Leading Agronomist John W. Pendleton, PhD Passes Away

John W. Pendleton, PhD

John W. Pendleton, age 96, passed away at Milwaukee Catholic Home, on May 15, 2018. John was born on January 1, 1922 on a small “two-mule farm” in Hillsboro, Tennessee, and went on to become one of the world’s leading agronomists to help feed the world.

After graduating from high school, John enrolled at the University of Tennessee, but his studies were interrupted when WWII broke out. In 1942, John volunteered for the Navy, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. John went on to serve as a Naval Aviator (pilot) in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. He left active service in 1946, and continued to serve in the Naval Reserve until 1954.

After the war, John returned to the Univ. of Tenn, where he received his bachelor degree in agriculture in 1948. He met there the love of his life, Eleanor Spahr, a farm girl off a dairy and tobacco farm near Bristol, Virginia and they were married in 1948. John went on to receive a Master and a PhD in agronomy from the Univ. of Illinois.

Upon graduation, he accepted a faculty position with the Univ. of Ill. Department of Agronomy, where his research focused mostly on corn and soybeans, and new ways to increase production, some simple and some radical but always with the farmer in mind. In 1971 he was named Chairman of the Agronomy Department at the University of Wisconsin. In 1979-1980 he served a year with the USDA in Washington DC and then moved into international food improvement as a scientist and deputy director at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and as the managing deputy director the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria. In retirement, he served on many global consultancies for agricultural projects in developing countries for USAID, FAO and IFAD particularly in Asia and Africa and was an Emeritus Professor at the Univ. of Ill.

Dr. Pendleton received numerous awards. He was a Fellow of the Crop Science Society, the American Society of Agronomy, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; named Agronomist of the 1960’s by the Soil Science Society in 1997; a Lifetime Research Award from the American Soybean Association, and a Northrup King Distinguished Scientist Award. He served as President of the American Society of Agronomy in 1978. For his contributions to increasing rice production, South Korea awarded him the Korean Agricultural Medallion. Most recently, in 2011, the Univ. of Ill. College of ACES, awarded him its Award of Merit, for his contributions to agricultural research and crop production in the United States, Asia and Africa. He took great pride in the accomplishments of the 33 graduate students he sponsored from the US and abroad and to whom Eleanor and he opened their home. Leading agronomists and farmers the world over benefited from his research and teaching; and millions of people who otherwise would have known the pain of hunger did not, because of his work.

John and Eleanor enjoyed 66 years together and raised five children on a farm in Champaign County, IL. His beloved wife Eleanor passed in 2014, and his dear daughter Betsy Pendleton Wong passed in 2015. He was predeceased by his parents (William Witt and Jo Harley Pendleton) and his sister Betty. He is survived by his children Don (Julie) of Marshall, IL, Pam Thickens (Bob) of Mequon, WI, Kip (Anne) of Woodbury, MN, and Sandie (Terese) of Shorewood, WI, and son-in-law Kam Wong of Champaign, IL. He is also survived by 13 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.

John had a life-long love of learning, and always emphasized the importance of education and hard work to all. He would say “Smile it could be worse” as he encouraged others. He loved and served his country, and had great faith in the ability of Americans, and educated people the world over, to address and solve the challenges our world faces. Pendleton served as a Deacon University Place Christian Church in Champaign and as President of the Champaign Exchange Club and long-time member of the Urbana Exchange Club.

A memorial service will be held later at Windsor of Savoy in Savoy, IL. For those so inclined, memorials may be made to the Univ. of Ill. Foundation, John W. Pendleton Crop Science Grad Student Fellowship Fund.





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