As a farm boy growing up in the Depression, Oscar "Ozzie" Luetkemeier had a lot to learn about agriculture. Notably, that there was a college devoted to agricultural studies a few hours up the road from his Edwardsport, Ind., home.
|Ozzie Luetkemeier is one of 12 inaugural recipients of the Legends of Agronomy Award. To see all 12 honorees, visit www.agry.purdue.edu/100/legends.asp.
"My vo-ag teacher said he was making a trip to Purdue University and asked me if I wanted to go along," Luetkemeier, 87, remembers. "I said, ‘Where's Purdue?'"
Some seven decades later, Luetkemeier has left an indelible mark on the university he once couldn't pinpoint on a map. He helped establish the Purdue Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE), the 1,000-acre field research station seven miles northwest of Purdue's West Lafayette campus. ACRE is considered one of the nation's premier outdoor research facilities.
Here's looking at you
For 37 years, between its opening in 1949 and when he retired in 1986, Luetkemeier served as superintendent of what was then known as the Purdue Agronomy Farm. His years of service earned Luetkemeier numerous honors.
Although he's 21 years removed from his Purdue career, Luetkemeier's fingerprints are still visible at ACRE, says Jim Beaty, who succeeded Luetkemeier as superintendent.
"Ozzie had the farm in top-notch shape when I arrived," Beaty says. "You can still see his influence, from the white and green paint scheme of the buildings to the green truck the superintendent drives. He's still sharp and an amazing person. I look up to him a lot."
Beaty can't help looking up to Luetkemeier. His predecessor's picture adorns Beaty's office wall.
To hear Luetkemeier tell it, his ascension to ACRE superintendent was one lucky break after another.
By his own admission, Luetkemeier wasn't a child prodigy. When he arrived as a freshman at Purdue after graduating from Edwardsport High School in 1938, Luetkemeier was almost overwhelmed.
"I enrolled in ag chemistry," he says. "I thought, ‘This is sophisticated and I'm just a farm boy.' I wasn't a bright student, and I didn't think I'd make it. But my love of plants and soils kept me going."
By good fortune or wise forethought, Luetkemeier shifted his academic focus. "I went into agronomy," he says. "I thought I needed to get a job in agronomy."
Luetkemeier's persistence—and the $1,200 he scraped together to pay for four years of college—resulted in a bachelor's degree in agricultural science in 1942. He then entered an agronomy master's degree program.
"I was one of about 12 graduate students who took part in intensive agronomy research," he says. "We studied heavy fertilization of crops and conducted research on corn, sugar beets and tomatoes."