MACOMB, Ill. — In a tradition started during the Western Illinois University School of Agriculture’s 100th anniversary, six alumni have been chosen as the 2021 School of Agriculture Distinguished Alumni.
Ten alumni were recognized last year: Mark McCully, Gerry Salzman, Jeff Galle, Terry Kestner, Taylor Steinburg, Gordon Roskamp, Monte Lowderman, Chris Wilson, Martin E. O’Connor and Philip E. Bradshaw.
“The 100th year anniversary event was a huge success,” said School of Agriculture Director Andy Baker. “The highlight of the evening was the recognition of our 10 distinguished alumni who were honored that night. All of these individuals have achieved remarkable feats in their careers and are huge supporters of the School of Agriculture. It was great to have our current students hear about their experiences at WIU, and how these experiences provided the foundation to advance their careers in agriculture.”
Due to COVID-19, a face-to-face gathering will not be held this year. However, honorees will be recognized and receive their plaques at the WIU Livestock Center at noon Friday, March 26.
Each alumnus has a distinguished career in the agricultural career field. This year’s honorees include:
• Cliff Becker, a 1984 graduate with a degree in agriculture: Becker is senior vice president and publishing director for Farm Journal in Lenexa, KS. He is a fourth-generation agriculturalist that puts his passion for food and food production into supporting his audience and clients’ needs in marketing, branding, sales and business development, charting a 37-year career within the food system.
As Farm Journal senior vice president, Becker works out of the Kansas City Corporate Headquarters, fostering and reaching strategic growth goals and business development needs; leading a broad portfolio of industry leading brands and events including resources such as Drovers, Dairy Herd Management, PORK, MILK and Bovine Veterinarian Magazines, AgDay TV and U.S. Farm Report TV, AgriTalk and American Countryside Radio programs, a broad array of digital, data and mobile products and national events including national Cowboy Colleges and The MILK Business Conference in Las Vegas, NV.
Before joining Farm Journal, Becker was a consultant at CMA Consulting of Kansas City, where he worked with large agriculture and food companies. His prior experience includes a 22-year career with Vance Publishing Corporation, serving as vice-president, publishing director for their food360 division. There, Becker established their food system position, aligning their broad, food-based medias to deliver information and create uniform dialogue through the entire food system.
He currently serves on the Board of Directors for World Dairy Expo, Madison, WI, the National Ag Center and Hall of Fame, Bonner Springs, KS, the American Royal, Kansas City, MO, the Agriculture Business Council of Kansas City, MO, Western Illinois University School of Agriculture Advisory Board and the Animal Agricultural Alliance, Washington, D.C.
He has won multiple awards, including the National Agri-Marketing Association’s Career Achievement Award and the Livestock Publication Council’s Distinguished Service Award. He is also a nationally-recognized speaker on food and agriculture related issues.
Becker holds a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture with a minor in animal science, from Western and attended Northwestern University Medill School for the Master’s of Publishing program. He lives on a ranch in Edwardsville, KS, with his wife, Kristine, son, Ivan, and daughter, Ruby. When not tending to livestock and weeds, they enjoy eating great food and drinking great wine with great friends.
• Larry Thurow, a 1977 graduate with a degree in agriculture: Thurow is a professor at Parkland College in Monticello, IL. He is a member of WIU’s Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity.
Thurow went on to teach agriculture at the high school level before spending 10 years in agri-business and then returning to the classroom. Thurow taught at John Wood Community College, followed by a research position at the University of Illinois, where he received his graduate degrees. He spent 20 years at Parkland College, holding faculty positions as well as vice-president of institutional advancement.
Thurow retired in 2014, and resides in Monticello along with his wife, Cathy. They spend a majority of their time volunteering with the Florida State Parks in Key Largo, and with the Washington State Parks near Mount Rainier.
• Jeff Adkisson, a 1985 graduate with a degree in agriculture education: Adkisson is executive vice president and treasurer of the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois in Springfield, IL. He is a member of Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity, the Student Alumni Association, Blue Key Honor Society, Mortar Board and Order of Omega.
Adkisson has been with the association since 1987, and held his current position since 1999. He also serves as the chief lobbyist for the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and is responsible for the overall operations of the organization.
Adkisson is a 1985 magna cum laude graduate of WIU, with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture education. He was a member of AGR fraternity and a variety of other college organizations. He graduated from the Institute of Organizational Management (IOM) in 1996, earned his Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation in 1999 and completed the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Program in 2004.
Adkisson has served on the board of the National Grain Feed Association (NGFA) and is currently serving a second term on the Country Elevator Committee for NGFA. In addition, he has served as a trustee of the Chatham Area Public Library District for 14 years and as president for 12 of those years. He also served as president of his neighborhood homeowners association and has been a member of the American and Illinois Society of Association Executives for 30 years.
“I would like to thank the previous Distinguished Alumni for this honor. In addition, Dr. Baker and his staff need to be recognized for all of their accomplishments to keep the WIU ag department moving forward,” said Adkisson.
• Richard E. Horner, a 1974 graduate with a degree in agriculture: Horner has been a Country Financial insurance representative for 37 years, servicing the insurance and financial needs of his customers in Vandalia, IL. He is a Life Underwriting Training Council Fellow (LUTCF), a member of Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) and maintains emphasis on farm and crop insurance.
While at WIU, Horner served as vice president of Alpha Gamma Sigma fraternity, president of the Judging Club and Ag Council, and a member of the Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Team.
Horner and his wife, Brenda own and operate Horner Show Lambs in Vandalia, IL. They produce show lambs and have currently sold lambs in over 35 states. Horner Show Lambs has produced State Fair Champions or Reserves for over 15 years. These include the Grand Champion-Missouri State Fair, Reserve Grand – Oklahoma Youth Expo, Reserve Grand Champion – Missouri State Fair and three times Grand Champion Land of Lincoln – Illinois State Fair.
He loves the livestock business and has an incredible passion to see youth in agriculture succeed. He has provided showmanship clinics for his customers and also hosts 15-20 4-H, FFA and Collegiate Livestock Judging Teams for judging workouts at his farm each fall. Horner has a tremendous work ethic and does his work with the utmost integrity. In 2020, he was inducted into the Illinois Club Lamb Association Hall of Fame.
• Wayne Whipps, a 1977 graduate with a degree in agriculture: Whipps currently works as an account executive for Coloff Media. Whipps was a former marketing consultant in Cedar Falls, IA.
Whipps spent the past 40+ years in marketing and sales, 26 of those years in the ag sector and the last 14 years with a home health company. He retired from the home health company a little earlier than he planned.
While at WIU, he also worked four years in the Sports Information Office, the WIU Boar Test Station and the Swine Farm. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, Interfraternity Council, the Livestock Judging Team, Alumni Council, Hoof & Horn Club, Agriculture Education Club, Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Team and WIU Young Republicans. His team won “Swine” and was the seventh team overall at the 1976 National Contest in livestock. He was a top individual in “Swine” and tied for third overall in the national contest.
Whipps has three daughters and six, soon-to-be eight, grandchildren, who live 10 miles away. He enjoys volunteering and giving back to the community. He has WIU football season tickets and when he is not back at “The Harvard on the Lamoine,” you can find him cheering on the Iowa State Cyclones in Ames, or on a couple football road trips each year.
• Randy Frese, a 1981 graduate with a degree in agriculture: Frese is a Illinois State Representative from Paloma, IL. Since 2015, he has served as an Illinois state representative for the 94th District.
Frese graduated from WIU in 1981, and was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, Alpha Zeta, Blue Key Honor Society, Order of Omega and president of the Interfraternity Council and Greek Council.
Frese was owner of Frese’s Video from 1985-2005. He was also a circuit clerk for Adams County from 2004-2012.
Frese is married to wife, Ronda (Husemann) Frese, who was also a WIU graduate in 1983. They are both members of the Saint Thomas Church, Camp Point, IL and Quincy Exchange Club. They have three adult daughters, and are grandparents to two grandsons.
For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit wiu.edu/ag.
— Western Illinois University School of Agriculture
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