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‘Match made in heaven’ and OSU pays dividends to future generations

The Ferguson Family Foundation has committed $2 million to construct a state-of-the-art, free-stall barn that will include space for new Insentec individual cattle-feeding equipment. This will enhance research undertaken by faculty, staff and students relative to daily feed and water intake, resulting in improved management and cost-efficiency recommendations to dairy producers.
‘Match made in heaven’ and OSU pays dividends to future generations

From left, OSU President Burns Hargis and First Cowgirl Ann Hargis join with Kayleen and Larry Ferguson to announce the multi-million dollar Ferguson Family Foundation gift dedicated to enhancing OSU dairy programs. (Photo by Todd Johnson)

STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma State University alumnus Larry Ferguson discovered a match made in heaven when he was working at the OSU Dairy Center in 1975, both in terms of his career in the U.S. dairy industry and in the former Kayleen Helms.

Forty years later, Larry and Kayleen Ferguson are giving back to the university they credit as an impetus for so much of the success they have had in their lives.

“We have a responsibility to the betterment of future generations,” Kayleen said. “You have to work hard, but you have to pass it on as well. It’s not yours to keep. It’s not yours to hold onto. It’s yours to pass on.”

The Ferguson Family Foundation has committed $2 million to construct a state-of-the-art, free-stall barn that will include space for new Insentec individual cattle-feeding equipment. This will enhance research undertaken by faculty, staff and students relative to daily feed and water intake, resulting in improved management and cost-efficiency recommendations to dairy producers.

In addition, the foundation is offering a potential matching gift of up to $4 million by adding another $1 for each $1.50 contributed by other supporters of OSU’s dairy program.

“Our dairy program attracts students from 41 states and three foreign countries because of the affordable tuition and hands-on learning experiences with high-quality animals on a variety of modern farms,” said Burns Hargis, OSU president. “This gift empowers the program to do even more to bring in the brightest students and most highly skilled personnel. We are so grateful to the Fergusons for their generous support.”

Tom Coon, vice president, dean and director of the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, believes dairy production is one of the most visible and attractive facets of animal production because of the way it connects with consumers, citing how many people associate milk and dairy products with wholesomeness, and find the image of cows on pasture to be an icon of pastoral life.

“In DASNR, we strive to promote and showcase responsible management of animals and environmental resources,” Coon said. “In addition, our students need exposure to and hands-on experience with modern research-based production methods. The improvements we have envisioned for the dairy facility will help us sustain good husbandry of the cows and calves in our herd, while also strengthening our ability to foster both sound environmental stewardship and safe food-handling practices.”

It was at the dairy center where the Fergusons first met. In February of 1975, Kayleen Helms was an English education major who had found a job testing milk for butterfat. She would shyly keep her head down as she quickly entered and exited the time-clock room, where Larry and his friends ate lunch. He noticed her, learned her name from the timecard and called that evening to ask her out.

Before the end of the year, they were married and living nearly 1,000 miles from home, with Larry beginning a career with Schreiber Foods, the world’s largest employee-owned dairy company. The Fergusons raised three sons while following Larry’s career with Schreiber to Logan, Utah; Monett, Missouri; Carthage, Missouri; and finally the corporate headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, when he became the company’s president and CEO. Although he officially retired in 2007, Larry continues to serve as chairman of the board.

“I would never have become CEO without coming to Oklahoma State and going through the program here,” said the 1975 animal science alumnus. “Kay and I believe education is the way to solve the economic problems of our country. We love the dairy industry, and we want to see more kids educated in the dairy industry. This gift is about more than just education. This is a way of helping feed the world.”

Kayleen is a second-generation Cowboy alum whose parents also met at OSU. Her father, Kenneth Helms, earned a dairy science degree before marrying Kathleen Cunningham. They both went on to earn master’s degrees in education from OSU while teaching and raising two daughters and a son.

“My parents are why I am who I am today,” Kayleen said. “They loved the dairy industry and teaching, and they taught me about the importance of education, ethics and hard work.”

The dairy center’s improved student housing is being renamed Helms Hall, in recognition of the principles embodied by Kayleen’s parents, as well as their own connection to OSU.

“It’s wonderful to be able to honor them this way,” she said. “My father has passed away but my mom is very touched.”

Larry’s parents, who did not attend college, taught their son about the value of hard work while raising him on a dairy farm.

“I was born into the dairy business,” he said. “My mom and dad would rather milk cows than go on vacation. So this facility really symbolizes the passion Kay and I have both for dairy and education.”

The dairy center dates back to 1920. It encompasses approximately 300 acres of pasture, 80 acres of tillable land, and facilities such as the milking parlor, historic barn and outlying buildings.

The infrastructure enhancement begins with the addition of a free-stall barn and updating the student housing. With additional contributions, OSU plans to renovate the milking parlor.

Additional information about opportunities to support this or other Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources programs is available by contacting the OSU Foundation’s Heidi Griswold by email at hgriswold@OSUgiving.com or by phone at 405-385-5656, or Kathy McNally by email at kmcnally@OSUgiving.com or by phone at 405-385-5606.

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REPORTER:
Jacob Longan

MEDIA CONTACT:
Donald Stotts
DASNR News and Media Relations
Agricultural Communications Services
143 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4079
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: donald.stotts@okstate.edu

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 employer.