INDIANAPOLIS — 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 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
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 with degrees from
Purdue — at the Feb. 1 event included:
* William Biddle of West Lafayette, 1964 bachelor’s degree — 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
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 Burke of Martinsville, 1960 bachelor’s degree — Burke began his
career as a walnut log grader, buyer and sawmill worker for Pierson Hollowell
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 Diehl of Dansville, Mich., 1969 bachelor’s degree — 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 of Racine, Wis., 1991 bachelor’s degree — 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 currently is
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
* David Howell, 1969 bachelor’s degree and 1971 master’s degree, and Mary
Howell of Middletown — 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
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 Kuhn of Urbandale, Iowa, 1968 bachelor’s degree — 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 Swisher of Indianapolis, 1997 honorary doctorate — Swisher is the
founder, chairman and CEO of JBS United of Sheridan.
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; and
* Beth Theobald of Brookston, 1980 bachelor’s degree and 1986 master’s
degree — Theobald has been the vocational agriculture teacher and FFA adviser
for Delphi Community School Corp. 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 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 awarded Certificates of Distinction