Purdue Ag Alumni Executive Directors
From 1926 to August of 2018, four individuals served Purdue Agricultural Alumni as “Executive Directors.”
In 1926, Dean John H. Skinner appointed Wallace O. “Brick” Mills (BSA ’12) as Field Services Representative. The June 1926 edition of The Purdue Agriculturistdescribed the new permanent position.
Mr. Mills will endeavor in different ways to make contacts with agricultural alumni, former winter course men and former students for the purpose of promoting a close relationship and co-operation with the men of these several groups with the hope that he may through such efforts create an interest in the work of the institution, and assist them in their several communities in the improvement of agriculture. He will also endeavor to meet and interest prospective agricultural students in the work of the School of Agriculture. Close relationship with vocational teachers, county agents and others in several counties will be maintained as their co-operation and assistance is essential to success.
While Mills was both student recruiter and the school’s alumni director, he led the establishment of agricultural alumni chapters in numerous Indiana counties and launched the Distinguished Purdue Ag awards program.
Annual Ag Alumni meetings held on campus included dinners in the laboratory of the Agricultural Engineering Building. Also, radio programs involving alumni were developed with broadcasts from Chicago, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Louisville stations.
In 1949, Gordon Graham (BSA ’48) succeeded Mills as the first full-time Executive Secretary of Purdue Agricultural Alumni. During his tenure, Graham focused on revitalizing county agricultural alumni organizations, many of which had been disbanded due to World War II. He resigned in 1952 to enter graduate school at the University of Michigan.
Maurice L. “Mauri” Williamson (BSA ’50) was the new Executive Secretary of Purdue Ag Alumni in 1952 and led the organization until his retirement in 1990.
During Williamson’s years, county and district agricultural alumni organizations grew in numbers and service; fall meetings for ag alumni couples were held on campus; and the Gala Week Pancake Breakfast and Senior Chili Supper were started. Also, county chapters organized to bring future students to campus for Operation Brainpower. Fifty-five county chapters brought 3,200 students to campus on April 10, 1965. Also during this time, the Pioneer Farm and Home Show debuted at the Indiana State Fair in 1961.
Under Williamson, the Agricultural Alumni Fish Fry moved to the Purdue Armory in the late 1950s and became a themed event in the 1970s. Filling the Armory with alums each year, this major event concluded Farm Science Days week.
In 1990, the new Purdue Ag Alumni Executive Secretary was Donya Lester, a University of Georgia Agriculture alumna who led the association until she retired in August 2018. For 28 years, Lester’s infectious enthusiasm and leadership guided Purdue Agricultural Alumni into the 21stcentury — a major accomplishment.
During Lester’s tenure, Fish Fry programming changed to address greater diversity. In those years, new Purdue Ag graduating classes switched from majority male to majority female and 90 percent of new alums found employment in occupations other than farming.
Also under Lester’s leadership, the Ag Alumni Association Board of Directors broadened to include age, gender and occupational diversity. Communications and connections broadened to include alums throughout the United States and around the globe via electronic social media. The annual Fish Fry moved from the Purdue Armory to the Indiana State Fair grounds and featured nationally known speakers. A final new project started by Lester is the Purdue Ag Alumni Common Read, Unnaturally Delicious,authored by Jayson Lusk.
On September 4, 2018, Danica Kirkpatrick became the new Executive Director of the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association. For more about the history and programs of Purdue Ag Alumni go to https://ag.purdue.edu/agalumni/Pages/History.aspx