WPVGA Hall of Fame
Schroeder, Winkler 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.
John H. Schroeder
John H. Schroeder was born on May 24, 1935 in Antigo, Wisconsin. He was raised on a dairy farm homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1879. The original farm was 80 acres, including 20 acres of potatoes. After graduating from Antigo High School in 1953 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Alaska for three years.
After the service, he married his wife, Jaclyn, and attended UW-Madison, graduating with a degree in Agricultural Economics in 1960.
In 1960 he joined Prudential Insurance Company and was an adjuster for eight years. He also established Schroeder’s Farm Market and became a partner in the Blackjack Steak House which he and his wife operated for 40 years.
He returned to farming in 1970 when his brother Thomas was severely injured in a snowmobile accident. He joined his father, Henry, and they soon put the expansion program in motion.
Over the years the farm grew from 350 acres of potatoes plus rotation crops of alfalfa, corn, oats and soybeans to the present 2,200 acres of potatoes.
In 1974, he purchased Walter Diercks’ farm in Bryant, Wisconsin which was the beginning of the aggressive growth of the farm. The farm has extended into neighboring counties and townships.
After Henry’s retirement, Schroeder was very fortunate to have three sons interested in farming. After they graduated from college, John T.(UW-Madison), Peter (UW-Stout), and Rob (UW-Madison), all joined the business and each has contributed greatly to its success.
John also has a daughter, Jennifer Horton, who is a pharmacist in Maple Grove, Minnesota. His standard joke is “I raised three farmers and a farm-assist!”
Schroeder has always been very progressive in his ideas and supportive of new methods and changes over the years and was always open to suggestions by his sons and peers. His philosophy has been: surround yourself with good help, treat them well, and appreciate them; work hard and enjoy the benefits of your success.
Recently, grandson Eric (Pete’s son) has joined the farm, representing generation six. Schroeder hopes there will be more to come.
Schroeder’s sons’ wives are also very involved on the farm. Gina (Pete’s wife) is the office manager, and Judy (John T.’s wife) manages the retail store. Susie (Rob’s wife) is an Occupational Therapist at Langlade Memorial Hospital.
Schroeder has been very active through the years, serving on various potato boards, attending many conventions, always trying to promote and improve the marketing of Wisconsin potatoes. He served two complete terms on the WPVGA Board of Directors from 1989-1994, and was the board treasurer for four years. He also served on the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association Board of Directors and was a Wisconsin delegate on the National Potato Council.
Schroeder is very proud that Schroeder Bros. Farms received its third award from Frito-Lay this past year as the top seed grower of the year (2004, 2009, 2010). Schroeder Bros. Farms is the largest Frito-Lay seed producer in the United States.
After the devastating fire of 2007, which totally destroyed the home farm including five warehouses, the packing facility and 320,000 bags of potatoes, he felt so blessed to see his sons have the vision and ambition to rebuild it into the state-of-the-art operation it is today.
Schroeder feels very fortunate in his retirement to see the family doing such a wonderful job of carrying on the “Schroeder Brothers Tradition.” He very much enjoys just “hanging out” at the office, watching his eleven grandchildren grow into adulthood, watching sporting events, and wintering in St. Augustine, Florida with Jackie, his wife of 53 years.
August F. Winkler
Born in 1899, August Winkler was raised on a farm in Plainfield, Wisconsin. As a young man in the 1920s, he worked as an accountant in Milwaukee before coming back and managing the family farm in Plainfield. He also managed other farms in the Plainfield area before moving to northern Wisconsin where he served as the manager of Sunset Farms in Clearwater Lake in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the late 1930s, University of Wisconsin agriculture professor Emil Jorgenson purchased Sunset Farms and renamed it Oneida Farms, keeping Winkler on as farm manager.
Winkler and Jorgenson were devoted to research and development, especially for the seed potato industry. Their goal was to develop an improved potato variety that was resistant to blight and insects. They also worked on finding disease-resistant varieties along with higher yields.
In the mid-1940s, Winkler purchased the old Campbell farm on the southeast side of Three Lakes and renamed it Winkler Farms. August continued expansion of the farm and leased substantial additional farmland (primarily between Eagle River and Three Lakes on Highway 45). His efforts at developing higher yields and more disease-resistant potato varieties resulted in successfully proving that potassium in the sulfate form was an excellent fertilizer for potatoes.
Winkler’s potato crop was rotated annually with oats and clover. The oats were combined off for sale and the oat shafts and clover were plowed back into the soil to add humus. His primary potato varieties were Red Pontiac and Russet Burbank
Winkler was well-known as one of the largest and most successful potato growers in the state of Wisconsin. In 1940, he was elected president of the organization that preceded the WPVGA, the Wisconsin Potato Growers Association. In the early 1940s he was actively involved in the industry’s annual potato show and convention. He helped organize the two-day Wisconsin Potato Show and Convention held in Waupaca in 1940 and was a keynote speaker as Association President.
Winkler later served on the second-ever Wisconsin Potato Growers Association board of directors in 1949 (the organization that is now the WPVGA, which was formed in 1948). He served on the board from 1949-1951, along with WPVGA Hall of Famers such as Edward Okray, J.G. Milward, W. James Prosser, Bill Hoeft and Mel Luther.
Winkler was also committed to potato research, as evidenced by his membership in the Potato Association of America.
After his untimely death in 1958, the farm was sold to Reed Candy Company of Chicago and was converted to raising prize-winning Angus cattle. August’s surviving spouse, Helen Winkler, owned and operated the Jacques gift shop in downtown Eagle River. The business closed in the mid-1960s and Helen completed her career as a cook at the Eagle River Nursing Home. Their one son, John, is an attorney and CPA and works for a major bank in Cincinnati, Ohio.
John Winkler says his father was very dedicated to the industry he loved. “I can’t tell you how devoted he was to the potato industry,” Winkler says. “He dedicated his life to improving potato quality and yields. He was very involved with the potato growers association as well as the seed association. He and Emil Jorgenson were always trying new farming practices and conducting research on their farms. Potato farming wasn’t a job or a career for him: it was his love.”
Photos available upon request.