John Moraghan

john  moraghan
John Thomas Moraghan was born in Musellbrook New South Wales, Australia on September 6, 1931, the second eldest of seven children of his parents Robert and Kathleen (Coady). He grew up in Lithgow and Katoomba, graduating with honors from Sydney University in 1955. From 1955 to 1957, he researched at Hawkesbury College. In 1957 he sailed to the United States of America to successfully pursue a PhD in Agronomy at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. While undertaking his American graduate studies, he met his future wife, Betty Sullivan, while attending a Christmas party at her parent’s home in Chicago in 1957. They were married in 1959, and lived in Ames until the completion of his graduate studies in early 1961. Four children (Andrew, Kathleen, Thomas and Diane) resulted from this happy marriage. He was a devoted parishioner of Holy Spirit Catholic Church during his long-term residence in north Fargo. His faith was the cornerstone of his life. He was a life-long supporter of Catholic education. In 1961, he accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Soils at North Dakota State University, Fargo. He was promoted to Professor in 1969, taught soil fertility and soil chemistry classes, conducted greenhouse, laboratory and field experiments with sugarbeets, corn and edible beans. He conducted unique field research on wetland soils for over 44 years. He gave many talks to the farm community, especially to sugar beet growers, on practical aspects of his research. During his career, Dr Moraghan was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and received the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Researcher of the Year Award as well as Red River Basin Research Award of the International Coalition. He enjoyed practical aspects of his research. Additionally, he was the Faculty advisor to the men’s and women’s rugby teams of NDSU. In 1974, Dr Moraghan presented a paper at the International Congress of Soil Science in Moscow and spent 10 days studying soils in southern Russia and the Volga region. Dr Moraghan held Visiting Professor positions at Louisiana State University, Baton, Rouge, University of Concepcion, Chile, and the Collegio Postgraduados, Mexico. He spent two years as a Principal Scientist at ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India, working with post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. He loved dogs, bird-watching and attending horse races. A life-long athlete; running, playing rugby, tennis, cycling and fishing. He biked to cancer treatments at Roger Maris. He read widely: mysteries and history especially about world religions. He delighted in playing with and traveling with his children. John admired the values and achievements of his grown children. In his own words to his four children, he wrote: “The top priority of your mother and me throughout our married life was the welfare of our children. The return on our dedication is evident with your love and help, as we have aged. You have made me feel that my life has been successful.” Later in life, his grandchildren became one of his greatest sources of joy. The values that he passed on to his children and grandchildren live on. He passes on discipline, love of learning, hard work and the priority of helping others. The family extends their gratitude to Drs. Preston Steen, Ashley Jensen, Raul Ruiz, David Flach, Mike Traynor and CHI Hospice. John Moraghan ran more than 25,000 miles around the Bison Sports Arena track. He had years of beating the odds against two cancers. He finished the race with grace and strength. He died at home surrounded by his loving family. We will miss him every day of our lives. John is survived by his wife of 60 years, Betty and children: Andrew of Bismarck, Kathy (Rob Olson) of Fargo, Tom (Jill) of Nisswa, Diane (Emmet) Kenney of Fargo. Grandchildren John, Sophie, William and Emmet III Kenney, Joseph, Patrick, Catherine, Matthew and Nicholas Moraghan. Also survived by beloved nephew Ben Moraghan and niece Colleen Gregory as well as many other nieces and nephews. John was preceded in death by his parents Robert and Kathleen, brother Peter, sisters Doreen, Joan, Dawn and Pauline.

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Memories Timeline


  1. To Betty and family – my deepest sympathy on the passing of John. I have wonderful memories of an extraordinary man, husband, father, scientist and Catholic. Bless his soul.

  2. Kathy, Rob and the Moraghan Family,

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.
    With deep love and sympathy
    Kathy Harger, Tate & Katie Barbot

    “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
    –Washington Irving

  3. John has always had a special place in my heart. From getting me a job at NDSU to great SE Asia discussions about Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia. We will miss him but take comfort that he is Home now
    Love and prayers. Dennis, Karen and family.

  4. Dear Betty and family,

    On Monday morning, I believe John heard “Well done, good and faithful servant.” May God surround you with peace as you remember a life well lived and continue to be inspired as you live John’s beautiful and awe-inspiring legacy. Please know of my prayers for John and all of you.

  5. Diane and family,
    We are so sorry to hear of the passing of your dad. In reading his obituary he sounds like a wonderful, loving man. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this sad time.
    JoyLynne and Duane Jahner

  6. Dear Kathy, I am so sorry to read about the passing of your father. Your warm and endless memories will help with the healing of your heart. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your entire family. May God continue to give you and your family support during this tough time in your lives. In sympathy, Sheila

  7. We met John through Betty, initially hearing her talk and write about her beloved. Then on a day John felt well, he visited The Riverview Writing Crew for an afternoon. He told stories from childhood. As a little boy living near an airfield, an Australian let John into the cockpit of a WWII bomber. Over these last years, we’ve witnessed Betty’s deep love for John. We pray for John’s soul and for Betty’s comfort. Grief is love. Sincerely, Karla and David

  8. Please accept my condolences on your loss. Dr. Moraghan was one of the best scientists that I’ve ever known. His attention to detail, his investigative mind, his immense knowledge (about a seemingly endless number of issues!) provided the framework for an immensely dynamic and successful research program. His work, known and referenced around the world, literally affected lives of millions of people. He will be missed.

  9. Kathy and family,
    My sincere sympathy to you all. Your Dad sounded like such an interesting and intelligent man. What a beautiful, useful and fulfilling life he led. All your wonderful memories will bring you smiles and peace.


    Diane Rustad

  10. Dear Kenney family -We are so sorry to hear of the lost of John. It is never easy to lose a loved one, and from the sounds of it, John was quite the guy. Your entire family will be in our continuous thoughts and prayers as you are grieving his loss. Let us know if you need ANYTHING – we are right down the street. Even if you need someone to simply walk your dog or bring over a meal!! Love, Patrick and Kelsey

  11. When I was 11 years old, I had the wonderful opportunity to fly to Chicago for my cousin’s (Betty Sullivan) beautiful wedding. That was when I first met this incredibly intelligent, interesting, kind, and very handsome man from Australia. John was, without a doubt, one of the finest people I’ve ever known and it has been such a joy through the years to observe the amazing family that he and Betty have created. My husband, Mike, and I have had the joy of spending time with many of them over the years and being with John was always an intellectually stimulating experience. John could easily converse on a vast array of topics and his enthusiasm for science and history was contagious. Mike and I sincerely feel blessed that we could share a small part of Betty and John’s life, and we treasure our relationships with their children and grandchildren. John truly helped make the world a better place. May he rest in peace and may his family find comfort knowing he is with God.

  12. I first met John at a family party at christmas time. John came with his friend Michael Grimes. John was very smart, good looking. Just the kind of man my sister Betty would become interested in and soon very interested and ultimately my brother in law. His Australian accent, charm, accomplishments and upon marriage, a good
    husband and father. Proud of his family, soon a full professor and always a pleasure to converse about science
    and politics and his world travels. A devout Catholic, esteemed and honored scholar. John was athletic and brave, especially these last few years. Revered by his wife Betty and children and by all Sullivans including
    Mary and Gene Sr.. He will be missed. Long ago the Roman poet,Vergil, wrote that there are the ‘tears of things’.
    R.I.P. Sincerely, Gene and Mary Sullivan

  13. I’m sorry to hear of the passing of Dr. Moraghan. I was one of his graduate students in the mid 80s. I didn’t have any kids at the time but I remember how proud he was of his sons and daughters when they came by the lab. I thought he was a great role model .

  14. John was an eloquent man married to a poet so he and Betty shared a passion for the beauty and power of language. But at a time like this no words are adequate. All I can say to the entire family is that John’s own words must surely be the best comfort. He wrote that your care and devotion made him feel that he’d had a successful life. Indeed he did have a successful life, and indeed the unfailing, steadfast love of those nearest to him is proof of that. I hope that the knowledge of bringing him joy even during his final days of suffering helps ease your own pain now. Wishing you all the comfort and the peace of the greatest love.


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