Hall of Fame, 2007 Inductees

R. Paul Abernathy

Paul Abernathy was head of the Department of Nutrition Science from 1974-1991. During this period the department greatly increased its emphasis on research. External grants increased from $30,000 per year to more than $1.5 million. Teaching and Extension goals were also strongly supported. He fostered a climate of collegiality and respect within the department that continues to this day. His favorite policy comment was, “I never hired anyone unless they were smarter than I am.” The humor and humility evident in that statement say much about how he created this open working environment.

Dr. Abernathy received the B.S. degree from Berry College. This was a unique institution dedicated to low-income rural children of the south. Everyone had to work two days per week and go to classes 4 days per week. After graduation he served for three years in U.S. Army Intelligence, then he pursued the M.S. degree at University of Georgia, followed by the Ph.D. degree from Cornell University in 1960. He conducted human nutrition research at the Georgia Experiment Station for six years, followed by eight years at Virginia Polytechnic Institute as associate professor and professor before coming to Purdue as department head in 1974.

His research primarily centered on protein needs of children, but in later years he focused on obesity and longevity with emphasis on healthy lifestyle. He published about 40 scientific articles. He was active in campus leadership and professional organizations. He served as chair of the Committee on Use of Human Subjects in Research for several years, editor and associate editor of the IFT Nutrition Division Newsletter and chair of the Indiana Nutrition Council. He served on an “Expert Work Group” for the United States Department of Agriculture establishing a scientific basis for policy decision on evaluating protein quality of meats, poultry and their products for regulatory purposes. He served on the executive committee of the nutrition division of IFT and received a USDA Superior Service Award.

Growing up on the farm in the mountains of north Georgia, he lived without electricity, telephones, central heat or refrigeration. He milked cows by hand, planted and cultivated crops with aid of mules, worked at a “saw mill” cutting trees and hauling logs. His nearest neighbor, mail delivery and the bus were all a mile away. Neither of his parents, John and Zora, went to school beyond sixth grade but they had a strong desire for their four children to “get a good education” which in their mind was through high school. He went to college to please them. Paul Abernathy credits Mr. Newman Parker, who taught him for the first five grades of primary school with 30 students in 7 grades, as having a big impact on his education. He is also grateful to his wife, Mary Frances, who helped finance his study for a Ph.D. He attributes the success he has had to the work ethic and values he developed during these formative years and the encouragement of his parents, teachers, friends, wife and a lot of luck.

Helen E. Clark (1912-2001)

Helen Clark is remembered as an internationally recognized and highly respected nutrition scientist and teacher. She was one of the giants of human nutrition/metabolic research in her era. She was dedicated to excellence in research and teaching, and students prized her personal and professional advice. She was a pioneer in many ways and she built the foundation for our current graduate program in the Department of Nutrition Science. The impact Dr. Clark made as a researcher is great. Her pioneering work in protein metabolism and amino acids is still being referenced by researchers today. Her work on the adult requirements for lysine has been widely used by national and international policy makers to formulate changes for improved nutrition that impact world food problems.

Born in Edam, Saskatchewan, Canada, her early childhood education was in a one-room school. Following graduation from high school, she taught in one-room schools in Edam until she was financially able to enroll in the University of Saskatchewan, from which she received her B.S. She pursued graduate education in the USA, choosing Iowa State University because of her interest in its nutrition program. Upon completion of the MS, she continued at Iowa State University to complete a doctorate in 1950. She joined the faculty of Kansas State University as an Assistant Professor; four years later coming to Purdue as Associate Professor of Nutrition Science.

She was a pioneer in nutritional policy “firsts” at the national and international levels and she broke ground for the status of women in science. She participated in the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health in 1969. She served as chair for local professional involvement in this effort in the state of Indiana. She was recognized for her outstanding leadership and service to the University with the Helen B. Schleman Gold Medallion Award and the Women’s Caucus (Purdue University) Award. Helen Clark never lost sight of the cost for a woman in the 1950’s and 60’s and 70’s to excel in science research. A former student said, “She led by example and inspired in all of us the quest of excellence. She set high standards, but never failed to provide the utmost support for those in need of special assistance. She enabled all of us to flourish beyond our greatest expectations.”

As one of the leading authorities on protein and amino acid requirements of humans, Dr. Clark was recognized by several awards and honors, including the Borden Award, for outstanding fundamental research in nutrition related to protein and amino acids; the Centennial Award from Iowa State University; Fellow of the American Institute of Nutrition and Meredith Distinguished Professor of Nutrition Science at Purdue University, the first woman professor at Purdue to be named a distinguished professor. In 1994, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree, the highest honor bestowed by Purdue University.

She corresponded on a regular basis with many former students and after her retirement, they frequently visited at her West Lafayette, Indiana home. Her genuine concern about former students’ welfare and professional development continued until her death.

Avanelle Kirksey

Dr. Avanelle Kirksey is the Meredith Distinguished Professor of Nutrition Science Emeritus; the second female named a distinguished professor at Purdue. Her dynamic, productive and imaginative research program bridged the gap from basic mechanistic science to human behavior and cognition. In addition to her demanding research program, she was an inspiring role model for students. Her research specialty area was the role of Vitamin B6 in early development; international research and the human functional effects of mild-to-moderate malnutrition.

Dr. Kirksey received the B.S. degree from the University of Arkansas; the M.S. degree from the University of Tennessee; and the Ph.D. degree from Pennsylvania State University. She taught for two years at Penn State Faculty, and then came to Purdue as an associate professor in 1961 in this department. She became a full professor in 1970. For 10 years (1982-1992) she was principal investigator for the Nutrition Collaborative Research Support Program (NCRSP), a joint effort among scientists from several disciplines in the U.S. and in Egypt, Kenya and Mexico to test the effects of marginal malnutrition on human functions and, in so doing, to strengthen the nutrition research capacity of the host countries. She had 197 technical reports, book chapters, refereed papers and abstracts.

She had a special appointment as Program Administrator (1988-1992) for this international collaboration from 1988-1992 with Purdue as the management entity for six U.S. universities (Universities of Arizona, California at Berkley, Connecticut, Kansas, Purdue and California at Los Angeles) and three host country institutions in Egypt, Kenya and Mexico. She was also the Program Facilitator (1987-1992) for a World Bank project in Indonesia to develop nutrition graduate and research programs in Gadjah Mada University and Institut Pertanian Bogor.

She has won many awards: Fellow of the American Institute of Nutrition; Lederle Award for research of significant to human nutrition, American Institute of Nutrition; Borden Award for Research in Infant and Child Nutrition, Distinguished Alumna of both Pennsylvania State University and University of Arkansas; among others. She received an Honorary Doctorate from Purdue in 1997. The Kirksey Lecture at Purdue gives annual recognition to her career, as invited speakers share current research in the areas of maternal, infant and child health or international nutrition. She enjoys a rich retirement in her native Arkansas.

Karen L. Konzelmann

Karen L. Konzelmann, M.S., Certified Health Education Specialist, received both her degrees from Purdue University. She has more than 30 years of experience in nutrition education and nutrition research at the local, state and national levels. Beginning her career in the 1970’s as a county extension educator she joined the Nutrition Science Department as the Indiana EFNEP Coordinator in the 1980’s. In 1993 she was asked to establish a partnership position with the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service, CSREES, of USDA and Baylor College of Medicine at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas. Thus she became the first National Program Leader for Maternal and Child Health to be based in a research and medical center. Her focus in this position was to foster increased communication between nutrition research and nutrition education across the land-grant system. This she did via an electronic newsletter with international distribution and by planning and speaking at national meetings. She was the first national CSREES Coordinator for the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program.

She has been recognized for her ability to work between research and education to design effective nutrition interventions, communicate scientific results in consumer language and for evaluating programs-- especially for families with limited resources. She is well known as the lead author of the Have A Healthy Baby Program and Professor Popcorn Explores the Food Guide Pyramid—both of which have been taught in hundreds of communities and schools across the country.

Karen has served on the Boards of numerous organizations including Head Start, March of Dimes and Councils on Aging. She chaired the task force that brought the first congregate meals to seniors in LaPorte County. She has served as an officer of numerous professional organizations.

In her “semi-retirement” Karen returned to Purdue as Interim CFS Program Leader. She continues to be a consultant for Baylor College of Medicine scientists in grants related to osteoporosis and women’s health, and nutrition education for Hispanics.

Karen has won numerous teaching and service awards including the Distinguished Hoosier Award from Indiana’s governor Evan Bayh for her work on behalf of moms and babies, the USDA Superior Service Award and the Secretary of Agriculture’s Honor Award for Reaching Diverse Audiences with Effective Nutrition Education.

Barbara Shannon

Barbara Shannon retired in December 1999 from The Pennsylvania State University as Dean Emerita of the College of Health and Human Development and Distinguished Professor of Nutrition. Prior to becoming that College’s Dean she served as Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Penn State. The College of Health and Human Development was restructured to its current configuration of two schools and six departments during her tenure as Dean.

Dr. Shannon received the B.S. degree from the University of Tennessee, Martin; the M.S. degree from the University of Illinois; and the Ph.D. degree from Purdue University. She joined the Penn State Faculty in 1971 as an assistant professor in the Nutrition Department where she was engaged in research and teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate level and supervised the research of master’s and doctoral students.

Her research focused on eating behavior as it impacts on disease prevention and health promotion and her studies were funded by both private and public sector foundations and agencies. She is a member of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences (formerly American Institute of Nutrition) and the Society for Nutrition Education — serving as president of the latter in 1991-92 and editor of the Journal of Nutrition Education from 1982-1985. In 1986 Dr. Shannon received the Outstanding Alumni Service Award from Purdue University’s School of Consumer and Family Sciences and in 1998 she was named a Distinguished Alumni of that School.

She now resides with her husband, Dr. Jack Shannon, in Cary, North Carolina. Since retiring she has been active in volunteer work serving on the Board of Directors and as President of The Carying Place, a transitional housing program for homeless families in the Cary area. Also, she completed docent training at the North Carolina Museum of Art and currently serves as a volunteer docent at that museum. Her favorite hobbies are oil painting and reading.

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