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Auxiliary Moves Full Spud Ahead

Penelope Potato with Scouts
Penelope Potato with Scouts
Early on, the Auxiliary created a mascot, Penelope Potato, to help educate youngsters about the merits of potatoes, like this group of Boy Scouts.

Second Decade (1985-1995)

By Paula Houlihan, Auxiliary President

The enthusiasm and dedication of the women who made up the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary (WPGA) did not wane in the second decade of this organization. If anything, it exploded.

With the momentum created by the women before them, WPGA expanded into new areas of promotion and education.

While the organization saw the outgoing of its earlier officers and members, it gladly welcomed in more women who brought with them new vision for what this organization could do to support our industry and its family farms to match the changing times.

Gerri Okray
Gerri Okray was a strong supporter of the Auxiliary’s cookbooks and the author of Badger Common’Tater’s What’s Cookin’ column. This photo is from a 1991 Cooperative Partners magazine article that discussed Gerri Okray’s position as the first woman to serve on the National Potato Growers Board in 1989.

The world overall was changing. In 1987, the world population hit 5 billion people. Home computers and the beginning of the worldwide internet made the world a smaller place. Global information was now at our fingertips.

More women were entering the workforce and time became an important commodity. Convenience was key and fast food went hand in hand with this new way of thinking. With the increasing popularity of the microwave oven, this era also brought a new way of cooking to the family kitchen.

Nutrition took second place to quick and easy. As a result, fast food, pre-packaged snacks and processed foods become new staples in the American diet.

Potatoes had come to be considered by the public to be boring fare and inconvenient to cook, not to mention fattening.

Farmers were experiencing growing opposition to agriculture in general due to what the public perceived as pesticide contamination from the use of agricultural chemicals potentially affecting our air and groundwater.

Now more than ever, education and promotion were greatly needed to correct the misunderstandings and misinformation that was permeating the media and the public view of the potato, our agricultural heritage and the Wisconsin potato industry as a whole.

WPVGA, its associate organizations and the Auxiliary worked together to address these issues.


WPGA expanded its reach and efforts to educate the public through a variety of promotional programs and activities, including the development of its first Educational Program “Team Up to Unmask Potato Secrets.”

Sonya Stevens & Ruby Gebhardt
Sonya Stevens (L) and Ruby Gebhardt (R) are show in the scrubbing room where the potatoes are prepared for baking.

It was a family focused curriculum package intended for use by Family and Consumer Education classes and Home Economics teachers of middle-school students.

The program emphasized team building skills and lesson plans which taught the history of the potato, nutritional facts and potato information, recipes, dietary knowledge, environmental information and food safety facts.

The newly released All American Potato Cookbook achieved nationwide attention in this decade through newspaper and magazine coverage, including an article in which Gerri Okray was touted as the “Spokeswoman for Spuds.”

To meet the increasing demand from fair goers for baked potatoes and changes in state building code and fair requirements, WPGA updated their baked potato booth in the newly remodeled Ag Products Building at the state fair grounds. A ribbon cutting ceremony highlighted the grand opening of the new booth.

Arlene Malek & Anita Polzin
Arlene Malek (L) and Anita Polzin (R) promote Wisconsin potatoes at the 10th annual Agri-Business Breakfast by sharing the nutritional value and importance of potatoes in the everyday diet with visitors to their booth.

Gerri Okray, while on the Auxiliary Board, was elected the first woman member of the National Potato Board. She also represented the Auxiliary and the Wisconsin Potato Industry as a member of the Women in Agriculture Delegation, which visited Spain, Morocco and Portugal.

Personal connection was one of many effective strategies used by the Auxiliary to give a “face” to our industry in an effort to educate people about Wisconsin potatoes and promote our growers.

Dozens of dedicated women made personal appearances at trade shows and community events, gave interviews to newspaper, magazine, radio and television reporters and served as outstanding ambassadors for the Wisconsin potato industry.

Over the years, WPGA and their mascot Penelope Potato attended many events and visited organizations, conventions and shows too numerous to mention, all in an effort to educate the public on the nutritional value of Wisconsin potatoes, promote our wonderful industry as an important economic asset to our state and herald our growers as good stewards of the environment.

1985 Auxiliary Board
The 1985 Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary Board of Directors. First Row L-R: Treasurer Ruth Danczyk, President Anita Polzin, Vice President Debbie Wolter, Secretary Elaine Kizewski. Second Row L-R: Pat Jilek, Arlene Malek, Kathie Baginski, Barb Pavelski and Frances Gallenberg.


The Auxiliary acknowledged outstanding members of our second decade who were awarded the honor of “Auxiliary Member of the Year”:

1983 – Pat Diercks
1984 – Arlene Malek
1985 – Harriet Wysocki
1986 – Anita Polzin
1987 – Debbie Wolter
1988 – Avis Wysocki and Dianne Somers
1989 – Gerri Okray and Sadie Bushman
1990 – Barbara Bushman
1991 – Kathy Baginski
1992 – Ellen Wysocki
1993 – Caroline Wild
1994 – Chris Anthony
1995 – Jane Zdroik

We take pride in having accomplished so much in the promotion of our industry during this decade. The early emphasis on public education remains a key focus to this day.

Unmask Potato Secrets
The Team Up to Unmask Potato Secrets program was part of a curriculum to educate middle schoolers about Wisconsin potatoes.

Early projects such as the State Fair baked potato booth continue to be an important part of our annual calendar of events, which are brought forth through the dedicated efforts of our volunteer members.

Today’s Auxiliary remains an energetic, dedicated and creative organization, whose primary goals are to support, promote our industry and encourage the purchase and consumption of Wisconsin potatoes. We work in cooperation with and are honored partners of WPVGA, its Associate Division and Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association.

Badger CommonTater

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