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Dairy pioneers on display at Mizzou

Two rooms bring the next generation a close look at the legacy of Missouri’s dairy industry.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

May 17, 2023

5 Min Read
Gloria Johnson and Rex Ricketts flank an art piece found in the student lounge at MU’s Animal Sciences Research Center
COME ON IN: Gloria Johnson and Rex Ricketts flank an art piece found in the student lounge at the University of Missouri’s Animal Sciences Research Center. The study area and paintings were made possible by the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors Foundation. Mindy Ward

At a Glance

  • Missouri’s dairy history is part of the Mizzou animal science building tradition.
  • Photos of prominent dairy figures fill two rooms for students and visitors.
  • A statue of the bull Langwater Foremost sits on a bookcase at MU.

It is quiet in the Animal Sciences Research Center, Room S116, on the campus of the University of Missouri. As you enter, it may seem out of place among the classrooms in the building. It is more like a board room — complete with a large oval table and chairs, books in cases and photos on the walls.

Next door in S115, a student sits at a long, modern table and chairs. Open bookshelves, murals, photos and soft lighting almost makes it feel like a homey study nook.

Both are exactly what designers and benefactors wanted — two rooms that offer Mizzou students or campus visitors a chance to surround themselves in the history of the state’s dairy industry.

Modeled after the Dairy Shrine in Wisconsin, a place that honors contributions to the dairy industry and its way of life, Dr. Rex Ricketts says the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors is the only other one like it in the country.

“Dairy is an important part of the state’s agriculture industry,” he explains. “At one time, we were the No. 2 producers of milk and cheese in the United States.”

Ricketts was in the room when the idea flourished.

Building a dairy legacy

During a board meeting of the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors Foundation in the 1980s, Wilbur Feagan, co-founder of Springfield-based F&H Food Equipment, asked if there was a way to modernize the meeting room and give it more of a corporate, professional feel.

“We took his suggestions to an architect for a rendering,” Ricketts recalls. However, the remodel was more than what was in the foundation’s bank account.

But Feagan, a pioneer in the dairy processing equipment business, was committed to the project and provided $100,000 to make it a reality, Ricketts explains. “He said, ‘If you pay me back, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too.' We paid him back.”

The result is the home of the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors, which includes a conference room, study room and small dairy history museum.

Set up for meetings

At the center of the S116 conference room is the dining room table of Col. William Hatch. “There is a lot of dairy history right here,” Ricketts says patting the tabletop.

Hatch was a congressman and lived in Hannibal, Mo. He was the author of the Hatch Act of 1887, which provided funding for agricultural experiment stations and land grant universities such as Mizzou. Hatch was fond of the dairy industry, owning a herd of Jerseys that later was donated to the university.

Photographs of present and past dairy leaders fill the walls around the massive table. They include farmers with strong milking herds, dairy research innovators and processing industry executives — all are Dairy Hall of Honors inductees.

For Ricketts, these are colleagues and friends. “I know many of them personally,” the professor emeritus of animal sciences says. “They are or were individuals I’ve worked with over the years, those that contributed a lot to the dairy industry.”

While there are photographs of Feagan and J.C. Penney, for Gloria Johnson, the executive secretary of the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors Foundation, it is family. She knows exactly where to find her father, Wendell Frankenbach, and her great uncle, Carl Frankenbach. “It’s just really special to me,” she says.

The conference room is still used for board meetings. It also holds the reception for the foundation award ceremony. “They don’t just run in and grab a cup of punch,” Ricketts says. “They spend a lot of time in here looking through the photos.”

Room for next generation

French doors swing wide to connect the conference room to the study area. In S115, students can take a break between classes or prep for an exam. As their eyes drift to the walls or the bookshelves, they catch a glimpse of the past.

“It shows students the importance of the dairy industry in the state and what affect it has on their lives still,” Johnson says. “We don’t have as many dairies as we used to in Missouri, but they see we’re still here.”

What sets this room apart are two hand-painted art collections — one for production, one for processing.

At the center of the dairy production exhibit is the likeness of the state’s six most prominent dairy breeds in a farm field. Surrounding it are scenes from past dairy production practices, such as hand-milking to current trends with a milking carousel. But Ricketts says visitors should look closely at the center image.

Below the five cows are their individual name and the farm they represent. “We had an auction at the Missouri State Fair,” he explains. “Each cow was purchased by a Missouri registered dairy cattle breeder.” The foundation used the money to pay back Feagan. “But he continued to donate more over the years,” Ricketts adds.

The other art mural gives a nod to the state’s robust dairy processing industry. Missouri is home to 36 grade A and manufacturing grade processing plants, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Tactile dairy artifacts

Over the years, dairy memorabilia found a home within these two rooms; a few stand out to visitors.

Langwater Foremost, the foundation sire for Foremost Guernseys, sits in the student study room. In 1952, J.C. Penney gave the Foremost herd and farm to the University of Missouri. According to Ricketts, this statue was meticulously crafted.

Armed with a tape measurer, a New York sculptor came to the farm and began to document all the dimensions of the bull — length, width and even tip to tip of the horns. The result, Ricketts says, “was one of great pride for Mr. Penney. It has an important place in the Hall of Honors.”

Over in the conference room is a nod to milk processing — with an old cream separator. It still has the instruction book on how to run it.

“I can remember on the farm using these things and I tell you one thing, I know the cream ran out a lot slower than all that whey, even if you had Jerseys,” Ricketts quips.

For Ricketts and Johnson, telling stories in these rooms is a passion. For them, it is about honoring the state’s dairy history and inspiring its future.

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About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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