April 4 2010 06:39 PM

A national dairy industry leader and Fort Atkinson community servant has died.

Meyer,left, discussing the Hoard\'s Diaryman Farm registered Guernsey herd with herdsman Paul Liermann (circa 1978).

Eugene "Gene" C. Meyer, 81, who served on the staff of the Hoard's Dairyman magazine for 41 years, died on Thursday at his home. Meyer was the managing editor of the Fort Atkinson-based magazine for 17 years and was a standout in both the dairy and Fort Atkinson communities.

Through the pages of Hoard's Dairyman, Meyer worked tirelessly to improve the standard of living of U.S. dairy farm families. He campaigned actively for production testing, higher minimum standards for fluid milk, greater advertising and promotion of dairy products, component pricing, Johne's disease control and policies that balanced the supply and demand of milk with fair prices. Meyer played a major role in processing editorial content appropriate to stimulating the mind's of the world's dairy farmers. Born Dec. 10, 1923, to Gilbert and Christine Meyer, he was reared on a Guernsey dairy farm near McGregor, a northwest Iowa farm community along the Mississippi River. The Meyer farm was regarded as a progressive dairy operation.

Meyer was involved in 4-H at an early age, and the highlight of his 4-H career was winning the Iowa Dairy Judging Contest in 1939. He headed to Iowa State University, where distinguished himself as a student leader and dairy cattle judge. He earned the high individual score and teamed with three others to win the 1942 National Cow Judging Contest. His college career was interrupted by World War II. Meyer was a B-24 navigator in the 15th Air Force, serving with distinction in missions over Germany.

After his military service, Meyer returned to Iowa State, earning a bachelor's degree in dairy husbandry in 1946, and he then set off to his first job in the Farms News Department at Radio Station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. Coworker Ronald "Dutch" Reagan called the Cubs games and Meyer reported the farm markets.

Meyer served on the staff of Hoard's Dairyman for 41 years. He was the managing editor of the magazine for 17 years, retiring in 1988.The photo on the left was taken by W.D. Hoard, Jr., between 1948 and 1950 and shows, from left to right, Hoard's Dairyman "rookies" Gene Meyer, James Baird, and William D. Knox standing atop the hill overlooking the Hoard's Dairyman Farm.
The photo on the right, they jokingly recreated that well-known pose during the art director Baird's retirement party in 1992. Knox was then President of W.D. Hoard & Sons.

Meyer married his college sweetheart, Maxine Mallory of Hampton, Iowa, on June 1, 1947, and on Jan. 1, 1948, they moved to Fort Atkinson, where Meyer had joined the Dairyman editorial staff as an associate editor. Overseeing the annual Cow-Judging Contest was among Meyer's duties when he joined the magazine, and even after his retirement, he guided the Dairyman's annual contest, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. The award given to the top collegiate dairy judge now bears Meyer's name.

In 1972, he was named managing editor, responsible for the editorial policies and content of the worldwide dairy publication and supervision of the 518-acre Hoard's Dairyman Farm, where the registered Guernsey herd's production has consistently ranked among the best in the state and nation. He retired in 1988 after being involved in more than 900 issues of the world's most highly respected dairy farm publication.

Meyer, left, discussing the Hoard's Dairyman Farm registered Guernsey herd with herdsman Paul Liermann (circa 1978).

Along the way, Meyer garnered much national, state and local recognition. He was recognized by his alma mater, Iowa State University, with the Leadership Award of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and in 1978 was the first to be named the Distinguished Graduate of ISU's Dairy Shrine Club. He also received ISU's Henry A. Wallace Award.

In 1981, while serving as president of the National Dairy Shrine, Meyer played a key role in bringing the then 10,000-member organization's headquarters to Fort Atkinson. As the conceptual architect of the Shrine, he played a key role in the fund-raising, planning and development of its permanent home at the Hoard Historical Museum.

Meyer also served as secretary-treasurer of the Klussendorf Society, the"Hall of Fame" of the U.S. and Canada's top dairy cattle exhibitors. In 1980, Meyer received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Dairy Science Association and was given the National Dairy Herd Improvement Association's Outstanding Service Award.

In 1982, the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture and Life Science awarded Meyer its highest honor: The Award of Distinction for Meritorious Service in Agriculture and Rural Life.

Other dairy honors include the Iowa State 4-H Alumni Award; National Dairy Shrine Guest of Honor in 1986; National Milk Producers Federation Distinguished Service Award; and National Dairy Board's Richard Lyng Award for Distinguished Service to Dairy Promotion and Research.

In 1988, Meyer was recognized as "Man of the Year" by the World Dairy Expo, an organization he served since 1966, on advisory committees and promoting the show.

"Acknowledged as one of most knowledgeable people concerning the dairy production and marketing industry, his (Meyer's) straightforward reporting and thought-provoking editorials have made a major contribution to the strength of the dairy production business," Thomas L. Lyon, retired Cooperative Resources International Chief Executive Officer, stated in his nomination of Meyer for the Dairy Expo award.

"Gene Meyer is a genuinely humble person who has contributed many years to special projects ... without fanfare and public acknowledgment. He shuns the spotlight and is a consistent behind-the-scenes performer," Lyon noted at the time.

Active in the Fort Atkinson community, Meyer was a member of the Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees from 1966-81, serving as president his last five years on the board. He devoted considerable time and effort to the expansion and modernization of the hospital, being involved in two fund-raising campaigns for additions which raised the hospital capacity and provided new surgical and emergency wings.

At a 1981 tribute recognizing Meyer's 15 years of service to the hospital, board President James Schweiger commended Meyer's "counsel, wisdom and direction, coupled with good common sense" at the approximately 250 hospital board meetings he attended.

Meyer was a former director and president of the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce and served as chairman of its Agriculture Committee and "FBI Days" (Farmers-Business-Industy). He was an organizer and first president of the United Way Fund of Fort Atkinson - now the United Way of Jefferson and North Walworth Counties - in 1963, after serving as president of its forerunner, the Community Chest.

Meyer also was active in First United Methodist Church, serving as a trustee from 1972-75, an administrative board member from 1980-83 and as a member of its pastor-parish committee.

In addition, he was a longtime member of the Fort Atkinson Historical Society, serving as the Dairy Shrine representative on its board for two decades. Meyer and fellow historical society member Allan Haukom organized the Dairy Shrine Summer Greeters program, with Meyer and wife Maxine working together as greeters for many years. Today, the docent program boasts more than 40 volunteers.

Meyer was the president and founder of the Fort Atkinson Toastmasters Club. In recognition of his community service, the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce bestowed the Economic Contribution Award on Meyer in 1982."I'm embarrassed, I'm honored and I'm pleased," Meyer commented to the audience at the chamber event.

"I'm embarrassed because, for the things I've done in this community, I've had tremendous help. It's an honor to be in the same league with Gordon Day, Bill Klopcich and other award recipients. And I'm pleased because this is our adopted home and there's no way one can't be successful here." Always quick to recognize the contributions of others, Meyer added, "This is the greatest community you can live in and that is a real tribute to people like you."

In 1984, Meyer was saluted for his community leadership with the Jefferson County Wisconsin Reserve Officers Association Outstanding Community Leadership Award.

And in 1995, yet another group recognized Meyer's contributions to his adopted home when the Fort Atkinson Lion's Club awarded Meyer its Distinguished Service Award for Community Service.

Even the busiest people need an outlet and Meyer's was his diehard love of the Chicago Cubs. He was a regular at spring training in Arizona, and stood by his team despite much good-natured ribbing from friends and fellow workers.