Feb. 3, 2014
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Nine agricultural leaders receive
Purdue's Certificate of Distinction

2014 Purdue College of Ag Certificate of Distinction winners; Howell, Kuhn, Burke, Heller, Bidde, Theobald, Swisher, Diehl
These nine agricultural leaders received Purdue College of Agriculture Certificates of Distinction in Indianapolis. Honorees include: Front row, left to right, Mary Howell, Middletown, Ind.; Robert D. Burke, Martinsville, Ind.; Beth A. Theobald, Brookston, Ind.; and John D. Diehl, Dansville, Mich.; Back row, left to right, David Howell, Middletown, Ind.; William E. Kuhn, Urbandale, Iowa; W. David Heller, Racine, Wis.; D. William Biddle, West Lafayette, Ind.; and John B. Swisher, Indianapolis.  (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

By Tom Campbell

Nine agricultural leaders were honored with Purdue Agriculture Certificates of Distinction at the annual Ag Alumni Fish Fry Saturday, Feb. 1, in Indianapolis.

The award has been presented each year since 1938 to “recognize outstanding contributions to the agricultural community and the broader society, far beyond the requirements of one’s job or profession,” said Donya Lester, executive director of the Purdue Ag Alumni Association and director of public engagement for the College of Agriculture.

An Ag Alumni committee selects the honorees from nominating letters submitted by the public.

“The high level of the professional accomplishments of these nine people would be reason enough to honor them. But it is the incredible legacy of service that each of them has established in their professions and their communities that truly makes them worthy of this recognition,” said Lester.

“They are truly servant leaders who have made a difference in every organization they have touched and who exemplify the service ‘above and beyond the call’ that this award seeks to recognize.”

Coming Tuesday, Feb. 4:

The 2014 Ag Alumni Fish Fry  had a little bit of everything, including good friends and good fellowship, great food and a dynamic guest speaker. On Feb. 4 we'll publish a photo gallery of the annual event, held Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in the Marsh Pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

The honorees are D. William "Bill" Biddle, West Lafayette, Ind.; Robert "Bob" D. Burke, Martinsville, Ind.; John D. Diehl, Dansville, Mich.; W. David Heller, Racine, Wis.; David and Mary Howell, Middletown, Ind.; William "Bill" E. Kuhn, Urbandale, Iowa; John B. Swisher, Indianapolis; and Beth A. Theobald, Brookston, Ind.

D. William "Bill" Biddle

Bill Biddle, BS '64, West Lafayette, Ind., founded Biddle Seeds Inc. in 1970 and expanded the family's business interests in 1986 with the founding of Biddle Insurance Services Inc. He is a graduate of the first class of the Indiana Agricultural Leadership Program and served as chairman of the program's sponsoring organization, the Indiana Institute of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition (now Indiana AgrIInstitute). He was a charter board member of the Public Varieties of Indiana program. Biddle served on the board of directors and numerous committees of the Indiana Crop Improvement Association for more than 40 years and was a member of the board of directors of the Indiana Seed Trade Association. He has served as president of both organizations. Biddle was secretary and treasurer of the American Soybean Association and was part of the group's trade committee that visited China and Japan in 1980. He is a longtime leader of the Ag Alumni Seed Improvement Association, the foundation seed company of the Purdue College of Agriculture. He has been a member of the board of directors of Ag Alumni Seed since 1980 and served as chairman since 1988. Biddle was selected as a Purdue Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award recipient in 2000.

Robert "Bob" D. Burke

A native of Montgomery County, Ind., Bob Burke, BS ’60, served two years in the U.S. Army assigned to the 33rd Field Hospital in Fontainebleau, France, prior to earning his degree in forestry.

Burke’s distinguished career began as a walnut log grader, buyer, and sawmill worker for the Pierson-Hollowell Veneer Company, Indiana’s leading hardwood veneer company. In 1965, he implemented a new hardwood forest management department for the company, and for the next 33 years until his retirement, he was the company’s head forester.

Burke managed a team of four foresters and established walnut and hardwood plantations throughout Indiana for the company as well as for research purposes for the U.S. Forest Service and Purdue University. In 1979 he established an independent forestry consulting business focused on the establishment and management of walnut plantations.

Along with former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and Dennis LeMaster, former head of the Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Burke co-founded the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center at Purdue and serves on its advisory committee.

Burke has promoted the Indiana hardwood industry on trade missions to Taiwan and Vietnam, participated in international hardwood study tours in France and Germany, and traveled to 12 European countries to exchange forest management practices. He co-founded the Walnut Council in 1970 and served as its president in 1983. In 1995 he co-founded the Walnut Council Foundation and has served as its president since that time.

As a member of the Society of American Foresters, he has served as chairman (1974) and secretary-treasurer (1968–71) of the Indiana chapter. He served six years as chair of the forestry committee of the National Association of Conservation Districts — the first person from Indiana to ever be appointed to this committee.

In 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctor of agriculture degree by Purdue University.

John D. Diehl

John Diehl, BS ’69, forged friendships with his fraternity brothers at Purdue’s Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, who he calls “the real winners of this award.”

After earning his degree in agricultural economics, Diehl worked for a year at International Harvester, designing tractor engines before enlisting in the U.S. Navy.

After a three-year tour of duty, he returned to the family farm in Dansville, Mich., becoming a third-generation farmer.

During the next 20-plus years, he and his family farmed thousands of acres of corn, wheat, navy beans, and soybeans. His “Best of the Best” soybean variety trial was started in 1976 to compare public varieties.

In 1980, proprietary varieties were added along with tests of various seed treatments. The “Best of the Best” continues today with more than 132 varieties entered in 2013. Diehl evaluates disease and insect patterns, maturity and planting date patterns, and numerous patented traits.

In 1996, Diehl Fields closed down and the farming partnership was dissolved. In 1997, with the financial backing and moral support of his fraternity brothers, John established D.F. Seeds Inc. as a contract soybean seed producer for several national brands that also sold some of the company's Michigan Certified Seed soybean and wheat varieties.

Diehl is a long-time supporter of Dansville athletics, academics and civic programs. Parenting a special needs son led him to become active in county education policies, and he was recognized in the 1980s for several years of service on the Ingham Intermediate Political Action Committee that was instrumental in mainstreaming special needs children into regular classrooms.

W. David Heller

David Heller, BS ’91, earned his master's degree in real estate development and investment analysis from the University of Wisconsin in 1996.

From 1991 to 1994 he worked for Van Zelst Inc., a residential landscape firm in Wadsworth, Ill., initiating a computer bidding and job estimation program to improve the firm’s efficiencies. After earning his master’s degree, he worked for three years in Milwaukee for WISPARK, a full-service real-estate development company that specializes in complex commercial developments.

In 1999 he founded Heller & Associates, a landscape architecture firm based in Racine, Wis. Heller’s expertise has led him to create master landscape plans for residences, senior living facilities, corporate headquarters and college campuses. He is the primary landscape consultant for several architecture firms and building contractors in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Heller has developed more than 16 landscape designs for independent senior living facilities throughout Illinois. Major projects include landscape plans for the corporate headquarters for Manpower Inc., the corporate facility for GE Healthcare, and the regional distribution facility for GE Healthcare. One of Heller’s largest projects is the $1.5 million master plan for the corporate headquarters of U-Line Corp., and he is currently working on the plan with an installation budget of approximately $500,000 for a national distribution and fulfillment center of a major national retailer.

Heller has volunteered his time for numerous community projects. In 2009, he was appointed a plan commission member for the village of Wind Point, Wis. As a plan commissioner, he has helped the committee with zoning regulations, overseeing parks and facilities and preserving the integrity of the Lake Michigan shoreland and surrounding watershed.

David and Mary Howell

The Howells are first-generation farmers who built Howell Farms, an operation that now includes more than 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans, processing tomatoes and jack-o-lantern pumpkins in Middletown, Ind., and international farm operations in Brazil. They diversified with fruits and vegetables and planted and managed a 3,000-tree apple orchard. To continue their growth, the Howells purchased a farm in Bahia, Brazil. Each fall for two decades, Howell Farms hosted several thousand children, parents and teachers, educating them about the importance of agriculture. Their innovations and management practices also were showcased on many other tours, such as the U.S. deputy secretary of agriculture's Midwest Farm Tour and the Royal Netherlands Agriculture Minister's Midwestern Tour. They also hosted trade missions from Taiwan and China. The Howells have written and made presentations about commercial midwestern American agriculture to the French-America Foundation in Paris and have represented U.S. farmers at a U.S. Grain Council–sponsored conference in Tokyo.

The Howells were named honorary commissioners of Indiana agriculture by former Lt. Gov. John Mutz, who served two terms in the 1980s. David Howell, BS '69, MS '71, has served on the Purdue College of Agriculture Dean's Advisory Council. He was instrumental in establishing the first corn checkoff program in Indiana and served on the first Indiana Corn Marketing Council board of directors as vice president. He also served as chairman of the U.S. Grains Council's Asia A-Team and represented the council on a corn production tour of China and at the formal signing of the new Free Trade Agreement. He received a Purdue Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award in 2008.

William "Bill" E. Kuhn

Bill Kuhn, BS ’68, of Urbandale, Iowa, spent two years in the U.S. Army before continuing his education at the University of Minnesota, earning a master's degree and doctorate in plant breeding in 1973 and 1974, respectively.

Kuhn began his career with Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., where he spent 32 years and established a distinguished record of accomplishments in maize breeding and in service to the plant breeding and seed professions. He began as a corn breeder with Pioneer and retired in 2006 as research director of maize product development for North America.

As a corn breeder, he developed early generation topcross evaluation methods, and his breeding work directly resulted in more than 52 corn inbred lines and six hybrid varieties. One of the hybrids identified by Kuhn’s methods, Pioneer 3489, sold 500,000 units from 1982 to 1992. In his role as research director, he managed a budget of $21 million to develop the product lines that contributed more than $1 billion per year in revenue to the company. In 1997, Pioneer honored Kuhn with its Owen J. Newlin Business Excellence Award.

Kuhn served on the board of directors of the National Council of Commercial Plant Breeders from 1999 to 2002 and on its awards committee from 1996 to 1998. In his role at Pioneer, Kuhn oversaw a donation of $1.5 million to the Latin American Maize Project, which preserved and evaluated more than 12,000 maize accessions from twelve countries and resulted in this germplasm’s global availability to breeders.

Kuhn and wife, Joyce, established the Emerson J. Kuhn Scholarship at Purdue for students in animal sciences and agronomy. To date, 22 undergraduates have received awards from this endowment.

John B. Swisher

John B. Swisher of Indianapolis is the founder, chairman and CEO of JBS United in Sheridan, Ind. Swisher graduated from the University of Illinois in 1951 with a bachelor's degree in animal science and went to work for his grandfather’s feed business, Charles Swisher and Son, in Danville, Ill. But Swisher had an idea for a different kind of feed company that would market high-quality feed directly to farmers at a competitive price with a sales force that was knowledgeable and honest.

In 1955, Indianapolis packer Stark and Wetzel contracted with Swisher to start a feed division and agreed to let him try his idea. But a year later, the company decided to back out of the feed venture, and Swisher was left with a young family and no job.

Convinced that he had a good idea, Swisher borrowed $25,000 from his parents and his mother-in-law, and launched United Feeds, now known as JBS United. Through dedication to sound business principles and his skill as a salesman, Swisher built JBS United into an international company with a number of proprietary products. JBS United is also one of the largest swine research organizations in the world.

The company produces feed for more than 10 million U.S. swine at seven locations throughout the Midwest. Today, JBS United makes products for major animal production entities in swine, dairy, layers, broilers and horses.

Swisher’s service to the industry includes six years on the board of directors of the Indiana Pork Producers, six years as the Indiana delegate on the National Pork Producers Council, and four years on the board and one year as chairman of the Indiana Institute of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition (now AgrIInstitute). Swisher is a former member of the Purdue Agriculture Dean’s Advisory Council, and he served four years on the board of the Indiana 4-H Foundation.

In 1997, Purdue University awarded him an honorary doctor of agriculture degree.

Beth A. Theobald

Beth Theobald, BS ’80, of Brookston, Ind., has been the vocational agriculture teacher and FFA adviser for Delphi Community School Corporation (DCSC) for more than 32 years. In 1986 she earned her master's degree in education from Purdue, and in 1995 she completed Purdue’s Leadership Development Certificate Program. Four years ago, she launched a business as co-owner of BeBe’s Flowers.

Theobald grew up on a farm in Jamestown, Ind., and participated in the agriculture program at Western Boone High School. Both experiences contributed to her success as she entered what was then an entirely male profession.

Theobald has simultaneously blazed a pathway and served as a role model and mentor for others. Because she was successful, she had credibility with the young teachers — both men and women — who followed her. And because she was a woman, other women could see that this profession was indeed one that offered opportunities for them.

At DCSC Theobald has been an innovator and a problem solver. Her superintendent calls her a “master teacher” and “the most caring person I have seen in K-12 education.”

She created a career internship program to place seniors in local businesses. Under her leadership, Workplace Readiness and Peer Tutoring programs were initiated. She wrote the curriculum for Workplace Readiness, a class designed for the Indiana Department of Education, and she recently wrote a curriculum for agricultural education offerings in that area. Peer Tutoring is a course that allows agriculture students to share agriculture lab courses with elementary students.

As the leader of the state mentoring program, Theobald made changes to better meet the needs of inexperienced teachers, resulting in more active membership from this group. She has served the Purdue Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education as a member of the Agricultural Education Advisory Board and as a laboratory site for Education Block I and II. 

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