Agriculture News

February 8, 2016  

6 honored with Purdue ag alumni's top award

Lester 2016 fish fry

The 2016 recipients of the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association's Certificate of Distinction are (from left) Larry Nees, Donald E. Orr Jr., David Petritz, John T. Costello, Kenneth Craig Newman and Ralph E. Booker. (Purdue Agriculture Communication photo/Tom Campbell)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Six agricultural leaders received Purdue University Agricultural Alumni Association's top award during the group's annual Fish Fry in Indianapolis.

The Certificate of Distinction recognizes contributions to agriculture - and society in general - that go well beyond the requirements of a job or profession.

"We are awed by the contributions of professional and community service of this year's award recipients," said Donya Lester, executive director of the alumni association. "They represent the best of our agricultural and natural resources profession. Our university, our profession, and certainly a number of our communities are stronger because of their work, and we are delighted that we can honor and thank them at one of Indiana's largest agricultural meetings."

Certificate of Distinction honorees (all degrees from Purdue) at Saturday's (Feb. 6) event:

* Ralph E. Booker (B.S. 1971) of Plymouth, Indiana, began his career in 1973 as Purdue Extension 4-H educator in Parke County, a role he maintained until 1977 when he became Extension director in Brown County. In 1988, he was appointed Extension director of Marshall County, from which he retired in 2003. Since retiring from Purdue Extension, Booker has continued his community service as the Marshall County plan director and zoning administrator and Plymouth plan consultant. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves 1972-99, retiring as lieutenant colonel.

* John T. Costello (B.S. 1952), a native of Stratford, Connecticut, served in the U.S. Navy 1945-46 as an aircraft carrier radar operator on the USS Philippine Sea near the end of World War II. After graduating from Purdue, he began a career in the forestry industry. He is described as being the "common thread" in the executive leadership of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for more than three decades. He rose to deputy director, a position he held for 29 years until his retirement in 2000. In addition to the positions he held in his professional life, Costello has also been involved in multiple organizations dedicated to serving Indiana's natural resources and wildlife industry.

* Larry Nees (B.S. 1975), a native of Poland, Indiana, went to work at the Office of Indiana State Chemist and has spent his entire career there, now serving as Indiana state seed administrator. He has a long record of state and national industry leadership and volunteer organizational involvement for which he has received numerous awards. Nees is an advocate for consumers, including farmers and homeowners, and protects consumer interests by assuring that high-quality, correctly labeled seed is sold in Indiana. He also has strong rapport with seed companies, being fair in upholding Indiana's seed law.

* Kenneth Craig Newman (B.S. 1971) is a native of Veedersburg, Indiana, where he was raised on a corn, soybean and hog farm. He began his career with Procter & Gamble, where he worked as a field sales representative in the health and beauty market. He was promoted to district sales representative and to unit sales manager. He later took a position at Akin Seed Co. in southern Illinois in 1979 as operations manager. That same year, Akin Seed began selling under the AgriGold brand name. Newman recently retired as president and CEO of AgReliant Genetics, parent company of the AgriGold brand.

* Donald E. Orr Jr. (B.S. 1967) is a native of Tipton, Indiana, where he grew up raising and showing hogs. He and his wife, Pam, live in Noblesville, Indiana, and have grain farms in two western Indiana counties. Orr was a swine consultant in Europe and Asia 1977-84, when he began his career at JBS United. He was the first Ph.D. nutritionist there, using research and development to drive swine nutrition innovation, providing effective products and building business models to facilitate producer decisions. Orr retired from JBS United as president in 2015 and was named president emeritus. He continues to serve on the company's board of directors.

* David Petritz, a native of Rockford, Illinois, joined Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics in 1972 and became assistant head for Extension in agricultural economics in 1982. In 1989 he was named assistant director of Purdue Extension and agricultural and natural resources program leader, a position he held until 1999, when he was appointed director of Purdue Extension Service. In 2002, he was named associate vice provost for engagement and in 2004 was appointed interim department head for 4-H Youth Development. He retired in 2007 after 35 years of service to Purdue. 

Writer: Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722, 

Source: Donya Lester, 765-494-8593,

Agricultural Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson,
Agriculture News Page

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