Daily Union Editorial

By Christine Spangler

Daily Jefferson County Union managing editor

A gentleman and a scholar.

That is the best - and only - way to describe Eugene C. Meyer.

The Iowa farm boy who grew up to become a national dairy industry leader and dedicated community servant passed away May 12 at his Fort Atkinson home. He was 81.

Gene, as we all called him, served on the staff of this newspaper's sister publication, Hoard's Dairyman, for 41 years, including 17 as managing editor. Through its pages, this "scholar" followed in the footsteps of living of America'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. Gene played a major role in processing editorial content appropriate to stimulating the minds of the world's dairy producers.

His love for the all things cows started early on what was considered a progressive dairy farm near the Mississippi River community of McGregor, Iowa. Active in 4-H, Gene won the Iowa Dairy Judging Contest in 1939 and then went on to Iowa State University, where he 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.

College was interrupted by World War II, during which Gene served as a B-24 navigator in the skies over Germany. He then returned to Iowa State to earn his bachelor's degree in dairy husbandry in 1946. His first job out of school was as a farm reporter at WHO Radio in Des Moines, alongside sportscaster Ronald Reagan. His second, after marrying sweetheart Maxine, was as associate editor at Hoard's Dairyman.

In 1972, Gene succeeded William D. Knox as the Dairyman's managing editor, being responsible for the editorial policies and content of the publication and supervision of the 518-acre Hoard's Dairyman Farm and the acclaimed registered Guernsey herd he loved so well. He retired some 900 issues later in 1988.

Actually, even then he never left. Overseeing the annual cow-judging contest was among Gene's duties when he joined Hoard's Dairyman and he did so even after his retirement. The award given to the top collegiate dairy judge today bears Gene's name.

Not surprisingly, Gene garnered a lot of attention throughout the years. We won't start naming them because it'd take up too much space, but suffice it to say he pretty much received every distinguished service honor, large and small, the dairy industry and local community gives.

And speaking of service, Gene was an active volunteer. He was secretary-treasurer of the Klussendorf Society, the "hall of fame" of the U.S. and Canada's top dairy cattle exhibitors.

In 1981, while president of the National Dairy Shrine, he was key in bringing the then 10,000-member organization's headquarters to Fort Atkinson. As the conceptual architect of the Shrine, he played a pivotal role in the fund-raising, planning and development of its permanent visitor's center at the Hoard Historical Museum, spurring tourism growth. And speaking of the Shrine, this longtime member of the Fort Atkinson Historical Society served as the Dairy Shrine representative on its board for two decades. It was he and fellow member Allan Haukom who organized the Dairy Shrine's Summer Greeters program, which today boasts more than 40 volunteers.

Across town at Fort Memorial Hospital, Gene served on its board of trustees for 16 years, the last five as president. He devoted considerable time and effort to expanding and modernizing the hospital, being involved in two fund-raising campaigns for additions that raised the hospital capacity and provided new surgical and emergency wings.

In addition, Gene was active in the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce, particularly during the 1960s. A former director and president, he chaired the organization's Agriculture Committee and "FBI Days" (Farmers-Business-Industry). Active at First United Methodist church, he also was an organizer and first president of the local United Way in 1963 and served as president of its predecessor, the Community Chest.

As impressive as all of Gene's activities and accolades are, they are made even more so by the fact that everything he did, he did with humility and class. And that's where the "gentleman" comes in.

Those who knew Gene best, and probably even those who hardly knew him at all, will tell you that this man, perhaps at one time the most influential person in the dairy industry, was extremely caring and thoughtful. Often was sought out for his common-sense, sincere and empathetic counsel, Gene always had time for you, and if he didn't, he made it. Always.

The adjectives and nouns used by friends and colleagues to describe Gene following his death bear that out: Kind. Unassuming. Nurturing. Mentor. A people person. Super friend. Humorous. Respected. A leader. Brave. Gracious. Accomplished. Personable. Far-sighted. Compatible with people from all walks of life.

One of the best men I've ever known.

And humble ... as was obvious from Gene's response when recognized as a National Dairy Shrine "Guest of Honor" in 1986: "I'm the luckiest person in the world," he said. "I have a great wife, a wonderful family, a job I truly love and I'm fortunate to be in good health. I'm happy in my work, have hundreds of fine friends and we live in a nice home. If I weren't me, I'd be jealous of myself."

Not exactly true: Gene didn't have a jealous bone in his body. But he did have a big heart and keen mind prerequisites for those bestowed the "gentleman and scholar" mantle.

Eugene C. Meyer touched countless lives through his words, actions and deeds, all served with the utmost kindness and compassion.

What a great way to have lived.

What an even greater way to be remembered.

Farewell, Gene. It was a privilege knowing you.