(From Northwest News Services)
Hal Wilmarth and Sharon Weiss have added their support to Northwest Missouri State University’s School of Agricultural Sciences and a planned Agricultural Learning Center, each pledging $25,000 toward the project.
The Agricultural Learning Center, for which the University and Northwest Foundation are raising funds, will be built at Northwest’s 448-acre R.T. Wright Farm and serve as a multipurpose facility, providing classrooms and laboratory resources to supplement and enhance the academic curriculum.
“I look back and all the people, we all got a good education at Northwest, and I feel an obligation to help somebody else come through the ranks of being a Bearcat,” Wilmarth, who earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture at Northwest in 1969, said. “Having the facilities like they’re talking about, it looks like a win-win situation for the community, college and young people that are the best natural resource we have. There’s a lot of opportunity there.”
Rod Barr, the director of Northwest’s School of Agricultural Sciences, thanked Wilmarth and Weiss for their gifts and investment in the program’s future.
“We are so appreciative of the support from Hal and Sharon for the Agricultural Learning Center,” Barr said. “They are making an investment in the continued success of the School of Agricultural Sciences at Northwest. Their dedication will make a difference not only for our students but for the community and region as well.”
Wilmarth began his Northwest connection in 1958 as a full-time student-athlete, competing for the Bearcat wrestling team while working a part-time job. After tearing his shoulder, however, he went to work full-time for Farmers Produce in downtown Maryville and became a part-time student.
Wilmarth was active in the agriculture club, Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and the M-Club, a social organization for Northwest student-athletes.
He has strong memories of the faculty connections he established within Northwest’s agriculture program and the mentorship they provided. He names former faculty members R.T. Wright, F.B. Houghton, John Beeks and Dennis Padgitt in the ag department as well as Sterling Surrey, Irene Mueller, J. Gordon Strong and William Garrett as influential mentors.
“I could not have made it through school if it weren’t for Sterling Surrey,” Wilmarth said. “Those that knew him, he stood out in their fields, just like F.B. Houghton did. Their encouragement kept a lot of kids in school. There were a lot of distractions for students as there is today, but those guys, they’d keep you on track. If you strayed, they’d tell you about it.”
Wilmarth met his late wife, Joy Couts, in 1962 when her brother set them up on a blind date. Their four children, Shari Wilmarth Patterson, Tami Wilmarth Mundy, Todd Wilmarth and Scott Wilmarth, attended Northwest along with more than a dozen of their relatives.
As a Northwest student, Wilmarth had worked at Farmer’s Produce in Maryville and later Farmer’s Elevator in Hopkins, Missouri. He and his brother eventually purchased the elevator and expanded the operation to include Farmers Supply in Burlington Junction and Mo. Valley Agriservice in Rock Port, Missouri. They sold seed and offered custom fertilizer and chemical work. Today, Wilmarth farms corn and soybeans in Page County, Iowa, and northern Nodaway County, Missouri.
“I’m just a farm boy that couldn’t get it out of his blood – same as being a Bearcat,” he said.
Northwest students and graduates played a key role as employees of the Wilmarths’ agriculture operations. One of them, Lee Larabee, a 1975 Northwest graduate, was a long-time employee and assumed ownership of those plants after Wilmarth retired from retail sales in 1998.
Weiss attended Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota, and most recently worked in the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General. Wilmarth and Weiss both retired to Arizona where they met. The pair spends their summers in Maryville.
Wilmarth’s enthusiasm for Northwest inspired Weiss to match his donation to the Agricultural Learning Center.
“He’s such a big Bearcat sports fan that it’s really grown on me and I enjoy it,” Weiss said. “We go to the games together and it’s a great time. It sort of brings me back to my college days.”
Wilmarth said, “I can’t help but think that everybody that I met there had an influence on how things went in my life. You just can’t get through life today without a lot of good friendships and relationships. Some people we met there and socialize with yet today. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about the Bearcats. As long as I’m alive, I’m gonna be ‘forever green.’”
For more information about the Agricultural Learning Center or to make a gift to support Northwest, contact the Office of University Advancement at 660.562.1248 or visit www.nwmissouri.edu/GiveOnline.