Installation of past department chair portraits complete

June 14, 2019

After nearly three years, portraits of all nine past department chairs have been installed in Agronomy Hall. The portraits span 117 years of history dating back to when the department was first established in 1902. Artist Liza Amir did an incredible job bringing these men to life, in most cases never having met them. She used historical photos alone to paint five of them but met and photographed Dr. Pesek, Dr. Cantrell and Dr. Fales in person. The same three portraits were installed first and the past chairs were invited to attend their unveiling in 2016. Then portraits were completed and installed in historical order. Commissioned by University Museums and the Department, the portraits are part of the Art on Campus collection.

“We are proud of our history and the impact Agronomy has had on Iowa and the world. These portraits not only bring that history to life, they also inspire the possibility of the future for our department and each individual that walks past,” said Dr. Kendall Lamkey, department of agronomy chair.

Perry Holden 

Perry G. Holden, was the first professor of Agronomy in the United States. He started at Iowa State in 1902 as the vice-dean of agriculture and professor of agronomy. In 1904 he instituted his "corn gospel trains" which promoted the growth of hybrid corn throughout the state. Through his various outreach programs, he promoted better selection and management of corn seeds. Part teacher, part salesman, part businessman and all showman, Holden was known as the “corn professor” and the "corn evangelist.” His work with corn ultimately improved Iowa’s corn crops dramatically and have greatly influenced agriculture today. In 1905 he became the first director of Iowa Extension, eight years before the Smith-Lever Act established a national Extension program. Holden also established demonstration farms throughout Iowa counties. In 1906 Holden became the head of the ISU Extension Service. “No man ever engaged in more rapid and effective mass education of farmers than did P.G. Holden from 1902 to 1910 in Iowa,” Henry A. Wallace later wrote.


M.L. Bowman

Bowman graduated from ISU, then State Agricultural College, in 1905. During his college career, he served as superintendent of the college farm. Upon graduation he was offered a chair in the Farm Crop Department by Perry Holden, who he later traveled throughout Iowa with as part of the “corn gospel trains.” Bowman later became a professor in farm crops experimental work. Bowman was secretary of the Iowa Corn Growers’ Association. He later operated a farm near Waterloo, Iowa, where he specialized in raising Holstein cattle.




William Stevenson

William Stevenson joined the agronomy faculty where he started out as a Professor of soils and later served as the head of the Agronomy Department. Under Stevenson’s direction, the department became one of the top agronomy departments in the country. Stevenson’s main area of expertise were in farm crops, soil fertility, and soil management. He studied field drainage and waterway development. After his time as department chair, Stevenson served as Director (1910-1932) of the Iowa Soil Survey which prepared comprehensive maps and analyses of soil types, fertilizer needs, crop tests, and drainage patterns for each county of the state.




Percy E. Brown

Dr. Brown started at Iowa State as an assistant professor in 1910 and worked his way up to becoming the head of the department in 1932. His major interests of study included soil bacteriology, soil fertility, and soil survey. Dr. Brown was very involved with many organizations and was the Editor-in-Chief of the Iowa State College Journal of Science. Dr. Brown was the head of department until his sudden death in 1937.




William H. Pierre

Dr. Pierre came to Iowa State University in 1938 and left many lasting changes within the department. As head of the department he increased faculty from 22 to 47 and 8 of the faculty he selected became distinguished professors. Under Dr. Pierre’s leadership, field research on the major soils in Iowa was expanded with the establishment of outlying research centers; the climatology program was established; the Soil Testing Laboratory was organized; the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Center was accepted as part of agronomy; USDA scientists were incorporated as full members into the department; and the groundwork for the cooperative soil survey program was established. Dr. Pierre was named a fellow and honorary member of the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of America, both of which he served as president. Among the numerous honors he received throughout his career, Dr. Pierre was named fellow of the Soil Conservation Society of America and of the International Society of Soil Science.



John Pesek

John Pesek’s service to Iowa State University begin in 1950 when he first joined the agronomy faculty. He later served as head of the department from 1964-1990. Dr. Pesek played an integral role in strengthening the department’s international reputation and has over 75 scholarly publications including the National Research Council’s Report of Alternative Agriculture. He spearheaded the development of the Agronomy and Agricultural Engineering Research Farms and oversaw the efforts to secure funding for Agronomy Hall’s substantial building addition. Dr. Pesek served as interim dean from 1987-1988 and is Emeritus member of the Iowa Academy of Science. In addition to many other accolades, Dr. Pesek remains one of the university’s greatest friends and has left a lasting legacy on campus.




Ronald P. Cantrell

Ronald P. Cantrell has distinguished himself in agronomy, particularly in the area of plant breeding and genetics, devoting most of his career to improving the lives of less advantaged people worldwide by making their food supplies more secure. He was honored in 1994 with the American Society of Agronomy’s International Service Award and in 1998 was selected president of the Crop Science Society of America. After serving as department chair, Dr. Cantrell went on to become the Director General of International Rice Research Institute, the leading rice institute in the world, in Los Banos, The Philippines. The staff of IRRI includes nearly one thousand scientific and support personnel and is known for its major contributions toward alleviating world hunger.




Steven Fales

Dr. Fales was passionate about many things, not least among them his professional life in academia. He was made fellow of both the Crop Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy and received the Merit Award from the American Forage and Grassland Council. He was tapped by the Crop Science Society of America to lead a strategic assessment and visioning activity focused on addressing the challenges facing the profession related to changing member demographics and declining revenues. Called the Renaissance Initiative, his plan was hugely successful and had a lasting and positive impact on the society and profession. Based on his commitment and contributions to CSSA, he was later nominated and elected president of the society, where he continued to exercise the progressive leadership for which he was widely known. Dr. Fales went on to serve as the College of Agriculture’s Bioeconomy Initiative coordinator and the associate director of the Office of Biorenewable programs.