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Histology Remembers Ken Urban

By: Herbert Skip Brown, M. Div., HT(ASCP)


In my time of reflection in the past few days concerning the passing of my dear friend Ken Urban, I had an opportunity to see a write up in a local newspaper obituary. While I was glad to see the acknowledgment and overview in a public posting, I pondered over the absence of all the things that attested to the uniqueness of his character and person. What it did not say was that Ken loved life. What it did not say was that Ken loved not only his family but people. What it did not say, even though his profession was mentioned, was that Ken was dedicated to science, the field of Histotechnology, and seeing the industry grow into a respected discipline in medicine. Ken started working in science shortly after entering military service (Air Force) in 1961 where he worked as a Medical Lab Technician. Although he was trained in many disciplines such as chemistry, parasitology, hematology, etc. his love for Histology immediately outshined all others.


Soon after leaving military service he began working as Supervisor of Research Laboratories at the University of Illinois Medical Center. It was amazing that as early as the mid-60’s Ken was involved in so many areas of medical research including celloidin, plastic, and paraffin embedding, tetracycline labeling technique, autoradiography, and a special interest in decalcified and undecalcified bone. It was during this period that he met and collaborated with a gentleman who had a commercial descaler product for industrial pipes; and using his knowledge of Histopathology helped develop a well- known decalcifier for bone that is still one of the top sellers on the market today.


Ken went on in his career to work as supervisor at institutions such as the University of Iowa and the Cleveland Clinic; always demonstrating a commitment to training and the continued development of his staff. His focus on continuing education led him to become involved in state societies for Histotechnology and soon catch the attention of Lee G. Luna of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Lee ran the Histopathology training division at the AFIP and had a desire to start a national society where technologist could come, learn and develop, and network with other like medical professionals. When Lee Luna started the National Society for Histotechnology in 1973, Ken was one of the Founding Board Members and served as Secretary, Recording Secretary, and on numerous committees. In 1982 Ken joined Surgipath Medical Industries where he applied his vast technical knowledge in Histology to lead their product development. Ken was responsible for the formulations of two of their top selling paraffins, development of decalcifying solutions, and slide adhesives.


As for me, I first met Ken in the early 1980’s on the backdrop of the NSH Symposium/Convention, and as quite common with our Society, this started a life-long friendship and professional association. We kept in touch and he was always interested in how I was doing personally and in my career. Having a passion for history, I would always marvel at his stories of the science in the 1960’s, the early days of NSH, and his personal friendships with many of the pillars of our profession. In 2008, when the company I worked for was acquired by his company, I had the unique pleasure of working directly with my friend. As the Director of Applications & Product Development, Ken pulled me on his team as the Manager of Clinical Applications & Training. He gave me the freedom to do what I love best, teach and train. We taught many workshops together and became the training team for Histotechnology. When I began experiencing my own health issues, Ken was so supportive and encouraging. I learned so much from Ken, but that was his nature with everyone. He loved people, and to help those who had an interest in learning. He maintained a love for the Society that he had been a part of in its creation. Many of us in the industry have our own personal stories of their association with Ken and how he helped and supported them.


In the past few years Ken’s health became a challenge. Like many I was deeply saddened when I heard of his passing. It had been a month or so since we last spoke, but I was devasted to hear I would no longer have my friend to talk to. He will surely be missed by many. NSH presents awards for Histotechnologist of the Year, and Histotechnologist of the Decade. And while there is no ‘Hall of Fame’ for our profession, if there were, Ken Urban would certainly be in the company of other great men and women of the field in the section for Histotechnologist of a Lifetime.

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The National Society for Histotechnology is a professional member organization for individuals actively involved in the histology profession. NSH has over 3,000 members worldwide, and is the leading provider of histology focused continuing education.  

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