By Tom Campbell
Purely by luck of the seating chart, Jay Akridge, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Purdue Agriculture, and Warren Hinkle were dinner companions a decade ago. At the time, Akridge was a faculty member in Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Economics and the Center for Food and Agricultural Business.
Hinkle, now 57 and a sales leader for Cargill in South Dakota, was a participant in one of the center’s agribusiness seminars.
“We just started talking at dinner,” Hinkle recalled, “and I mentioned that I had a collection of books. I asked him if Purdue would be interested in them.”
Early versions of the agricultural yearbooks were published by the U.S. Patent Office.
Hinkle had made it his mission to collect every agricultural yearbook produced by the United States Department of Agriculture dating back to before it was even a glint in President Abraham Lincoln’s eye.
Each book is an annual review of the developments in agriculture, including the examination of current research as it pertains to the agriculture industry. “In the beginning (1849), the books were published by the U.S. Patent Office,” Hinkle said. “The USDA took over after it was created in 1862 by President Lincoln.”
Hinkle’s father, Richard, a Minnesota dairy farmer, started the collection when he received six of the books (1958–63) as gifts from his congressman, Rep. John Zwach, as was a tradition of the day.
When Richard had a stroke in 1998, completing the set became Warren’s passion.
“It took me about five years to find all of the other books,” he said. Hinkle found most of the books on eBay and paid as much as $200 for one of the books.
“But I really needed that book,” he explained to his wife.
“Some of the others I got so cheap I felt like I was stealing them,” he said. He guesses his collection is one of no more than a dozen complete sets still in existence.
“When I talked to Jay, I told him I thought I would make the collection available to him in around 30 years, when I was finished with them.”
But all that changed in May when Hinkle was diagnosed with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer has produced a rare blood disease, AL amyloidosis. Cells in Hinkle’s body are making large amounts of an abnormal protein that thickens his blood.
“I have a tremendous peace about a not-so-peaceful diagnosis. I tell people that normal blood is like a 5-weight motor oil,” he said. “Well, mine is like 50-weight motor oil. Eventually, that thickness will shut down my organs and kill me.”
Doctors laid out a 20-week chemotherapy protocol followed by a stem cell transplant procedure. Hinkle consulted with his family and decided against it.
“They told me I wouldn’t live to see my next birthday.” So he started getting his house in order, literally, by finding a new home for his books.
He emailed Akridge and told him his timetable for delivering the books had moved up dramatically.
“I have no expectation of any honor or recognition in their display,” Hinkle wrote to Akridge on July 25. “I would like the assurance that they will not sit in the boxes in a storage room for years.”
Akridge contacted Purdue Libraries. “They were absolutely thrilled to be offered this kind of collection,” he said.
Donya Lester gave the books a little TLC on the long drive back to campus, even belting in a couple of the boxes that didn't fit in the trunk of her car.
So why give the books to Purdue? Hinkle went to college for one year until money got tight and he had to take a full-time job. He started his career in sales as a 19-year-old, hawking center pivots for irrigation systems to farmers in central Minnesota.
“But sometime ago, I developed a hankering for Purdue and all the great things they were doing in agriculture,” Hinkle said.
And when he enrolled in a program hosted by the Center for Food and Agricultural Business 10 years ago, well, that just sealed the deal.
“I got to work with people like Dave Downey, Mike Boehlje and Jay Akridge over the years, and I think they are just doing tremendous things in agribusiness,” Hinkle said.
But Hinkle didn’t want to put his books on a UPS truck to get them to Purdue anymore than a mother would put her children in the family van without a seatbelt.
Up stepped Donya Lester. The executive director of the Purdue Ag Alumni Association volunteered to make the 710-mile drive to Sioux Falls, S.D., to personally pick up the collection and deliver it safely back to campus.
“I’m glad he trusts Purdue University and the College of Agriculture with his books,” Lester said. “I know he wishes he had been able to go to Purdue, but at least his books will be here.”