WPVGA Presents Annual Industry Awards

In addition to its annual Hall of Fame inductions, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) presented several other annual industry awards at a banquet held February 3, 2016 in Stevens Point. 

Heidi Alsum-Randall of Alsum Farms & Produce, Friesland, was named the WPVGA Volunteer of the Year.  Alsum-Randall has been a long-time member of the WPVGA Promotions Committee and has served for several years as a Director on the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board (WPIB). She has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as President of the WPIB after being elected to that position in June of 2014, and was reelected President in 2015. She is a Wisconsin representative on the United States Potato Board and was a Wisconsin representative at the 2014 Potato Industry Leadership Institute.  In 2015, she received one of the WPVGA President’s Awards from her father, Larry.  Heidi is a Sunday School teacher and a Big Brothers/Big Sisters Volunteer.  She also volunteers at the Feed My Starving Children mobile packing event sponsored by the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary.

Mark Finnessy of Okray Family Farms, Plover was named WPVGA Young Grower of the Year.  The newly-elected President of the WPVGA Board of Directors, Finnessy is a Sales Associate at Okray Family Farms in Plover.  Mark has been active in the industry at both state and national levels.  He was a participant in the Potato Industry Leadership Institute and regularly attends the Potato DC Fly-In, helping the national potato industry move forward by meeting with members of Congress and lobbying on Capitol Hill.  He is a Wisconsin representative on the USPB and has been active on the WPVGA Promotions Committee as well as the Finance and Administration Committee.  He recently attended the national Potato Expo where he and his father, WPVGA Hall of Famer Mike Finnessy, accepted the National Potato Council’s Environmental Stewardship Award on behalf of Okray Family Farms.  Locally he serves as President on the board of directors of the Plover Area Business Association.

The WPVGA Researcher of the Year Award went to University of Wisconsin Horticulturist Dr. Jiwan Palta.  A Professor in the UW Dept. of Horticulture, Dr. Palta has served the Wisconsin potato industry for many years with his valuable research focusing on the impact of calcium and nitrogen nutrition on potato tuber quality and yield under heat and drought stress. Working in the areas of molecular biology, crop physiology, and postharvest quality, Dr. Palta has been involved in collaborative  potato breeding and variety development activities to enhance farm sustainability; his research program recently led an effort to understand the mechanism of action of a natural lipid that acts as a bioregulator to help improve the shelf life of fruits, flowers and vegetables.

The WPVGA Associate Division presented the Associate Division Business Person of the Year Award to Chris Brooks of Central Door Solutions, Plover.  Brooks has dedicated a great deal of time and effort to more fully integrate the Associate Division with the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry.   This past year, he served as the Associate Division Board President and was very active serving as anindustry leader at numerous Associate Division events as well as serving as Chairman of the WPVGA Promotions Committee.  Brooks has made tremendous contributions toward the Spudmobile project, and really helped establish this new traveling billboard and mobile trade show booth as the focal point of the WPVGA’s promotional efforts.  He serves as a backup voluntary driver when the industry needs someone to drive the massive spud vehicle.  He also recently began writing a new column in the Badger Common’Tater magazine, “Spotlight on Associates,” which highlights the many valuable activities of the Associate Division. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to supporting the Wisconsin potato industry.  

The Agri-Communicator Award for excellence in communication and dedicated service in presenting a positive message about the agricultural industry was presented to John D. “J.D.” Schroeder. The son of John T. and Judy Schroeder, J.D. works at Schroeder Brothers Farms in Antigo. He graduated from Antigo High School in 2004, and then attended UW-Madison, graduating in 2008 with a double major in Agricultural Business Management and Political Science. He received a law degree in 2011 from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.  J.D. offers a very astute perspective on issues based on his knowledge and experience as a lawyer.  He has helped the WPVGA on legal issues and testified at a State Senate hearing on a high capacity well bill.  He has attended numerous Water Task Force meetings and has given sound legal advice as the WPVGA worked through the language of multiple high capacity well bill drafts. A participant in the national Potato Industry Leadership Institute, J.D. has also participated in WPVGA governmental affairs, research and promotion committee meetings.

2015 WPVGA President Andy Wallendal of Wallendal Supply, Grand Marsh, presented the President’s Award to Jordan Lamb of DeWitt, Ross & Stevens Law Firm in Madison.  Wallendal said Lamb has done an exemplary job helping the potato and vegetable industry work through a number of complex governmental affairs issues that have a profound effect on growers’ bottom lines.  Wallendal said Lamb deserved the award “For outstanding service to the WPVGA as a great listener, grower advocate and translator of complex water and environmental issues.”

A special Industry Appreciation Award was presented to WPVGA Financial Officer Karen Rasmussen of Antigo. According to WPVGA Executive Director Tamas Houlihan, Rasmussen serves as the Financial Officer for the WPVGA and does an outstanding job handling a very large workload while performing her duties in a timely manner.  “She is always on time, never quits early, is extremely organized and is as reliable as the day is long,” Houlihan said.  “2015 marked her 20th year of full-time work at the WPVGA, and the industry is fortunate to have such a hardworking, dedicated, loyal employee.”   

Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary President Paula Houlihan presented Auxiliary Appreciation Awards in honor of two founding members of the Auxiliary, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in December of 2015.  Those awards went to Dianne Somers and Avis Wysocki.

Dianne Somers of Plover River Farms, Stevens Point, has been actively involved in the Wisconsin potato industry for many years.  Somers has been active with the WPVGA Water Task Force and has done an outstanding job working with the WPVGA and the rest of the industry on water issues.  She has been active on the Promotions Committee as well as the Spud Bowl Committee, and has led several political fundraising efforts.  According to  Auxiliary President Paula Houlihan, “Dianne always has the industry’s best interests at heart, and works hard to make sure the shrinking voice of agriculture is heard loud and clear.”

Last October the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry lost a remarkable woman in Avis Wysocki of the Wysocki Family of Companies, Bancroft.  According to Paula Houlihan, “Avis had a quiet authority about her.  She saw the strength in others and knew how to encourage you to be and do your best.”    

The wife of Louis Wysocki, Avis had lifelong friends in the potato industry and played an influential part in WPVGA history.  A founding member of the National Potato Council Auxiliary and the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary, Wysocki was a woman of vision.  She made tremendous contributions to the industry and will be greatly missed and fondly remembered. 

Source: Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA)