2016 WPVGA Awards Banquet
Hall of Fame Inductees & Industry Awards
Every year, the Annual Awards Banquet is the highlight of the UW Extension & WPVGA Grower Education Conference & Industry Show and 2016 was no exception!
The banquet hall was packed to the gills with potato and vegetable growers and industry professionals with everyone celebrating a successful event despite old man winter’s efforts.
Following a sparkling cocktail hour and fabulous dinner, Tamas Houlihan, WPVGA Executive Director launched into the highly anticipated award presentations.
After greeting the audience, Tamas recognized Patrick Testin, Portage County’s Republican Party Chairman, who is running for State Senate in the 24th Senate District in the November general election.
He then turned the podium over to WPVGA Associate Division Board President Wayne Solinsky, who presented the Associate Division Business Person of the Year Award to Chris Brooks of Central Door Solutions, Plover.
ASSOCIATE DIVISION BUSINESS PERSON OF THE YEAR
Chris Brooks dedicated a great deal of time and effort to integrate more fully, the Associate Division with the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry.
During 2015, Chris served as the Associate Division Board President and was very active as an industry leader at numerous Associate Division events as well as serving as Chairman of the WPVGA Promotions Committee.
Chris made tremendous contributions toward the Spudmobile project and really helped establish this new traveling billboard and mobile trade show booth as the focal point of the WPVGA’s promotional efforts.
He serves as a backup voluntary driver when the industry needs someone to drive the massive Spudmobile. He also recently began writing a new column in the Badger Common’Tater magazine, Eyes on Associates, which highlights the many valuable activities of the Associate Division. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to supporting the Wisconsin potato industry.
AUXILIARY APPRECIATION AWARDS
Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary (WPGA) President Paula Houlihan presented the 2016 Auxiliary Appreciation Awards to Dianne Somers and Avis Wysocki, founding members of the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in December 2015.
Dianne Somers of Plover River Farms, Stevens Point, has been actively immersed in the Wisconsin potato industry for many years. Highly involved with the WPVGA Water Task Force, Dianne has done an outstanding job working with WPVGA and the rest of the industry on water-related issues.
Dianne also participated on the Promotions and Spud Bowl Committees and led several political fundraising efforts.
According to Auxiliary President Paula Houlihan, “Dianne always has the industry’s best interests at heart and strives to make sure the shrinking voice of agriculture is heard loud and clear.”
Last October, the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry lost a remarkable woman in Avis Wysocki of the Wysocki Family of Companies, Bancroft. According to Paula, “Avis had a quiet authority about her. She saw the strength in others and knew how to encourage you to be and do your best.”
The wife of Louis Wysocki, Avis had lifelong friends in the potato industry and played an influential part in WPVGA history.
A founding member of the National Potato Council Auxiliary and the WPGA, Wysocki was a woman of vision. She made tremendous contributions to the industry and will be greatly missed and warmly remembered.
2015 WPVGA Board President Andy Wallendal of Wallendal Supply, Grand Marsh, presented the President’s Award to Jordan Lamb of DeWitt, Ross & Stevens Law Firm, in Madison.
Wallendal said Jordan performed an exemplary job helping the potato and vegetable industry work through a number of complex governmental affairs issues that have a profound effect on growers’ bottom lines. Wallendal said Lamb deserved the award “For outstanding service to the WPVGA as a great listener, grower advocate and translator of complex water and environmental issues.”
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
Heidi Alsum-Randall of Alsum Farms & Produce, Friesland, was named WPVGA Volunteer of the Year. Alsum-Randall has been a long-time member of the WPVGA Promotions Committee and has served for several years as a Director on the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board (WPIB).
She has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as President of the WPIB after being elected to that position in June of 2014, and was reelected President in 2015.
She is a Wisconsin representative on the United States Potato Board (USPB) and was a Wisconsin representative at the 2014 Potato Industry Leadership Institute. In 2015, she received a WPVGA President’s Award from her father, Larry Alsum.
Heidi is a Sunday school teacher and a Big Brothers/Big Sisters Volunteer. She also volunteers at the Feed My Starving Children mobile packing event sponsored by the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary.
YOUNG GROWER OF THE YEAR
Mark Finnessy of Okray Family Farms, Plover was named WPVGA Young Grower of the Year.
Newly elected as President of the WPVGA Board of Directors, Finnessy is Secretary of Board, Sales, Co-Owner, Okray Family Farms, Plover.
Mark has been active in the industry at both state and national levels. He was a participant in the Potato Industry Leadership Institute and regularly attends the Potato DC Fly-In, helping the national potato industry move forward by meeting with members of Congress and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
He is a Wisconsin representative on the USPB and has been active on the WPVGA Promotions Committee as well as the Finance and Administration Committee.
He recently attended the National Potato Expo where he and his father, WPVGA Hall of Famer Mike Finnessy, accepted the National Potato Council’s Environmental Stewardship Award on behalf of Okray Family Farms. Locally, he serves as President on the Board of Directors of the Plover Area Business Association.
RESEARCHER OF THE YEAR AWARD
The WPVGA Researcher of the Year Award went to University of Wisconsin Horticulturist Dr. Jiwan Palta.
A Professor in the UW Dept. of Horticulture, Dr. Palta has served the Wisconsin potato industry for many years with his valuable research focusing on the impact of calcium and nitrogen nutrition on potato tuber quality and yield under heat and drought stress.
Working in the areas of molecular biology, crop physiology and postharvest quality, Dr. Palta has been involved in collaborative potato breeding and variety development activities to enhance farm sustainability.
His research program recently led an effort to understand the mechanism of action of a natural lipid that acts as a bio regulator to help improve the shelf life of fruits, flowers and vegetables.
The Agri-Communicator Award for excellence in communication and dedicated service in presenting a positive message about the agricultural industry was presented to John D. (J.D.) Schroeder.
The son of John T. and Judy Schroeder, J.D. works at Schroeder Brothers Farms in Antigo. He graduated from Antigo High School in 2004, and then attended UW-Madison, graduating in 2008 with a double major in Agricultural Business Management and Political Science.
He received a law degree in 2011 from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.
J.D. offers a very astute perspective on issues based on his knowledge and experience as a lawyer. He helped the WPVGA on legal issues and testified at a State Senate hearing on a high capacity well bill.
He attended numerous Water Task Force meetings and has given sound legal advice as WPVGA worked through the language of multiple high capacity well bill drafts.
A participant in the national Potato Industry Leadership Institute, J.D. has also participated in WPVGA governmental affairs, research and promotion committee meetings.
INDUSTRY APPRECIATION AWARD
A special Industry Appreciation Award was presented to WPVGA Financial Officer Karen Rasmussen of Antigo.
According to WPVGA Executive Director Tamas Houlihan, Rasmussen serves as Financial Officer for WPVGA and does an outstanding job handling a very large workload while performing her duties in a timely manner. “She is always on time, never quits early, extremely organized and as reliable as the day is long,” Houlihan said. “2015 marked her 20th year of full-time work at WPVGA, and the industry is fortunate to have such a hardworking, dedicated, loyal employee.”
HALL OF FAME WINNERS
This year, WPVGA Hall of Fame honors lifetime achievement in the development of the state’s potato industry. It is the intention of the WPVGA to continue to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the potato industry in Wisconsin by making annual Hall of Fame inductions.
The following is a brief biographical sketch of this year’s WPVGA Hall of Fame inductees.
CHARLES A. COFER
Charles A. (Charlie) Cofer was born in Bruceville, Indiana in 1917, to John and Mary Cofer. He graduated from Bruceville High School in 1936. After graduation, he joined the Navy, serving during World War II. When he returned from the Navy, he married Ann Cline on November 12, 1947 in Columbia, Tennessee.
His life in the potato business began in Knox County, Indiana. He would drive trucks to Wisconsin, buy loads of potatoes and return to Indiana to sell them. Charlie was offered a job selling potatoes for Arrowhead Potato Company in Antigo, Wisconsin in 1953.
He accepted this position and moved there with his wife, Ann and children. He was employed at Arrowhead Potato for several years.
He founded Pack Right Foods under the Alamo brand, and later established Antigo Auction Sales. He was past president of the Wisconsin Short Horn Association, and Belgian Horse Association of America.
In 1968 and 1969, Charlie worked seasonally for Kerr & Rebel, brokering potatoes out of Florida. During this time, he also farmed with Circle P Farms, and started contracting with Old Dutch Foods. He continued to rent land, farming potatoes privately.
In 1975, he began purchasing land in Adams County around the Coloma area and became an early innovator in growing chip potatoes.
Charlie, along with his son, Dan, farmed 600 acres. Another son, Bill, helped when needed.
In 1965, he founded Farmers Potato Exchange in Antigo, Wisconsin, acting as a broker for farmers throughout Wisconsin and other areas of the country. His son, Dave, joined the brokerage division of the business in 1979.
Farmers Potato Exchange continued to operate successfully with sons Dave and Dan for many years. The Adams County farm was sold in 2006, ending the farming portion of the business.
The Farmers Potato Exchange is still in full operation today, owned and operated by Dave Cofer. Charlie passed away on July 27, 1993 at the age of 75.
He is survived by his two sons Dave (Dee) Cofer Antigo, Wisconsin and Dan (Lisa) Cofer, Ekalaka, Montana; two daughters: Debbie (Jim) Mattek Deerbrook, Wisconsin and Dianne (Bill) Zelinski, Plover, Wisconsin; Daughter-in-law Betty Cofer, Rochester, Minnesota; and many grandchildren. His wife, Ann, passed away in 1995, followed by his son Bill in 2012.
Cofer is thought of often and greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.
ROBERT J. GUENTHER
Robert (Bob) J. Guenthner was the first child born to Joseph F. Guenthner and Carol Dawley in Antigo, Wisconsin. Joe and Carol owned and operated a potato farm in Antigo. The farm was founded in 1926 by Bob’s grandfather Joseph S. Guenthner.
Bob and his wife, Cheri own and operate the farm today. Guenthner Potato Company, Inc. currently grows certified seed potatoes, along with oats, rye grass and red clover on 800 acres of land.
Bob graduated Magna Cum Laude from UWO in 1972 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Physics. He graduated from Antigo High School in 1968.
Bob was elected and served two terms as a board member of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA). He was elected President of the WPVGA in 1979 and again in 1980.
He received the WPVGA Young Grower of the Year award in 1983. He served for many years as a member of the WPVGA Research committee.
He was elected to the board of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association (WSPIA) and served two terms as a board member. Bob was also elected President of the WSPIA. Bob created the present WSPIA board structure of standing committees.
He served as Chairman of the seventh Annual North American Seed Potato Seminar, which was hosted by Wisconsin in December of 1988. Along with a grower from Montana, Bob developed the Universal Seed Potato Contract.
Bob was the first potato grower in the US to demonstrate and use the Norwegian built Underhaug cup potato planter. This planter soon became very popular in Wisconsin and throughout the US.
Bob had the great pleasure of growing certified seed potatoes while the following individuals were among the Directors of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program: Henry Darling, Steve Slack, Bob Slattery, Tom German and Amy Charkowski.
This list is a who’s who of outstanding potato researchers. Bob was also the grower chairman of the committee that recommended hiring Wisconsin’s current plant breeder Dr. Jeffery Endelman.
In his spare time these days, Bob is very active in serving as a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. He has qualified and is certified in both Wisconsin and Florida as a Coxswain, a telecommunications operator, a watch stander, an Aids to Navigation Verifier and a vessel examiner.
Bob has taken part in sixteen search and rescue operations.
Bob’s mother Carol, his sisters Margy and Carolyn and brother Jack live in and around Antigo. Bob’s brother Joe is a University of Idaho Professor Emeritus and lives in Idaho.
Bob’s pride and his joy are his wife Cheri, daughter Bobbi, her husband Mike and children Sam, Mallory and Max, along with daughter Jackie, husband Chad and their children Kaylen, Chase and a sixth grandchild to be born in March or April.
Bob is deeply moved by the great honor of being included as one of the members of the WPVGA Hall of Fame.