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Unsung youth supporter receives overdue recognition

Michael Schutz, Purdue Extension Steve Hendress and Purdue Dairy Club members promote milk
VOLUNTEER SPIRIT: Steve Hendress has spent his career, both on the clock and on his own time, helping students. Here Hendress and Purdue Dairy Club members promote milk on campus.
Steve Hendress has coached Purdue University dairy teams and helped youth for years.

Thousands of Hoosiers volunteer behind the scenes in agriculture, in everything from leading a local 4-H club to mentoring underprivileged kids at a local school. Very few ever receive a public thank you. The neat thing is that few of them want to be thanked in public.

Recently, friends decided it was time to honor Steve Hendress, Tippecanoe County, Ind. He has worked at the Purdue University Dairy Research and Education Center for many years. Beyond that, he coaches the Purdue collegiate dairy judging team, and for countless years provided animals and students to help prepare and exhibit the animals for the Indiana 4-H and FFA state dairy judging contests.  

Nila Armstrong, who helps at the Indiana State Fair Cattle Barn each year, says Hendress’ achievements go much deeper than that. It’s not unusual to see him making the circuit at the state fair, passing out milk and food to workers in the trenches to brighten their day.

Recently, Hendress took on another challenge: battling cancer. His friends and former students, including Tyler Marker, wanted to do something special to honor him at the 2017 state fair. Just giving him a plaque wouldn’t be enough, Marker knew. They wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on youth — the type of people Hendress has helped for decades. Hendress has also raised Brown Swiss dairy cattle, and once exhibited the supreme champion cow at the Wisconsin Dairy Expo. His friends thought it would be appropriate to raffle off a Brown Swiss heifer and use the proceeds to start a scholarship in his honor. Steve Blessing and family, Fort Wayne, provided the heifer. The raffle raised several thousand dollars to reach the goal of establishing a scholarship in honor of Hendress.

The winner of the heifer raffle was named in the Indiana State Fair Coliseum on the morning before the 4-H dairy show. Fair officials presented Hendress with a lifetime pass for his work over the years. He was surprised with the Brown Swiss Lifetime Achievement Award at the same time, and was inducted into the Indiana Livestock Breeders Hall of Fame.

True praise
Mike Schutz, former Purdue Extension dairy specialist and now assistant Extension director in charge of agriculture and natural resources, was asked for comments about Hendress. Instead, he sent along an email written by a Purdue senior, Kendra Arnholt, which sums up what volunteers do and why they deserve praise — whether it’s a simple thank you or something more public.

Here are excerpts from her email:

“In my three years in the Purdue Dairy Club, I have worked closely with Steve Hendress. … I wanted to express how immensely he has helped me during my time at Purdue, developing my leadership skills, my confidence, as well as helping me make contacts that I will use the rest of my life after Purdue.

“Purdue Animal Sciences is extremely lucky to have a man like Steve Hendress as a member of their faculty. There isn’t one person more deserving of these recognitions. He exemplifies the dedication, character and grace expected by Purdue faculty, students and alumni.

“I know that I speak for many of Steve’s students when I say that if not for Steve Hendress, my time at Purdue would not have been what it is.”

How can you put it any plainer? Volunteers matter, whether you always take time to thank them or not.

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