Maturity and Change

campus-photo.jpgThe years of World War II were challenging ones for Purdue and its agricultural operations. Agricultural enrollment fell from about 900 in 1939 to about 100 during the last year of the war. Only with dedicated effort was the winter short course maintained.

Rural men were either in the armed services or at home struggling to produce more and more as wartime shortages grew more acute. In 1939, Indiana had 199,000 farms - slightly more than in 1895! The transition from horse to tractor power was well under way. In many ways, though the acreage in crops had increased, the average farm was about the same size and organization as in the late 1800's.

The wartime returned some prosperity to Hoosier farms. During the post-war years, all the outpouring of new science and technology was eagerly adopted. Great leaps in livestock productivity and crop yields occurred. By the early 1990's the number of Indiana farms had declined to about 65,000 and the average size had increased to 246 acres. More importantly the dominance of the general diversified farm had given way to highly specialized operations. Where in former times all farms were about alike, now there were relatively few, very large specialized farms and relatively many smaller ones on which the farmer also had substantial employment in another job.

Supporting this production revolution was a growing number of other agricultural and food related businesses. Fertilizer, feed, chemicals, machinery, and various food processing businesses expanded greatly. Also in the complex system there also arose increasing concern with resource conservation and preservation of the environment. Hoosier agriculture was big complex business, but fewer and fewer participants were practicing farmers.

The College of Agriculture had to change and adapt to all these changes. Enrollment bounced back rapidly after the war with the return of the veterans. In 1951, there were 1135 students enrolled with the largest fields of student interest being Vo-Ag teaching and General Agriculture. During the coming decade, new areas of study were continuously added to the standard production curricula. Some of these were as follows:

Farm and Business Management, Food Engineering, Turf Management, Agricultural Meteorology, Urban and Industrial Pest Control, Wildlife Management, Landscape Architecture, Natural Resources and Environmental Science, Food Science and International Agriculture. Students for these expanded offerings will be recruited from urban as well as rural schools. Placement of these alumni graduates will be in a wide spectrum of businesses and locations.

The Ag Alumni Association after the war took steps to better position itself for the changing future. In 1949, the Association hired Gordon Graham, a 1948 Ag graduate, as its first full-time Executive Secretary. Graham resigned in 1952 and Maurice Williamson, a 1950 Ag graduate was hired to replace him. Mauri, as he is widely known was to guide the evolution of the Association until 1990.

How to staff and equip the Ag Alumni office was a first concern. In cooperation with Dean Reed, office space and equipment was assembled. After several locations, the Ag Alumni office was located in the basement of the present Ag Administration Building.

The first efforts of both Graham and Williamson were to revitalize the county organizations. A great deal of time was spent in visiting the counties, stimulating membership and helping furnish speakers and programs for meetings. In 1955, it was noted that 45 counties had four or more meetings and an additional 20 counties had 1 to 3 meetings yearly. Throughout the years, counties would come and go on the active list in response to changing county leadership. In the early 1950's the bringing of delegate couples from the counties to the campus in the fall for party and some type of campus program was initiated. Faculty couples hosted the alumni over-night.

Annual district meetings, were another effort to strengthen county participation. These varied widely ranging from hog roasts and picnics to banquets. The program was generally a speaker from the campus. In 1993 there were six such district meetings held. These efforts sent an annual vaccination of Purdue spirit back to the counties!

In the 1930's and 1940's the emphasis was on supporting and helping the extension service get information on improved production practices out to farmers. Now in the post World War II years there was a shift toward helping inform and recruit potential students for the changing opportunities in the College of Agriculture. In the mid 1950's county efforts were initiated to bring high school seniors to the campus for a day during Christmas vacation. This activity gradually evolved into Operation Brainpower. In February 1962, 2500 high school students arrived on campus from 53 counties! This project was to phase in the 1980's into cooperation with the College of Agriculture program of student recruitment named Project Future. Also, in the 1960's program, Agriventure was introduced. For several years this program brought high school counselors to the campus to acquaint them with the changing and expanding career opportunities in Agriculture. In the mid 1980's a contest for school children called the Latta games was initiated. This was to stimulate interest in knowledge about agriculture. There were county contests with the winners coming together for a statewide competition. Though enrollment fluctuated from its peak years of the 1970's, it remained strong and was 2,250 in the fall of 1994. Compared to any other states, this was a great record and the Ag Alumni Association can take much credit for it's many and varied efforts to alert young people to the opportunities in Agriculture.

Throughout these years, many of the earlier activities of the Association continued. Soon after the war the senior recognition event was reactivated as a chili supper. A special annual Pancake Breakfast for Alumni returning in the Spring Gala week was initiated in 1961. The annual awarding of the Certificates of Distinction continued as a major activity. Several special events and developments also occurred during these years. Ag Alumni throughout the state were active in supporting the establishment of the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine. In 1961 special action was taken to add graduates of this new school to the ranks of Ag Alumni. Growth in student enrollment in the related field of study offered by the Department of Forestry was particularly rapid. In many states, Forestry is a separate school. In recognition of the unique Purdue organization, an Alumni Club of these graduates was recognized as a special part of the Association in 1976. In 1967, the Ag Alumni Foundation was established. This was to become a recipient for monetary gifts. These funds have financed special scholarships, special needs of the School and support for Association projects. In 1970, a special arrangement was initiated to sponsor the sale of Purdue Swiss-type cheese with profits going to the trust fund.