyed his wit and sense of humor. More so than most turf researchers he was well connected to the real world and was able to understand turf in a practical way. He was simply an incredibly capable person. I always thought of Steve and Vic Gibeault as the dynamic duo because of the amazing body of work they produced at UCR. I feel lucky to have known Steve.

Please accept my condolences,
Tom Cook

Mike Huck

January 7, 2019

I'm not exactly sure where it was that I first met Steve, most likely dates back to the late 70's, early 80's while I was a student at Cal Poly Pomona. Probably heard Steve making a presentation at the Southern California Turfgrass Council annual educational sessions that were once held at the Anaheim Convention Center.

What I do remember for certain is that Steve has been a longtime pillar of the turfgrass industry in Southern California. His contributions to both sports and golf turf have been many and great. He was a pioneer with Kikuyugrass management. He also had the good common sense when (forced against his will if I'm not mistaken) establishing the first Kikuyugrass research plots at the UCR Field station to place them very, very far away from all the other plots so to avoid contaminating the "more desirable" species. However, those plots ended up being extremely important in developing cultural maintenance practices for that once "undesirable" turf and forever changed how many golf course superintendents and turf managers would view Kikuyugrass.

From that early research kikuyugrass eventually became a viable, manageable turfgrass option, shattering the conventional wisdom that only eradication should be considered and that it could be grown and managed in Southern California. In fact the progression went from early efforts to find eradication and control measures on to cultural management to finally where we now even have sod farms growing this "invasive weed" as sod. Steve's impact on this subject alone was immeasurable.

Suz Trusty

January 7, 2019

My husband, Steve, and I first met Steve through the Sports Turf Managers Association in 1992. He had served as STMA President in 1989 and remained active as an educator and mentor to many in that industry. He was always willing to take the time to explain complex issues in easy-to-understand terms, always making sure that any questions were treated with respect and answered fully. His kind heart and warm smile lit up the room and made all those around him feel welcome and part of the group.
We frequently reached out to Steve as a technical resource in our writing assignments in the turfgrass industry. In our current roles as co-editors of Turf News, the magazine of Turfgrass Producers International (TPI), we learned of all his contributions to that association as well. We were privileged to talk with him by phone for his input and memories of TPI for an article looking back and forward for TPI's 50th Anniversary celebration in February of 2017.
Steve leaves a wonderful legacy for us and so many others in that memories of him bring a smile to our hearts.

Pete Cookingham

January 7, 2019

Dear Barbara and all the rest of Steve's family,

Please know that Steve touched many lives in many ways, and leaves many legacies -- among them the materials, both print and visual, that he archived here at the Turfgrass Information Center. They will serve turf science scholarship on into the future!

Please also find here a link to Steve's turf-related publication record as indexed thus far in the Turfgrass Information File (TGIF) database:

I didn't get to know Steve more informally until we were working (mostly his effort!) on the archiving 'project', and hadn't known that he was an RPCV from El Salvador until about that time, via Mike Moore. I suspect we shared more than a few other unknown interests as well --

My condolences for your loss.

Pete Cookingham

Jamie Breuninger

January 7, 2019

Steve was a great person and I very much appreciated his contributions to the turfgrass industry in California. I recall the extensive effort he made in testing grasses for stadium use with reduced light.

raymond snyder

January 7, 2019

We are all so thankful for Steve's contributions to our turfgrass industry and his generosity for so many others.
Please accept our condolences from his friends at Harrell's and in Florida.