​No fence ever made a better neighbor than Purdue's Mauri Williamson.

Purdue mourns loss of legendary ag leader Williamson

By Tom Campbell | Published Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mauri Williamson, BS ’50, passed away Monday, Jan. 30, in Lafayette. He was 91.

From the day he was born on the 320-acre family farm near Economy in eastern Indiana, agriculture was always the central part of his life.

He was known throughout the state as the executive secretary of the Purdue University Ag Alumni Association, a position he held for 37 years.

“Mauri really grew the Ag Alumni Association into something special during his tenure,” said Jay Akridge, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture at Purdue.

In 1961, Williamson founded the Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair to preserve and display the history of Indiana agriculture. Williamson held court there each summer, visiting with his ever-expanding legion of friends acquired through his lifetime commitment to Purdue and to agriculture.

“Mauri was truly an Indiana ag legend,” said Akridge. “His love for this state, for rural Indiana, for farming and farmers and for this college will be deeply missed.”

After graduating from Purdue, Williamson returned to the family farm. But he soon found he was better suited spending his time with people rather than with plants and animals.

“My dad would send me to town to get a bolt and it would take me three hours because I’d stopped and talked to so many people,” Williamson said in an interview last year.

He returned to campus to attend graduate school. A part-time job offer from Dean Dave Pfendler forged Williamson’s future.

“That was in 1953,” Williamson said. “I said I’ll take it for a year and give it a try. Then we’ll decide. I retired in 1990 from the same job,” Williamson chuckled.

As deeply as he loved Purdue Agriculture, Williamson had an equally deep love for the Indiana State Fair. From the time he was 4, Williamson missed attending the Fair only while he was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

“That was our vacation every year,” Williamson said, “two days at the Indiana State Fair. We’d watch the horse shows, walk the aisles and look at new machinery. It’s an institution.”

And so was Williamson.

During his Purdue career, Williamson helped found the National Ag Alumni Development Association (NAADA) and started the Ag Alumni Fish Fry. He organized the Ag Ambassador student program and funded a scholarship that annually supports one of the ambassadors. The College and the Ag Alumni Association started the Mauri Williamson Scholarship of Excellence, a renewable gift that has supported dozens of scholars in the College of Agriculture since his retirement in 1990.

“Everything Mauri did was for Purdue and for agriculture,” said Donya Lester, who succeeded Williamson as executive secretary of the Ag Alumni Association in 1990.

“He co-chaired the campaign to construct the Class of ’50 lecture hall because he didn’t want his class to give another gateway, or clock, or statue to the campus. He wanted his class to provide something that would have a lasting academic impact on the students of Purdue.”

Even the often over-the-top zaniness of the Ag Alumni Fish Fry was designed not just to entertain but to further the mission of the College of Agriculture.

“Mauri made the Fish Fry fun so alumni would want to come back to campus, want to stay connected to the college and want to contribute to the continued excellence of Purdue Agriculture,” Lester said. “Sure, it was fun, but with Mauri, that fun always had a deeper meaning. And that fun was to get all the great work done for Purdue Agriculture. He was a master at doing that.”

Williamson is survived by his wife of 68 years, June; two children, David (wife Tammy) and Marsha (husband Larry Mohr); three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Williamson asked that contributions be made in his name to the Purdue Center for Cancer Research at Giving.Purdue.edu/InMemoryofMauri

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