Feb. 21, 2013
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Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award 2013


“My life has been an amazing adventure, and I wouldn't do anything different.  However, a mentor's faith in your abilities can provide a lifetime of confidence to perform.”

Zarrell Gray

Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

Zarrell Gray outside the offices of Teays River Investments in Carmel, Ind., where he is executive vice president and chief operating officer. 

Fourth in a series highlighting this year’s recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The award honors mid-career alumni who have a record of outstanding accomplishments, have made significant contributions to their profession or society and have exhibited high potential for professional growth. The series will continue each weekday leading up to March 1, when the nine honorees will receive their awards during a 3:30 pm. EST convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom. A 2:30 p.m. reception, open to the public, will precede the convocation.

Zarrell Gray, BS ’90, since 2007 has worked at Teays River Investments in Carmel, Ind., where he is executive vice president and chief operating officer.

After graduating from Purdue with a degree in agricultural economics, Gray returned home to Shelby County to work alongside his grandfather, father and uncle to learn the family business, Gray’s Seed Inc. of Fairland, Ind.

Gray worked in a variety of roles in 17 years, eventually becoming owner and business manager before joining with his college friend, Richard Halderman, to form Teays River Investments.

Gray has been active in the Indiana Seed Trade Association and the Indiana Crop Improvement Association, serving on the board of directors and as vice president and president of both organizations.

“Zarrell has spent his lifetime investing time and energy in growing, enhancing and improving the world of production agriculture,” said his nominator and business partner, Richard R. Halderman, BS ’91. “His love for all things in production agriculture and how to do them better and more efficiently has been his life’s work.”

∙ Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? Steve Erickson, BS ’71, MS ’73, and Eric Oesterle, MS ’49, PhD ’57. Both had a huge impact during and after my days at Purdue. I can’t thank them enough for the time, effort and trust they invested in me. For both educators, I know I was far from the first or last to receive such gifts. Their devotion to student development and others like them is what makes the Purdue College of Agriculture experience so much more than just an education.

∙ What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? In a small way, I hope to return some of the value my mentors and faculty provided for me.

∙ Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? I came to Purdue to study mechanical engineering. I enjoyed math, science and problem-solving. I never got passionate about my engineering studies, and opportunities on our family farm changed. Soon after moving to the College of Agriculture, I began to get motivated about my studies and everything started to click.

∙ Where was your favorite place on campus to study? I was a teaching assistant for both professors Erickson and Oesterle during my senior year. They set me up with a desk on the fifth floor of the Krannert Building, right across the hall from former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. I hit the lottery on that one! Each day I would go to my office first thing in the morning for my teaching assistant duties, attend classes and then return to the fraternity (Triangle) for dinner. I treated it like a job. I was always in the office between classes. A little background noise coming from the Sony Discman and I was good to go.

∙ What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? Lunch. I was a fixture at Harry's Chocolate Shop between noon and 1 p.m. I’m still addicted to their Buffalo wings. I can’t drive within 15 miles of Purdue without stopping for some.

∙ Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? Not in the beginning. I wasn't ready or mature enough to hit the ground running when I first got to campus. It was late in my sophomore year before I hit my stride as a student. I remember Joe Uhl pulling me aside and chastising me for doing B+ work. I have to give him some credit for turning me around as a student.

∙ What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? Any class that lasted longer than an hour or required a great deal of busy work was a difficult course for me. I’m an active learner. In lectures, I would concentrate on the delivery of content as if I were presenting it. It was exhausting but required little to no note taking. This was the key to learning for me: active participation versus note taking.

∙ What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? To go to Harvard for an MBA, which never happened. My life has been an amazing adventure, and I wouldn't do anything different. However, a mentor’s faith in your abilities can provide a lifetime of confidence to perform.

Read about other 2013 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.

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