COLLEGE STATION – Leo Witkowski of Hereford, 98, was recognized recently as the oldest living graduate of Texas A&M University’s department of soil and crop sciences. He was presented with a plaque to commemorate the 75th anniversary of his graduation as a part of the Class of 1937.
“Thank you for what you’ve done for agriculture and thank you for what you’ve done as an ambassador for A&M,” said Dr. David Baltensperger, head of the Texas A&M Soil and Crop Sciences Department as he presented Witkowski with his plaque.
“And thank you for what you’ve done for Texas wheat,” added Rodney Mosier, Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association executive vice president.
Witkowski came to Texas A&M after he graduated from Plainview High School in 1932 as a football and track standout. He recalled knowing that all three banks in town were broke and most folks didn’t have any money, so he took the $75 he had and hopped a train with a friend to make his way to Texas A&M.
He had heard if you played sports at Texas A&M, they would help you get a job and possibly provide a scholarship. But there were no scholarships to be had when he got there. He went to the Association of Former Students and they didn’t loan to freshmen. Then he found a job making $25 a month; room and board was $28 a month.
He recalled sitting on the steps of the agriculture department’s administration building after being told by Dean of Agriculture Edwin Kyle that he and his friend didn’t have enough money to attend Texas A&M. But along came Dr. Dan Russell, who said Dean Kyle told a lot of boys that, but Russell told them: “You boys can go to school here. Lots of boys have made it.”
Attending Texas A&M wasn’t going to be easy, but Witkowski used his speed to keep himself in school and be among those who made it.
He was told to work out with the football and track teams, and if he was good enough, he could be on the freshman squad. He ended up winning the 100-yard dash, 200-yard dash and helping the sprint relay team win. He’d found a way to stay in school and major in agronomy and minor in agricultural engineering.
Witkowski worked jobs ranging from typing for a department head to working at the YMCA bowling alley and cleaning showers and toilets until a better job came along. His first year he had to live in town in a big house with six to eight other young men and was considered a “day student,” although he belonged to the Corp of Cadets.
He and his friends were put in the coast artillery unit, and he was supposed to go to the coast for artillery practice. He never went as his brother and sister had illnesses that required him to lay out a semester of college and return to help on the farm. But he returned to live in the dorm and earned his bachelor of science in agriculture.
A native of David City, Neb., Witkowski was involved in agriculture most of his life. He moved to Plainview in 1916 at age 3. His father farmed, growing wheat, milo and sudan grass on a half-section.
After graduation from Texas A&M, Witkowski went back to Plainview and farmed with his father, later buying land in Castro County and building his own farm up to eight sections at one time. In addition, he carried on his father’s custom combine business, cutting wheat with two 20-foot Case combines.
During his farming career, he grew wheat, milo, sugar beets, food corn, triticale and hay grazer, and fed out cattle. He planted many different varieties of wheat, learned about terracing land, learned to summer-till and kept meticulous rainfall records.
Witkowski was a member of the 17-man Study Committee on Agriculture for Texas A&M and the Committee of Five from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico which met with Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson in 1954.
He was named “Man of the Year in Texas Agriculture” for 1976 by the Texas County Agricultural Agents Association. The recognition cited his 30 years of support to the Extension Service (Texas AgriLife Extension Service), serving as a member of the crops committee, 4-H and youth committee and program building committee in Deaf Smith County, and as director of the Panhandle Economic Program.
Witkowski was honored as the 2000 Wheat Man of the Year. He was one of six men who helped charter the Texas Wheat Producers Association in 1950. He served as president of the association from 1963 to 1975, also serving as the Texas representative for the National Association of Wheat Growers. In 1985, he was one of three U.S. Wheat representatives who went to Panama and Hawaii promoting wheat.
Witkowski is past chairman of the Texas Wheat Producers Board, an organization he was instrumental in helping form in 1971. He also was a member of the High Plains Research Coordinating Board, Nuclear Waste Task Force, Texas Corn Growers Association, Texas and New Mexico Sugar Beet Association and Texas Farmers Union.
Witkowski has four children: Rita Huckert of Hereford, Lou Ann Rounds of West Des Moines, Iowa, Gerald Witkowski of Amarillo and Jane Geppert of Arlington. He has 19 grandchildren. And he likes to brag there are Aggies among them, including his son, two grandchildren and two great nieces.
Baltensperger said the Soil and Crop Sciences Department recently started a recognition program for its alumni, and Witkowski is the first to be recognized for his lifetime accomplishments and reaching the 75th anniversary of his graduation. One other living graduate of the class of 1937, John Ayers, will be recognized next.
Alumni can give back to the department in a multitude of ways that advance agriculture and continue to help turn Aggies, like Witkowski, into outstanding citizens and build well-rounded, positive leaders whose lifetime contributions are immeasurable, Baltensperger said.
To discuss giving opportunities or learn more about the program, contact Baltensperger at 979-845-3041, firstname.lastname@example.org ; visit http://soilcrop.tamu.edu where the “Donate Now” link can be found at the very top of the page; or go directly to http://bit.ly/KP6D1M .