Food Science and Technology

Submitted by Steve Ridley

The Department of Animal Science and the College of Agriculture of the Wisconsin State University-River Falls prepared a request for a major in Food Science and Technology in 1966-67 in response to a need to make the college agribusiness offerings more comprehensive and to meet regional needs for skilled personnel in the food processing industry. The request was approved by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents on March 14, 1968.

Dr. Lee Blakely was hired in the fall of 1969. Blakely and Dr. Dean Henderson, a professor in the Animal Science Department specializing in meat science, began offering courses that same year. Limited teaching laboratories and equipment, especially for meat processing, were available in the Agricultural Science Building, which had been completed in 1966. From the very beginning, however, faculty members associated with the Food Science program began planning for a more suitable alternative. The campus submitted a request for a Physical Science –Food Science building in 1971. Although planning funds were received from the state, the state Building Commission did not approve plans for the Food Science portion.

Beginning in 1972 the food service facilities in May Hall, which were no longer in use after Rodli Commons was completed, were temporarily allocated to the program for both classroom space and for food processing lab facilities. Space for analytical and microbiological laboratory courses was retained in the Ag Science Building. The May Hall facilities were upgraded to include a small dairy processing plant in 1975-76 and served the needs of the program until the current Food Science Addition to the Ag Science Building was completed in 1982.

Many tales can be told about the “May Hall days.” The portion of the building assigned to Food Science included the west end basement area, which had previously served the campus dining service (then Ace Foods) as a food preparation area with offices and storage space, including walk-in coolers. Just prior to occupancy by the new Food Science tenants, the southwest corner of the basement housed a campus discotheque and bar known as “The West End.” The upper level was used by the wrestling team under legendary coach Byron James for practices and matches. The team shared the locker room with Food Science. There always seemed to be a lingering locker-room odor present throughout the facility during the first part of each day. The sole lecture room, also located in the basement, was difficult to find by all but the most astute students. Instructors could never certain about the accuracy of their class rosters until the beginning of the third week of class.

Food Science student Linda (Prochnow) Haywood shared some of her memories of the old facility in May Hall.

This was the first time I’d ever seen a cockroach, and the place was infested with great big ones! I think I was one of Dr. Vasavada’s first students. He must have had a line on free cabbage one year, because almost every food science experiment involved cabbage – mostly making sauerkraut. Phew! The new Food Science building was such an improvement. It was like night and day – literally. We moved from the dark infested basement to a bright new building where we didn’t have to run extension cords or remember not to trip in the gutter drains.

The Food Science program became nationally approved by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in 1973. As such students enrolled in Food Science were eligible to receive IFT scholarships. The first recipient was Sherri (Stephens) Schellhaass, a 1975 graduate who went on to obtain a PhD degree from the University of Minnesota and to complete a distinguished career with General Mills. The program’s first graduate was Jerel Steckling in 1971. Jerel rose through the ranks to become a manager with one of the largest cheese producers in the U.S. David Aggen, another graduate from the early 1970’s became a Vice President with Lakeside Foods, one of the largest vegetable processors in Wisconsin.

In 1984 the River Falls Food Science program was approved for Warrant Officers of the U.S. Army Veterinary Service to complete their degrees. John Scott and Mike Acheson were the first of approximately 12 participants over the years.

A student organization, the Food Science Club, has been in existence since the earliest days of the program. Over the years this group has become known for its sales of smoked turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The group has also been active in the regional Food Science College Bowl competition and in Minnesota and national IFT activities. Club member Catherine Gryniewicz took first place in the IFT undergraduate research competition in Anaheim, CA in 1984. An excerpt from the winter 1991 Food Science and Technology Club Newsletter, written by club President Pamela Ruck, sheds additional light on student activities.

November’s highlight was our trip to the College Bowl. We left on Friday November 9 and toured Henri’s Salad Dressing, Ambrosia Chocolate and Miller Brewing in Milwaukee. On Saturday we toured the state capitol and the city of Madison. Also we attended the regional IfT meeting on Saturday night. On Sunday our team consisting of Ned Schumacher, Pam Ruck, Kristi Pechacek and Joyce Gabbert defeated Ohio State, Purdue and the University of Wisconsin – Madison (25-10) to win the Regional title and earn a trip to Dallas, Texas for the National College Bowl in June.

Joseph George, a Food Science student from India poses with Tim McIntyre with plaque for the outstanding regional student club in late 1980’s.

Food Science students have reported learning many things during their four or more years at UW-River Falls. A club newsletter from 1998 contains the following information:

“General Rule of Thumb: Most Food cannot be kept longer than the average life of a hamster. Keep a hamster in your refrigerator to gauge this.”

They didn’t learn this from me.

Food Science Faculty Prior Education Area of Specialty Years at UWRF
Dean W. Henderson Iowa State University Meat Science and Livestock Evaluation 1968 – 2001
Lee Blakley Michigan State University Food Microbiology and Dairy Processing 1969 -1971
Otto Hampton Texas A and M Food Microbiology 1971-72
Stanley H. Richert University of Wisconsin-Madison Food Processing and Engineering 1972-74
James V. Chambers Ohio State University Food Microbiology 1972-74
Stephen C. Ridley University of Maine Food Microbiology and Food Chemistry 1974-2006
Henry Leung University of Illinois Food Engineering and Processing 1974-1975
Walter Wood University of Idaho Food Processing 1975-1976
Purnendu C. Vasavada University of Georgia Food and Dairy Processing and Food Microbiology 1977 – present
Steven H. Watters University of Wisconsin-River Falls Meat Plant Manager 1982 – present
Jeff Culbertson Oregon State University Food Processing 1981-82
Patricia Curtis Texas A and M Food Processing 1986-1991
Ranee May University of Nebraska Dairy Plant Manager 1982 – present
Fred Murdock University of Missouri Food Chemistry and Analysis 1988 –1992
Anand Rao Iowa State University Food and Dairy Processing 1988 – 1990, 1995 – 1998
Bonnie Walters University of Wisconsin-Madison Poultry Science and Food Chemistry 1992 – present

 

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