Diercks and Finnessy Enter WPVGA Hall of Fame
The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association 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.
Steve Diercks is owner/manager of Coloma Farms, a family operation that produces potatoes and other vegetables on 2,800 acres in Waushara and Adams counties. He has been active in the potato industry at every level and has served the University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) in many capacities. He has been a leader on the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board, which directs funding to research and other initiatives that help the industry meet challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. He currently serves on the WPVGA board of directors.
The name “Diercks” is synonymous with leadership in the Wisconsin potato industry. When Andy Diercks was elected President of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) in 2002, he became the fourth generation in his family to serve in that position. Andy’s father, Steve, served as WPVGA President in 1989; Steve’s father, Robert Diercks, served as WPVGA President from 1975-76; and Robert’s father, Ben H. Diercks was the Association’s first President in 1948-49. Steve now joins his father and grandfather in the WPVGA Hall of Fame.
Steve served on the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board (WPIB) from 1993 to 2011, including several terms as WPIB President. It was during Steve’s year as President of the WPVGA (1989) that the WPIB was restructured from having a two-cent per hundredweight assessment with a refund clause, to a three-cent per hundredweight mandatory assessment, strengthening and unifying the industry as a whole.
Coloma Farms has been an active participant in the Healthy Grown Potato Program, a partnership between CALS, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, and the World Wildlife Fund to grow a product that is profitable and environmentally sound. Coloma Farms received the prestigious NPC Environmental Stewardship Award in 1996.
Diercks was instrumental in arranging industry financing for the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Storage Research Facility at the Hancock Agricultural Research Station, and he has made his own farm available to UW scientists for countless field studies. As a tribute to his father who began the effort, he worked tirelessly to raise the necessary funds to establish a potato research endowment known as the Wisconsin Potato Industry Distinguished Fellowship at UW-Madison.
A 1966 Graduate of Antigo High School, Steve graduated from UW-Madison in 1970 with a major in Agricultural Economics. In addition to his potato industry service in Wisconsin, Steve has also been active on the US Potato Board and the National Potato Council. He is an Emeritus member of the UW-CALS Board of Visitors. He was named the WPVGA Young Grower of the Year in 1989; the WPVGA Volunteer of the Year in 1990 and 2009; and received the WPVGA President’s Award in 2003. He and his wife, Pat, have two children, Andy and Kate. Steve’s hobbies include golfing, snow skiing and restoring corvettes.
Mike Finnessy has worked in sales at Okray Family Farms in Plover for nearly 40 years. Okray Family Farms raises over 7,500 acres of vegetables, including 1800 acres of potatoes.
The son of Charles and Agnes (Okray) Finnessy, Mike was born in Stevens Point and raised in Eau Claire. He graduated from Eau Claire Regis High School in 1965, and then graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1970 with majors in Geology and Geography. He worked for Uniroyal in Eau Claire for several years before joining Okray Family Farms.
Mike has been involved in virtually every aspect of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA). He served a full term as a director on the WPVGA Board of Directors. He continues to serve on the Promotions and Consumer Education Committee. He also serves on the Governmental Affairs Committee and is the leading fundraiser of that group year in and year out.
Mike has also served the industry on a national level as one of Wisconsin’s delegates on the National Potato Council. He served on the NPC Legislative Affairs Committee as well as the Disease Management and Seed Certification Sub-committee. He also has served on the NPC’s Time-Zone Research – Review Committee.
The WPVGA presented Mike with the Volunteer of the Year award in 2005. The Agri-Communicator Award, sponsored by Agri-View newspaper, was presented to Mike in 2010.
A former Village of Plover trustee, Finnessy is active locally and globally. He remains active on the Village of Plover Plan Commission and is an international ambassador for the potato industry, attending the two most recent World Potato Congress events in Scotland and New Zealand.
Mike and his wife, Marge, have one daughter, Megan, and two sons, Mark and Luke. Mark also works at Okray Family Farms and was recently selected to serve as Wisconsin’s delegate to the national Potato Industry Leadership Institute.
Mike’s hobbies include fishing, golfing and playing cards. He teamed with friends from India to win the World Potato Congress golf tournament in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2009.