Personal Reflections of Faculty and Students

Dr. Louis (Lou) Greub

Dr. Louis (Lou) Greub was an Ag Ed graduate of WSU-RF and had Professor Mel Wall as his undergraduate faculty advisor. Greub elected to go to graduate school in agronomy at Iowa State University, and about a year before he was to compete his Ph.D. degree, Dr. Wall was killed in a plane crash in Vietnam. Shortly thereafter Greub received a call from the College of Agriculture Dean, James Dollahon, asking if he was interested in applying for the position left open by Dr. Wall’s death. Not wanting to leave ISU before completing his degree work, he regretfully declined the invitation. After receiving his Ph.D. and after interviewing for several university positions around the mid-west, Greub was informed that the agronomy position at River Falls was open again. He applied and was hired onto the faculty in 1968.

Upon arriving in River Falls in the summer of 1986, Dr. Greub and his wife Barbara were looking to rent or buy a house. During a meeting with one of the well-known local real estate agents and also with a well-known local bank loan officer, the two agents informed him that since they didn’t know him, a home purchase and loan, or even a rental place would be greatly facilitated if he could proved the name of a character reference. Without that they were not sure they could successfully find him anything. Greub asked them if former teachers; Dick Delorit, Jim Dollahon, Marv Thompson, Thor Thoreson, and Gary Bohn would do. The somewhat astonished realtor and loan officer both hurriedly assured him that no more character references would be needed.

One of Professor Greub’s legacies that still surfaces occasionally in discussions with former students, agronomists, and farmers around the state is his investigations into quackgrass as a possible forage grass. During the 1980’s he gathered and grew a nursery full of dozens of quackgrass specimens that he had collected from all over Wisconsin and a few other locations in the midwest, seeking genotypes that might have potential for forage use. His demonstration plots at the 1980 Barron County Wisconsin Farm Progress Days attracted a lot of attention from farmers, including a few who said that there were years when their cows would have starved if it had not been for quackgrass. Later Greub combined efforts with Dr. Mike Casler, Wisconsin’s grass breeder agronomist at UW-Madison in growing and evaluating dozens of the USDA’s world collections of quackgrasses. Disease problems; difficulties in getting Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP) approval for releasing seed of a species that is declared a noxious weed in the state; and lack of financial support for practical applied research of that type forced Casler and greub to finally abandon the effort. The forage grass breeder at the University of Minnesota has since picked up a somewhat similar project.

Dr. Greub became the coauthor with Dr. Delorit in revising and publishing the fourth (1974) and fifth (1984) editions of the 700-page Crop Production textbook. Greub received the Wisconsin Forage Council “Educator of the Year” award in 1992 and was the CAFES “Outstanding Faculty Member” in 1988. Beginning in 1999, an annual Louis J. Greub Forage Award plaque has been given to the high school scoring highest in the forage crops portion of the Ag Technology “Tops of the Crops” Contest. Coincidently, Greub’s home high school, Alma Center Lincoln, won the trophy several years in a row.

Greub plays a concertina (a musical instrument somewhat similar the accordion, and has upon occasion shown up to play dressed in alpine lederhosen and a felt hat. He also plays in in the local area “Polka Notes” band. Greub likes to brag that both of his grandfathers came from Switzerland and one of his great-grandfathers there was an Admiral in the Swiss Navy.

Dr. Steven (Steve) Carlson

Dr. Steven (Steve) Carlson received his bachelor degree at UW-Madison and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from North Carolina State University and Purdue University respectively. Carlson is one faculty member who has often been cited as being “outstanding in his field” – down on his farm, that is. He owns, has lived on, and together with his wife Joann, operates a farm south of River Falls where he raises sheep and beef cattle and grows corn, small grains, forage, and miscellaneous other crops. He periodically reported to students in his classes regarding the results of experimenting with a new or unusual crop such as forage turnips. Carlson often hired students to help with his farming operations and the discussion in his Corn and Soybean or Small Grains classes sometimes got sidetracked onto what he is doing or was not doing right on his farm.

Steve and his family have been frequent exhibitors of their livestock at county and state fairs. During the Fair season he also can be found judging the crop and produce entries at several of the County Fairs in the state.

Dr. Carlson has been very active on the CAFES committee that administers scholarship funds provided by a wide variety of agribusiness and private donors. He was directly responsible of obtaining the Rothermel grant which has been of great benefit to the Agronomy Program at UWRF. Carlson was also instrumental in initiating the “Tops of the Crops” contest in 1979 as part of the Ag Technology Contest in which participating high schools enter crop samples in 10-12 classes and an overall winner is selected based on the total number of points accumulated.

At one time the buzz among students in Carlson’s classes was in regard to his infamous crossword puzzle exams and quizzes. Some students liked them and other hated them. Jokes that have often circulated around the college classrooms, hallways, offices and the coffee room are frequently referred to as “Carlson Jokes” because they are usually short and simple, sometimes not readily understood, but occasionally hilarious.

Dr. Steve Ridley

Steve Ridley recalls his early days in River Falls after receiving his Ph.D. in Plant Science/Food Science at the University of Maine in 1974. “My wife Janet and I along with our 4 children arrived in River Falls in August of 1974 in a UHaul truck after a three day drive through through Quebec, Ontario, and Michigan. Thanks to Gary Rohde and Dean Henderson there was a rental house waiting for us on Roosevelt Street, a short walk past Ramer Field to the University.”

The Food Science program, which had been launched and organized by Dean Henderson, Stan Richert, and Jim Chambers was only two years old at the time, and had been allocated space for lectures and labs in the west basement wing of student residence, May Hall. The space had previously been occupied by the campus dining contractor, Ace Foods, prior to relocation to its new facility, Rodli Commons. The new faculty members, Steve Ridley and Henry Leung were provided with basement offices.

“I remember being anxious to get to work organizing my new office, preparing for classes, and setting up lab exercises. Naturally I went to the campus shortly after arriving in town to obtain keys to the building, only to be immediately frustrated when I found that the person in charge of keys, Jack Kahout, was on vacation and would not return for at least a week. Apparently no one else was allowed to issue keys.” Ridley stayed on in May Hall (after finally getting his own key) for eight years until the new Food Science facility was completed in 1982, sharing space with Purnendu Vasavada, who arrived in 1977.

Ridley continues, “When accepting a new job one always has reservations. Although I don’t consider myself to be unduly mercenary by nature, it was apparent, even from the point of the invitation to come to Wisconsin for a job interview, that the University could be a little tight with its finances. When R.P. (Peery) Johnston called me at home in Old Town, Maine to invite me to come out for a job interview, he was careful to explain that the University would cover my travel expenses whether or not I was hired – with the following caveat. If I was offered a position and turned it down, I would be held responsible for all of the expenses. Fortunately I found the University and the teaching position to be acceptable, because as a recovering graduate student with a family, I could ill afford to turn down the offer and be stuck with the expenses.”

“The other issue of concern was the nature of the contract – 9 months. When I inquired about this I was told that faculty members who desired summer pay could usually find employment in the area, for example on painting or roofing crews. There might also be opportunities with the University itself through the Cooperative Research Program, summer teaching, etc. No guarantees, however.”

“After getting somewhat organized and beginning to gain some confidence in teaching four courses, I took a day off to visit with some of the CALS faculty at UW-Madison in hopes of organizing a research program that I could work on during the coming summers. I was fortunate to meet up with Dr. Joe Von Elbe in the Food Science Department who was just beginning to think about a project involving the quality of potatoes to be used in canning. UW-Madison Professor and plant breeder, Dr. Stanley Peloquin, had recently developed some lines of potatoes that tended to yield large percentages of small – golf ball size – potatoes that for obvious reasons appealed to the canning industry in the state. An interesting project emerged from this in which Von Elbe, Dr. John Schoeneman, and I worked with the Experimental Farm in Spooner to grow these potato varieties, which were processed by canning on the River Falls campus and subsequently evaluated at River Falls and at Madison.”

“For two seasons the project results were encouraging, but we realized that our potato crops had been produced under something short of actual commercial conditions. In the third year we agreed to contract out the crop production and and have mechanical harvesting done through a commercial grower in the Central Sands region on some of the rich farmland near Bancroft. All went well with planting, and the growing season promised to be be a good one. In October I joined Schoeneman in Bancroft to observe and to assist with the harvest. We walked out to the plots during the evening prior to harvesting, and were absolutely shocked to see rows of potato plants with only a green top here and there with long spaces of bare soil in between. Obviously the yield was going to be disastrous. When asked for an explanation, the grower informed us that perhaps he had used the field to grow mint during the previous season, and it looked like there had been significant herbicide carry-over severely impacting potato growth. We were extremely disappointed, but in an attempt to salvage what we could, a successful harvest took place using commercial mechanized equipment the next day. As anticipated the yields were extremely low, but what remained of the three varieties of potatoes was experimentally useful, and was placed in separate wagons which were moved to the safety of a nearby storage facility just before dark. We returned to the farm the next morning to bag and transport our potatoes only to be confronted with a second disaster. During the previous evening, one of the farm hands, upon seeing three wagons loaded with spuds, decided to do a good turn, and he emptied our wagons into the bulk of all of the other potatoes harvested from various fields during the day. There was no way to recover and separate our potatoes from the others, and a year’s worth of experimental planning was totally ruined. Fortunately we had other plots at Spooner, and we carried on with the remainder of the season’s work as best we could. A lesson learned: what works well at the university frequently does not work well in real life.”

The “Chain Male” Incident

One afternoon in 1962-63 several of the Ag College faculty members were gathered in the Student Center either for coffee or perhaps they were just returning from a meeting in North Hall. That morning a traveling art and metal sculpture exhibit had been set up in the Student Center by the Art Department for a week-long display. Upon examining several of the metal sculpture pieces one of the group daringly said “Hell, we can put together something as good as any of these”. Proceeding to the Ag welding shop in the building next door, they set about gathering up scrap iron of suitable size and shape, and utilizing the welding expertise of one of their group, they began to shape two sculpture objects of art. The larger one had as its base an old automobile brake drum. When it got to where they thought it was about complete, one of them said that it needed just something more. Someone grabbed a piece of junk chain, placed it artistically at an appropriate spot on their creation and it was secured with a couple more spot welds. This one they decided to call “Chain Male” and carefully typed it onto a name card similar to those used for the other sculpture displays. After completing a second smaller sculpture, the details and name of which have faded into antiquity, all that remained was for a couple of them to return later that evening to the largely deserted Student Center and stealthily place their sculptures among the others on display.

The “Chain Male” impostor was rather quickly discovered by an art student who alerted the Art Department. Although the Art faculty was rather upset about what the Ag faculty group had done, the sculptures were permitted to remain on display. In fact, after it had been brought to their attention and a couple of the Art faculty came over to look at it, and commented that while it probably would not win first place in a sculpture contest, it was quite well done. One Art faculty member is purported to have said “Well, the Ag faculty are probably well-enough educated about art to know that a sculpture of this type has to have focus, balance, and a flowing design, and those have all been incorporated into it”.

The group’s second bogus entry was never discovered and is believed to have been packed up and shipped on as a part of the traveling display. The 1963 Melatean featured a full-page photo showing what appeared to be Professor Charles Graham (Political Science) and Professor Ed Peterson(History) having a good laugh while examining the “Chain Male” entry.

The exact makeup of the sculpture group is somewhat fuzzy but is known to have included Jim Dollahon, John Foss, Vern Elefson, Gary Bohn, and perhaps one or two others. According to one eyewitness involved in the incident, Dr. Delorit, who at that time was Dean of the College, walked into the shop and inquired as to what was going on. Getting rather vague answers he began to suspect what the group was up to. He flatly stated “I know nothing about this!” and left.

The “Chain Male” sculpture remained on campus for several years and at one time resided in a storage room in the basement of Ag-Science. At least a couple of times it was brought out and presented to an Ag faculty member as a retirement memento. It is believed that it was ultimately presented to Dr. Delorit on some occasion honoring him and may never have been seen again.

Ironically, sometime after the “Chain Male” incident faded,from memory, one or more of the Ag faculty created “Chain Female” as a sequel using appropriate pieces of iron. This was given to Dr. Delorit at his retirement party as a companion for “Chain Male”. Its fate since that time has remained unknown.

During the 1970s and 80s there were several incidents where members of the Ag faculty, sometimes individually or in concert, published, submitted, or sent fake letters and documents. In one such incident a young, single male member of the Ag faculty had begun dating a single female member of one of the Arts and Sciences departments. He received a letter on official-looking stationery from the Chancellor’s office admonishing him for fraternizing with a female of another department and informing him that this sort of thing was “forbidden.”

In another bogus incident, a faculty member who was let go by one of the departments submitted an application for the same position under a fake name with excellent credentials and had everyone fooled for a time.

In an official-looking document circulated to the Ag faculty, they were chastised for taking too many or too lengthy restroom breaks and were presented with a rather restricted schedule for using the restrooms down to the length of time allowed in a stall before it would flush automatically and the door would open.

At the time when South Hall was scheduled to be demolished, there was a concerted effort by certain faculty members residing in it to preserve it as an official state historical structure. At the same time the campus planners had also decided that the old Ag shop just north of the Ag Science Building, where “Chain Male” was created, had to go. Many faculty in departments across campus considered it to be an eyesore next to the central mall and strongly welcomed this move. Much to the chagrin of faculty in the History Department, College of Ag faculty mounted a ”Don’t Drop the Shop” campaign complete with buttons and leaflets in a parody to the campaign being waged to save South Hall. Chancellor Field apparently thought it quite amusing.

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