Marilyn Hershey
One thing my husband, Duane, and I have noticed over the years is the significant impact of a state university. We especially see it when there is a group of farmers gathered who have attended a certain university; it does not take long before the Cyclones are challenging the Badgers, the Badgers are going after the Lions, the Bulldogs are fighting with the Gators, and please, please do not confuse K-State with Kansas.

Graduates are serious about their allegiance. We often joke that there must be a blood transfusion that takes place when someone attends a university.

After high school, Duane managed the family dairy farm so that his father could pursue a much-needed career in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives. I attended a one-year bible college in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. Although I am committed to the college I attended and would not trade that year of hiking, studying, and friendships for anything, bantering and challenging other colleges was not part of my post-graduation plan.

When I look across the country at land-grant universities, what stands out is the value they give and have given to our dairy industry. It’s not just in the education that dairy farmers have when they leave after four years of training, but also the guidance that extends to all dairy farmers through extension, research, and specialty programs.

Duane and I have participated in extension programs offered by Penn State University year after year. Every bit of training has improved our farming practices, in both small ways and in much larger decisions.

In our earlier farming lives, I took every calf raising class offered. I learned a new technique or heard of the latest technology at each session. I asked questions, shared how we do things on our farm, and made necessary changes that would improve the quality of our animal care.

Learning has helped us across the farm. We now know more about milking procedures, raising the best crops for our climate, transitioning farms to the next generation, stress management, and calf raising.

Land-grant universities have been cornerstones for many dairies. I cannot imagine where our farms would be without the sharing of knowledge, technology, and tested practices. Research and hands-on learning advance practical and useful ideas that have been vetted on the university farm.

One of the benefits of having land-grant universities across the country is knowing that they understand the specific needs in our unique regions. Our needs in Pennsylvania are very different than those on Midwestern and Western dairies.

A few years ago, I was honored to visit the Penn State campus and see firsthand what the university is doing for the dairy community — particularly the dairy science, food technology, and research centers. The depth is astounding. This is duplicated in unique and valuable ways across the country.

Colleges and universities with dairy and agricultural programs are intricately tuned into our needs and the future of our farms. Whether I attended a university or not is irrelevant. State universities are committed to farmers in valuable ways.

There was a turning point in our lives that strengthened our personal commitment to Penn State University. Every President’s Day weekend there is a dance marathon at Penn State known as THON. THON is a student run, 48-hour dance marathon that raises money for childhood cancer. These dollars offset expenses for families facing pediatric oncology treatment. It also goes to pediatric oncology research at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

At the first event in 1973, they raised $2,000. Last year, they raised over $11 million.

Duane and I had no idea THON existed until our son, Robert, was diagnosed with cancer. Because of a program called the Four Diamonds Fund and the THON, we did not have to worry about medical bills.

When Robert was going through his treatment, they invited us to attend THON. For nearly 10 years after that, our family participated in the dance marathon, and our children thought they owned Penn State. They rolled out a red carpet for the families.

Midway through that experience, Duane and I sold a calf at the Penn State Holstein Convention Sale. Because of the generosity and kindness of the dairy community, the calf was bought and resold twice before selling to the new owner, making sure a significant amount was donated back to THON.

That personal Penn State experience, along with the value of continuing education programs, started a change in me. Even though I did not attend Penn State as a student, my blood may be a twinge blue. Go Lions!

The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.