Early History and the Transition Years, 1955-1968

The decade from the mid-1950’s to the mid -1960’s set the stage for the widespread growth and diversification, which occurred in the College of Agriculture and in the University. During its first 50 years (1912-1962) the primary purpose of the College remained essentially the same – to prepare teachers for the state’s high school vocational agriculture classrooms. The University accomplished this mission with distinction. Over the years, several notable graduates endowed the state with a strong legacy for excellence in classroom teaching as well as with leadership within Wisconsin’s agricultural Community, FFA and in 4H.

The first faculty members in the School of Agriculture were noted for their longevity. John May began his career in 1913, one year after the school’s agriculture program was established, serving as Director of the School of Agriculture. He retired in 1957 after serving on the faculty for 44 years. During his career he was responsible for training 950 students in the field of vocational agriculture. 840 of his former students attended his retirement party. Gifts, mementos and a bound volume of letters of appreciation were presented. In 1965 Professor May’s grandson, Don, was an undergraduate at Wisconsin State University – River Falls. At this time May Hall, a new student residence facility, was dedicated in his grandfather’s honor.

John May, 1956
John May, 1956

W. Segerstrom taught industrial arts from 1914 until 1950. E. J. Prucha began teaching agronomy in 1915. He retired in 1959, and passed away the same year. At the time of his retirement he had recently served as the University Registrar. The student residence hall, Prucha Hall, is named in his honor. R.E. Spriggs taught farm mechanics from 1918 until 1950. Clyde B. Campbell taught Agricultural Education from 1927 until 1953.

Art Johnson began teaching animal science at River Falls in 1919. He retired in 1960. Johnson was also the Farm Manager. The following represent a sample of some the testimonial letters written to Johnson by former students and colleagues.

A letter written by Floyd Doering, class of 1949. Oct. 1, 1960. At the time Doering was the agriculture instructor at Wittenberg, WI.

Dear Art,
It was with mixed emotions that I reacted to the news of your retirement. Nice to look back on a job well done, but sad to know that the newcomers would not have the advantage of having you as a teacher. Your vast knowledge on almost any subject has continually amazed me, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for all the help you have been to me and the countless others in the field of teaching agriculture education.

We know that River Falls College will never be the same without you. The name of “Art” Johnson and Mr. May were synonymous with River Falls agriculture, and I’m sure it will always be that way with your “boys”.

A letter to A.N. Johnson from Wallace L. Mehlberg a Spring Valley farmer, Oct. 7, 1960.

Dear Art,
In a very small way I hope to pay tribute to one of Agriculture’s most respected Professors I have ever had the privilege to associate with as a student and as a farmer.

Your most sincere interest in my education at the college and your deepest concern for my morale in the Military Service are items, which can never be measured in a few words. The personal letters to servicemen during World War II when you were already overburdened with responsibilities is just one example of the dedication and self-sacrifice, which are so much a part of your faithful service to your students and the college.

I recall in the winter of 1941 when I hauled straw at the College Farm on Saturdays, it was you who came to my rescue at 7:00 A.M. each morning because I was too short to buckle the collars on old Barney and Charley. Much water has passed under the bridge since then, but never once have I known you to fall short of expectation in anything you attempted.

I shall always regard and remember you as THE PROFESSOR WITH THE HUMAN TOUCH.

A somewhat humorous letter to A.N. Johnson from Marvin Thompson (UWRF Professor of Ag Education) October 17, 1960.

It would appear that two men, you and Professor May, were in major part responsible for the development of many young men who caused River Falls to be known as the “Ag” school. I have yet to meet one of those graduates who did not show respect for your teaching and for your judgment as well as an appreciation for knowing you as an individual.

…Lest you feel that we are treating you too kindly, we could mention some of those things about which you need not feel too proud. For instance, a good deal of truth has emerged in recent years regarding your actual prowess as a fisherman. Your ability to steer a boat and to select suitable fishing baits can be questioned. Your incessant promotion of the Democratic Party and of the Guernsey cattle has not helped your reputation. It has also been rumored around River Falls that you have somehow cheated in raising roses – that real rose bushes do not actually grow that tall or have that many flowers.

The January 7, 1960 edition of the River Falls Journal reported that Professor Charles G. Stratton, Dean Emeritus, passed away in River Falls at age 76 shortly after shoveling snow from his sidewalks on Fourth Street. Stratton joined the faculty at River Falls in 1915 and retired in 1950. He taught geography and geology. He also served as a cooperative weather observer at River Falls for the United States Weather Bureau from 1919 until the time of his death. Stratton served as Dean of Men at River Falls during World War II. He spent considerable time keeping up correspondence with former students who were serving in the armed forces. His correspondence included a mimeographed newsletter. At one time he was writing to as many as 600 servicemen. After the war he prepared copy for a “Servicemen’s’ Issue” of the Meletean, the college annual. This included pictures and information about River Falls students who had been involved in the war. A student residence hall bears his name today.

According to the River Falls Journal, the enrollment report for the winter quarter in 1960 indicated that there were 247 students from 107 Wisconsin high schools majoring in agriculture. The leading schools were Waukesha, with 10 students, River Falls with 9 students, and Barron with 8 students. The list of remaining schools suggested that agricultural enrollment was distributed statewide. There were also four students from Minnesota, one from Illinois, and two international students; one from Seoul, Korea and another from Abu Ghraub, Iraq.

In June 1960 the River Falls Journal also reported that agriculture graduates accepted the following positions at the end of spring quarter.

1960 Graduate Position
Melvin Nelson Vo-ag Instructor (Arcadia)
Allen Hjelsand Coop Oil and Produce (Whitehall)
Rober Richardson Midland Coop (Dorchester)
George Pederson Wisconsin Farmco Service Coop (Madison)
John Gregorich Rural Mutual Insurance Co. (Madison)
Richard Patin Federal Land Bank (Cleveland, MN)
Allen Hangartner Pure Food and Drug Admin. (Detroit)
Henry Bollum Soil Conservation Service (Owatonna, MN)
Neal Jorgenson Grad Assistant in Dairy Science at the UW-Madison
Edward Pronchinske Grad Assistant in Dairy Husbandry at the UW-Madison
Ivan Gruetzmacher Pure Food and Drug Administration (Chicago)
Francis Cobian Armour Company (South St. Paul, MN)
Mathias Felber Olin Co.
Dick Shimel Vo-ag Instructor (Tony, WI)
Robert Matzat Vo-ag Instructor (Taylor, WI)
Robert Dietsche Vo-ag Instructor (Lena, WI)
Wilbur Larson Farm Bureau Coop (Jefferson, WI)
John Stieber not available
Jon Kilmer not available

Neil Jorgenson went on to become a well-known professor of dairy science and Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UW-Madison. Fran Cobian became a leader in the state dairy industry while working in management positions at Lake-to Lake Dairy and later at Land O’ Lakes. It is interesting that none of the graduates appeared to be going into farming.

In 1951 the university was formally organized into three colleges, Agriculture, Education and Arts and Sciences. Richard Delorit, a 1942 graduate, joined the faculty in 1953 along with Marvin Thompson and Russell Gerber. Gerhardt Bohn joined the faculty in 1957.

Russell Gerber
Russell Gerber
Marvin Thompson
Marvin Thompson
Leland Wittwer
Leland Wittwer
Vern Elefson
Vern Elefson

The historic retail milk route described in Johnson’s history (see appendix) was discontinued in 1956 after 35 years. New state regulations had made the service too costly to maintain.

By 1960 the School of Agriculture consisted of 11 faculty members, 260 students. A new dairy and livestock facility, located southeast of the campus bordering on Cemetery Road, boasted over 200 acres of land. Later to become known as the Campus Farm, this facility housed the dairy herd until 2007 when a new facility was constructed in Mann Valley.

Leland Wittwer joined faculty in 1958 in the Animal Science area. He was followed in 1960 by Vern Elefson in Agricultural Economics, John Foss in Soils, James Dollahon in Animal Science, and Edwin Ebert in Agricultural Engineering and Industrial Arts. Richard Delorit was selected as the Director of the new College of Agriculture.

Ag Faculty

Ag Faculty Musicians

Some of the new faculty members were obviously talented musicians. Nevertheless they all retained their day jobs.

Jim Dollahon
Jim Dollahon

Prior to the mid-1960’s students enrolled in the College of Agriculture could choose from two academic options (1) the teaching option and (2) the non-teaching option. It soon became apparent that there was a substantial number of students who were interested in obtaining a sound education in agriculture who were being drawn towards careers in industry or government service, rather than teaching vocational agriculture. Recognition of this concept, coupled with a general nationwide trend of more and more students entering universities, soon resulted in the adoption of specializations within agriculture and the creation of administrative departments. Leadership for this unprecedented growth and diversification came from the newly appointed Dean of the College of Agriculture, Dr. James C. Dollahon.

By 1967 the college was organized into five academic departments, each with a Department Chairman who reported to the Dean. This general administrative structure continues to the present day.

Department Department Chair
Agricultural Education Dr. Marvin Thompson
Agricultural Engineering Technology Dr. Gerhard Bohn
Agricultural Economics Dr. Vern Elefson
Animal Science Dr. Donald Hargroves
Plant and Earth Sciences Dr. John Foss

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