9 receive Purdue Ag Alumni's Certificate of Distinction

February 3, 2014  

Ag Certificate of Distinction

These nine agricultural leaders received the Purdue University Agricultural Alumni Association’s Certificate of Distinction at the group’s annual Fish Fry on Saturday (Feb. 1) in Indianapolis. They are, from left, David and Mary Howell of Middletown, Ind.; William E. Kuhn of Urbandale, Iowa; Robert D. Burke of Martinsville, Ind.; W. David Heller of Racine, Wis.; D. William Biddle of West Lafayette, Ind.; Beth A. Theobald of Brookston, Ind.; John B. Swisher of Indianapolis; and John D. Diehl of Dansville, Mich. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Nine agricultural leaders received the Purdue University Agricultural Alumni Association's Certificate of Distinction during the group's annual Fish Fry in Indianapolis.

In addition, a special award from the dean of Purdue Agriculture was given to a farm couple from Lebanon, Ind., for their service to the Council for Agriculture, Research, Extension and Teaching.

The Certificate of Distinction, the association's top award, recognizes contributions to agriculture - and society in general - that go far beyond the requirements of a job or profession, said Donya Lester, executive director of the alumni association.

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

Certificate of Distinction honorees (all degrees from Purdue) at Saturday's (Feb. 1) event include:

* William Biddle (B.S. '64) of West Lafayette, Ind. Biddle 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. 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 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 D. Burke (B.S. '60) of Martinsville, Ind. Burke began his career as a walnut log grader, buyer and sawmill worker for Pierson Hollowell Veneer Co. He became head forester and remained in that position for 33 years until his retirement. He established an independent forestry consulting business focused on walnut plantations. Burke co-founded the Purdue Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center and serves on its advisory committee. He has promoted the Indiana hardwood industry on trade missions to Vietnam and Taiwan, participated in international hardwood study tours in Germany and France, and traveled to 12 European countries to exchange forest management practices. He co-founded the Walnut Council and the Walnut Council Foundation. He has served as chairman and secretary-treasurer of Indiana's chapter of the Society of American Foresters. He was the first person from Indiana to be appointed to the forestry committee of the National Association of Conservation Districts and served as its chair.

* John D. Diehl (B.S. '69) of Dansville, Mich. A third-generation family farmer, Diehl began his "Best of the Best" soybean variety trial in 1976 to compare public varieties. The "Best of the Best" continues today with more than 132 varieties in 2013. With the financial support of his Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brothers, Diehl later established D.F. Seeds Inc. as a contract soybean seed producer for several national brands that also sold some of its Michigan Certified Seed soybean and wheat varieties. Parenting a special-needs son led him to become active in county education policies, and he was recognized in the 1980s for his work in helping to mainstream special-needs children in regular classrooms.

* W. David Heller (B.S. '91) of Racine, Wis. Founder of Heller & Associates of Racine, Heller's expertise has led him to create master landscape plans for residences, senior living facilities, corporate headquarters and college campuses. Heller has developed more than 16 landscape designs for independent senior living facilities throughout Illinois. He is currently working on the plan for a national distribution and fulfillment center of a major national retailer. In 2009 he was appointed a plan commission member for the village of Wind Point, Wis., helping with zoning regulations, overseeing parks and facilities and preserving the integrity of the Lake Michigan shoreland and surrounding watershed.

* David Howell (B.S '69, M.S. '71) and Mary Howell of Middletown, Ind. They 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 Indiana, 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, teaching them the importance of agriculture. Their innovations and management practices also were showcased on many other tours, such as the U.S. deputy of 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 Midwest 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 Lt. Gov. John Mutz, who served two terms in the 1980s. David Howell 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 was among recipients of a Purdue Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award in 2008.

* William E. Kuhn (B.S. '68) of Urbandale, Iowa. Kuhn worked as a corn breeder for 32 years at Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., where he developed early generation top-cross evaluation methods. His work resulted in more than 52 corn inbred lines and six hybrid varieties. He oversaw a donation of $1.5 million to the Latin American Maize Project, which preserved and evaluated more than 12,000 maize accessions from 12 countries and resulted in this germ-plasm's global availability to breeders. He retired from Pioneer in 2006 as research director of maize product development for North America. Kuhn served on the board of directors and the awards committee of the National Council of Commercial Plant Breeders. He and wife, Joyce, established the Emerson J. Kuhn Endowed Memorial Scholarship at Purdue for students in animal sciences and agronomy.

* John B. Swisher ('97 Honorary Doctorate) of Indianapolis. Swisher is the founder, chairman and CEO of JBS United of Sheridan, Ind. Swisher built the company into one of the world's largest swine research organizations, producing more than 10 million swine at seven locations throughout the Midwest. He has served on the board of directors of the Indiana Pork Producers, as Indiana delegate on the National Pork Producers Council, and 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 College of Agriculture Dean's Advisory Council, and he has served on the board of the Indiana 4-H Foundation.

* Beth A. Theobald (B.S. '80, M.S. '86) of Brookston, Ind. Theobald has been the vocational agriculture teacher and FFA adviser for Delphi Community School Corporation for more than 32 years. She completed Purdue's Leadership Development Program in 1995. Since then, she has launched a business as co-owner of BeBe's Flowers. Theobald created a career internship program to place seniors in local businesses. Workplace Readiness and Peer Tutoring programs were initiated under her leadership. She wrote the curriculum for Workplace Readiness, a class designed for the Indiana Department of Education, and she wrote a curriculum for agricultural education offerings. Peer Tutoring allows agriculture students to share lab courses with elementary students. Theobald 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.

Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Purdue Agriculture, presented the Dean's Service Award as a surprise to Bob and Nancy Guernsey of Lebanon, Ind., for their longstanding service to the Council for Agriculture, Research, Extension and Teaching, known as CARET. Bob Guernsey has been involved in both the national organization and the state group, Purdue CARET, dating to 1979 and has served as national president in 1991 and 1992. Nancy Guernsey was chair of Purdue CARET for two years among her service.

The Guernseys both were award Certificates of Distinction in 1995. 

Writer: Tom Campbell, 765-494-8084, tsc@purdue.edu 

Source: Donya Lester, 765-494-8593, lesterd@purdue.edu 

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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