By Stacey Mickelbart

The idea of donating to your alma mater may call to mind creating a student scholarship or funding a building with your name on it, but imagine instead a grain bin filled with soybeans. For Don (BS ’72, agricultural economics) and Joyce (BS ’73, family & consumer science education) Villwock, the gift of grain made perfect sense as they ease into retirement from the family farm.

As the Villwocks prepared to transfer their farm to a new manager, they knew they couldn’t offset taxes on the sale of this year’s crop with next year’s farm expenses. With help from their accountant and the Purdue for Life Foundation, they instead donated their seed soybean crop. Purdue for Life’s charitable status allowed the foundation to sell the crop and use the full proceeds to establish a charitable trust, which the Villwocks hope will cultivate growth at Purdue.

Villwock“The two of us met at Purdue,” Joyce says, explaining the first reason the university is important to the couple. “That’s how I got to know Don; we both lived in cooperative houses.”

Don was also a member of multiple agriculture-related student clubs and a founding member of Purdue Collegiate FFA; Joyce was a member of Mortarboard. “We had an early ownership of being involved with Purdue as students, and all those organizations had great mentors and advisors,” Don says. Betty Nelson, former dean of students, was an important influence on them.

They stayed involved in their careers and community, all while they managed a farm and raised their two daughters. Starting from scratch in the early 1970s, when commodity prices were low, and surviving through the farm crisis of the 1980s required major sacrifices. Joyce taught home economics, later teaching at and becoming director for alumni relations for Vincennes University, while spending late nights keeping the farm’s books. Don worked for the USDA in Indianapolis, became state president of Indiana Farm Bureau, served on the state boards of Indiana’s corn and soybean growers associations and served the late Senator Richard Lugar on agricultural policy.

Don’s interest in policy blossomed at Purdue under Don Paarlberg, well-known professor of agricultural economics and ag policy advisor to multiple presidential administrations. Other faculty and staff who played a role in his personal growth include Bob Taylor and Earl Butz in agricultural economics, Bruce McKenzie in agricultural engineering, Hobe Jones in animal sciences and Mauri Williamson with the Ag Alumni Association, where Don later served as board member and chair.

These academic mentors inspired Don’s quote featured in the Agricultural Administration building: “I knew how to learn, but Purdue taught me how to think.”

“You could memorize formulas and quotations and different facts that are current for the times,” Don says. “But the world is changing and evolving so quickly; you really need to know how to think and analyze.”

Knowing when to consult experts and your peers is a big part of that wisdom, Don says. “The thing that sustained our success on the farm was I always had folks at Purdue I could call and ask questions or their opinions.”

Extension educators have been key advisors to the Villwocks, but so have their fellow farmers. For that reason, a portion of their personal distribution from the Villwocks’ charitable trust will be returned to sustain the Purdue Farm Management Tour and Master Farmer Program, as well as the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association.

Even if you’re the best farmer in your area, Don says, you’re missing out if you’re not giving back to your local community. The Villwocks have served in county Extension and 4-H leadership, founded a high school scholarship program, led their community foundation and the local League of Women Voters chapter, and are active members of their church. They hope to build on this philanthropy at home, Don says, because, “For most of our careers, we had more time than treasure.”

Meanwhile, Don serves as a special assistant to Dean Karen Plaut and hopes to multiply her efforts to make the College of Agriculture the best in the world. He especially loves opportunities to nurture students. “If you need something to charge your battery after you get a little downtrodden watching the nightly news,” Don says, “you just go to Purdue and interact with students and it will recharge your faith in the future of this country.”

Joyce hopes that sharing the details of their gift of grain will help inform and encourage other farm families. “We were placed in a situation where it just made perfect sense, and I think there may be other people who end up in the same situation when they decide they’re going to retire.”

Sharing their yield was only the most recent gift in a life spent cultivating philanthropy. “Our lives and our careers would not have come together without Purdue University,” Don says, “so we wanted to make sure we gave something back.”