A recollection of Buell Gunderson, longtime UW swine herdsman

gunderson.jpgBuell Gunderson, longtime swine herdsman at the Arlington research station and a leader in livestock organizations, died on Dec. 27, 2006. The following memorial article was provided by Buell’s son, Al Gunderson, Vice President of Madison’s VitaPlus Corporation.

Maybe it was during a county fair with show stick in hand while you were guiding your pig around the ring hoping to catch his eye, or maybe it was during an open house out in Arlington where he was discussing the latest University of Wisconsin research on different management styles to finish pigs for a changing consumer market. Either way, if you’ve been involved in Wisconsin’s swine industry for long, you’ve been touched by contributions of Buell Gunderson. As swine herdsman for the University of Wisconsin-Madison for more than 30 years, Gunderson was instrumental in helping shape not only the swine industry, but also hundreds of 4-H and FFA youth and university students through his teaching, judging, coaching and commitment. Gunderson, 82, died the week after Christmas as the result of injuries received in an automobile accident.

It was as a Turtle Club 4-H member in Walworth County where Gunderson–whose specialty was raising blue ribbon Chester Whites–was guided by his father, Arthur, and brothers to lay the foundation for his life’s calling: breeding, developing and exhibiting champion hogs. Whether it was the county fair or a larger event like exhibiting the champion barrow at the 1956 National Barrow Show in Austin Minnesota, Gunderson excelled. With a recommendation from his former vocational agriculture teacher and the support of numerous fellow producers and industry professionals whom he had impressed in his young showing career, Dr. Robert Grummer, then head of the UW-Madison’s animal husbandry department hired the young farmer and put him in charge of the university’s large breeding and instruction herd of Purebred Poland China and Chester Whites. In March of 1958, Gunderson stepped into the role as swine herdsman while the experimental farm in Arlington was still in the development stages, having been acquired to replace the University farm near the campus in Madison.

With four of his own Chester Whites sows and the basic fundamental strength of the University’s existing herd, Gunderson helped the college excel at the premier showing scene at the time, the International Livestock Exhibition in Chicago. Under his care and Dr. Gummer’s leadership, Gunderson was successful in helping the UW show its first grand champion carcass hog in 1958. This began an unparalleled string of champions, some 25 in all, from 1958 through 1971. When “Wisconsin’s Pride”, the first champion was selected, Dr. Grummer was quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal by farm writer Robert Bjorklund saying “the swine accomplishments this year were the climax of an intensive swine improvement program being made at the new university farm.”

While accomplishments in the show ring were notable, the real focus was on developing the herd to serve research needs. During his years at the university, Gunderson worked alongside professors, graduate students and undergraduates studying and making advances in swine nutrition, nutritional biochemistry, and the inheritance of swine lipoproteins. Along with Dr. Grummer, he also worked with Dr. Fred Giesler, Dr. Robert Kauffman, Dr. Robert Bray and Dr. Jan Rapacz, and several other well-known meat animal scientists. His attention to the details of the research trials, coupled with his talents as a swine herdsman, contributed to the experimental work in the department over his 30 year tenure. He was as comfortable at the front of the classroom as he was talking with a thousand farmers at Wisconsin’s Farm Pork Day held at Arlington those early years.

Gunderson also gave of his time, as his father and 4-H leaders had to him. He spent countless hours working with youth, helping coach judging teams and serving as an official at county, state and national levels. To the meat and animal science university students who came and went during his time, he left a lasting impression. Whether it was bringing the hogs to the class or taking the class to the hogs, Gunderson was an educator, a mentor and a coach. With his hat on standing in the middle of the ring or down on one knee in the farm yard, always in a crisp clean shirt and creased pants, students knew he was a true swine man with a keen eye and a real understanding of swine nutrition and production. Upon his retirement in 1992, the University recognized his contributions by awarding him Distinguished Service Status.

Gunderson, together with his wife, Bernice, were instrumental in helping to take several fledging producer and industry organizations from kitchen table meetings to board rooms. They served as Secretary/Treasurer of the Wisconsin Pork Association for 20 plus years and assisted in growing the organization from its initial roots to the successful organization that it is today–sponsoring scholarships, developing youth programs and helping to fund research. For their contributions they were recognized with a distinguished service award. He served for many years on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Livestock Breeders Association helping with several initiatives including scholarships, certifying officials for county and district fairs and providing guidelines by which district livestock fairs are conducted. Gunderson was also active on the Columbia County Fair board for many years supporting livestock programs for the county’s youth.

While professional contributions are many, friends say if you knew Gunderson, you’d know that the heart of his passion and his real fulfillment in life was his wife and family. To them, he taught by quiet example and with a strong character. He offered love, kindness, understanding and generosity every day. While the industry is now missing a ‘true swine man,’ the family is missing their patriarch. Gunderson is survived by his wife, Bernice, and children Alan (Debra) Gunderson, Teresa (Jim) Sherer, Gordon (Jean) Gunderson and seven grandchildren in addition to other family members. A memorial fund is being established to benefit youth through the Wisconsin 4-H Foundation located at 428 Lowell Hall, 610 Langdon Street, Madison, Wisconsin, 53703.