From IWU Magazine, Fall 2011

Deep Roots

Illinois Wesleyan’s long-held ties to agriculture are celebrated.

Story by RACHEL HATCH

President Wilson greets guests attending the Agricultural Heritage Dinner.

More than corn and soybeans grow from the 6,000-plus acres of farmland owned by Illinois Wesleyan University. According to President Richard F. Wilson, “The income generated by the land helps us pay for faculty, student scholarships, building construction, maintenance and every financial aspect of the University.”

The University’s long ties to agriculture were celebrated this past July at the first Agricultural Heritage Dinner, held at the Memorial Center. The evening was dedicated to recognizing those who donate or operate the 33 University-owned farms in Illinois.

Of the University’s $200-million endowment, $40 million stems from farm holdings that have been donated by alumni and friends. “Without the income from the farmland, Illinois Wesleyan would not be the University it is today,” Wilson told the audience of 150 who attended the dinner.

The University’s reputation for maintaining donated land — as opposed to selling it for an immediate profit — is important to the legacy of agriculture in Illinois, according to Steve Brown, chair of the Trustee Farm Committee. “This agricultural heritage is sacred to all of us,” said Brown, who is a farmer and also the father of two Illinois Wesleyan graduates.

Maurice Jones ’53 and his wife, Dorothy, of Towanda, Ill., noted the University is smart for its decision not to sell farmland. “Land is a good investment,” said Dorothy. “If you treat it right, it brings something back to you each year.”

The first gift of farmland to Illinois Wesleyan came in 1873 from Hiram Buck, who offered the University 640 acres, but only as a matching gift. Buck said he would donate the land if Illinois Wesleyan could raise $15,000 — the value of the land at the time. The University succeeded, and the Buck Farm, located in Douglas County in Illinois, began the agricultural endowment of the University. “That farm has helped countless students to receive an Illinois Wesleyan education,” said George Vinyard ’71, president of the IWU Board of Trustees.

Jim Ondeck and his sister, Mary, operate the Lorraine Craft Farm in Hudson, Ill.

Duncan Funk ’83 noted he admired the University’s dedication to honoring the wishes of those who leave land to IWU. “I think the families would love to see how well their lands and memories are being cared for,” said Funk, who can trace his descendents back to IWU founders.

Several farm operators and their families attended the July event, including Jim Ondeck of Hudson, Ill., who works the Lorraine Kraft Farm in McLean County. Ondeck said he could not imagine a better owner than IWU for the farm, which he has worked since the 1960s. “Ms. Kraft was a schoolteacher for years, dedicated to educating children,” said Ondeck. “Now her farm is still helping to educate children. What could be better than that?”

Gertrude Modahl of Bloomington found an unexpected IWU connection with the farmland she donated to the University in 1995. “It turns out the original 160 acres of the farm was purchased in 1853 from the government by Kersey Fell, one of the founders of Illinois Wesleyan,” said Modahl, chatting before the dinner. “It went through several owners before my mother purchased it in 1933, but wouldn’t Mr. Fell be pleased to know that the land is with the University?”

The IWU farms are managed through Soy Capital Ag Services. “There is a great diversity to the farms Illinois Wesleyan owns and the needs of each farmer,” said Chad Hoke of Soy Capital. “I think the University works hard to see that each different level of need is met.”

Bob Turney, operator of Rueberta Grady Farm in Clinton, agreed. “I’ve worked the University farm for 20 years, and they have done a real fine job of understanding what we need.”

“If people ask me what I do, President Wilson said to tell them, ‘I put students through college,’” said Rick Heaton of Toulon, Ill., who operates the Dorothy Hoadley Farm. “I’d never thought of it that way before.”