Eyes on the future
Written by the Alumni Update, Spring 2017
Don Wagner grew up on a diversified beef and dairy cattle, purebred swine and sheep farm in western Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Ohio State University in 1959 before heading to Cornell University to receive his Master of Science and doctoral degrees. While at Cornell, Wagner met his bride-to-be, Kay Stocking. Don and Kay were married in 1963 in New York.
Wagner joined the OSU faculty in 1965 as an Assistant Professor and worked for three years in the Harry S. Truman Administration’s Point IV program in Ethiopia. This 15-year program established a land-grant type model at Alemaya University, the agricultural entity of Haile Selassie I University. In Ethiopia, Dr. Wagner taught multiple courses in animal science, conducted research and managed the beef, dairy and swine programs.
In 1968, Wagner returned to Stillwater. In the ensuing years, he would serve as Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Regents Professor and Head of the Department of Animal Science. Wagner served as department head from 1990 until 2008. Under his direction, the department emerged as the largest undergraduate major and scholarship program at OSU and developed state-of-the-art beef cattle and swine research facilities.
In the early 1990s, OSU focused efforts on developing a modern, sophisticated and centrally located research facility for confinement cattle feeding. A location near campus was needed that could be equipped to handle both receiving and finishing activities.
To facilitate building the new facility, Don Wagner, with assistance from Don Gill and Ron Johnson, submitted a successful grant proposal to the Cooperative State’s Research, Education and Extension Service in USDA. The grant required the procurement of 1:1 matching funds. Support for matching funds was sought through Senator Don Nickels and a committee of prominent cattle and industry leaders to garner political and private funding support. Tireless efforts, from many people, yielded over 200 donors composed of individual cattle producers, county cattlemen associations, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Associaton and commercial businesses. In total, Oklahoma raised 1.5 million dollars to match the federal grant program. Additional state capital improvement bond monies from the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as funds from the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station and the Department of Animal Science were combined to complete the center. The final cost was in excess of 5 million dollars. The combined state and community efforts resulted in what was touted as the finest university receiving and feedlot facility in the country to conduct research and education related to high-risk, shipping stressed and feedlot cattle. It was named the Willard Sparks Beef Research Center in honor of its largest donor.
Built around 1929 off State Highway 51 on Stillwater’s west side, the old OSU swine farm held about 800 hogs. It was one of the first things motorists saw and smelled as they drove into Stillwater. Ever since the late 1960’s the university had tried to come up with a plan to relocate the farm to its current location on McElroy, but despite aggressive efforts, for one reason or another, they always met with failure.
There were many objectors to the move in and outside the community— including some members of the Board of Regents. The Stillwater residents didn’t believe what was being told to them by OSU representatives and didn’t believe that new odor control technologies would work. They didn’t want the “nuisance” moved from one part of town to another—most people just wanted OSU to get out of the swine business and move all of the hogs to Guymon, Okla.
After being denied on their attempts to relocate the swine farm, in 1999 OSU proposed spending $2.5 million to modernize the old facility on Highway 51. Then, the community opposition to that idea escalated to a fever pitch. It took incredible lobbying efforts and making the case that you couldn’t run a swine education and research program from as far away as Guymon, Okla., to make the community leaders and Regents reconsider their position. It was a long, hard-fought battle for many years, but at last OSU was allowed to build a new swine center at the current location on McElroy, west of the arena.
So once again, Don Wagner found himself looking for ways to raise money for a new facility. Tom Gilliam was very helpful in raising outside funds, although most of the funding came from internal sources. Seaboard Corporation was a large, major donor. The Pork Council, Tom Gilliam and others were as well. Everyone’s help was greatly appreciated throughout the lengthy ordeal.
The new OSU Swine Research and Teaching Center was dedicated November 12, 2004. The state-of-theart facility is one of the most unique, modern swine educational units to be found anywhere.
Waste management research is an integral part of the unit, facilitating unique research opportunities for the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering in collaboration with Animal Science. Capabilities exist to explore various treatment technologies for odor abatement and liquid/solid treatment. The waste system includes a fully enclosed automated, anerobic, sequencing batch reactor and two bioreactors.
A separate classroom building provides hands-on teaching opportunities and houses an adjacent metabolism room to support fundamental research in nutrition and waste management. A headquarters building provides office, conference room and living quarters for students. The swine center enables Animal Science and veterinary students to experience a modern working operation and provides an excellent source of future employees for the swine industry.
“Time has proven it has worked well even though we had many doubters,” said Wagner. “To illustrate this point, about six months ago I stopped in to visit with one of the community elders and leaders in Stillwater. I introduced myself. He then looked at me a moment and finally pointed his finger at me. He then said I know who you are. You are the one who finally got rid of those stinking hogs at OSU. He said good job and good for you. I never told him we still have them or where they were. So this is testimony that things are working for the better with the new unit.”
Don Wagner is well known and recognized for his effective lectures that emphasized scientific principles and practical application for all classes of livestock. He has been honored with over 20 esteemed College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, university-wide, and industry recognitions. Because of Wagner’s leadership and vision, OSU’s Department of Animal Science maintained a balance of faculty and programs in teaching, research and Extension while positioning the college to meet the needs of students and stakeholders well into Oklahoma’s future.
Please visit osugiving.com/donwagner to contribute to the
Dr. Don Wagner Hall of Fame Chairback Campaign.
Oklahoma State University, U. S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local governments cooperating: Oklahoma State University in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies, practices, or procedures, and is an equal opportunity