Three alumni selected for Medallion

Posted July 21, 1998

A committed volunteer, a lifelong educator and a rice scientist were recipients of Alumni Medallion Awards, the most prestigious honor sponsored by the K-State Alumni Association. Presentation were made at the 1998 Commencement exercises on May 16.

Frances Aicher Lewis ’73, Dr. John Leod Wilson ’23 and Dr. Henry M Beachell ’33, were recognized for humanitarian service and lifelong achievements. Forty-two recipients have received the honor.

Beachell: rice scientist
As a rice scientist, Henry Beachell successfully developed rice varieties that first transformed the U.S. rice industry and then improved varieties in Asia.

“Miracle rice” formed more grain and less straw, matured early and produced record yields that helped feed Asia’s growing population.

After receiving degrees from the University of Nebraska and K-State, Beachell began his career in 1931 as a USDA rice breeder at Texas A&M’s rice experiment station in Beaumont, Texas.

“I was an old Nebraska farm boy,” he explained, “and I had spent a lot of my youth cultivating corn. So I had a dislike for corn. Fortunately, my love for wheat prevailed and that led me to rice.”

As a student at K-State, Beachell worked under John Parker, who stressed the importance of maintaining contact with everyone involved with wheat from farmers to millers to consumers.

“I often learned more from farmers than I did from books,” he added.

By the time Beachell left USDA in 1963 for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, nine varieties of rice constituted the basis for roughly 90 percent of all U.S. long-grain rice production.

Gary Paulsen, K-State agronomy professor, noted that during his career Beachell is credited with more advances in the productivity of rice than had occurred during the previous 10,000 years.

“I think the principles and sciences learned at K-State, where he was directly involved in wheat research, were applicable to the rice research for which he is known,” Paulsen said.

In 1996, Beachell and a colleague from India shared the World Food Prize in recognition of their profound influence on Asian agriculture. They also shared the Japan Prize in 1987 for their research in rice.

Since returning to the U.S. in 1982, Beachell has remained active as a research consultant in the development of specialty and hybrid rice varieties for the U.S. and South American markets.

Lewis: committed volunteer
For more than 30 years, Frances Aicher Lewis enjoyed judging 4-H entries at county fairs. She was in great demand at fairs throughout western Kansas because she explained and illustrated her reasons for placements which helped young people learn.

Lewis exemplifies the term “professional volunteer.” While never experiencing, as she says “a real paying job,” Lewis has enjoyed a full and rewarding life committed to helping others, especially young people. In the 1940s and 1950s, her kitchen was the backdrop for teaching cooking basics to hundreds of 10-year-olds in 4-H. She was named the 1951 Kansas Master Homemaker and received the College of Human Ecology’s 1985 Distinguished Service Award.

K-State President Emeritus Duane Acker noted that “the busy center of her universe” was her family and the family business, K-State educational programs and Kansas young people.

In 1937, she graduated in home economics and journalism from K-State where she was president of the home economics club and in an all-women’s meat judging team.

“The women’s teams came from home economics,” she explained. “The men’s teams were recruited from agriculture.”

Drawing on these experiences, Lewis organized all-girls youth meat judging contests. During her 12 years of coaching, her teams won the state competition three times and placed fourth, third and second in the nation.

The American Polled Hereford Association asked Lewis to help organize the American Junior Hereford Association. It recognized her with its 1975 Hall of Merit Award for Volunteer Service to Youth.

Following the death of her husband, Walter Lewis ’35, in 1987, she donated her portion of the family farm near Larned and livestock to K-State, and the university created an endowment which benefits K-State and the larger agricultural community.

Her university service includes a term on the K-State Alumni Association board of directors from 1953 to 1956. She is currently a trustee of the KSU Foundation. At 82, Lewis continues volunteer work near her home in State College, Penn.

Wilson: lifelong educator
During three decades as teacher and college administrator throughout the South, John Leod Wilson ’98, K-State’s oldest living black alumnus, also established YMCA and YWCA chapters at high schools and colleges.

During an uneasy social climate, he successfully created activities for students with an emphasis on racial understanding. In this way, he involved not only the school’s campus but also the entire region.

Growing up in a household where education shared equal importance with religion and responsibility, Wilson never doubted his goals. In 1919, he was the first black to graduate from Ottawa High School in Ottawa, Kan., and he continued his education at the then Kansas State Agricultural College, where he earned a degree in chemistry in 1923. His brother followed and graduated two years later.

During summers when he was not teaching, he returned to his family home to help out and continue going to school. He earned a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Kansas and a doctorate from the University of Indiana.

Wilson was the academic dean for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluffs. He was a dedicated university administrator known for his lifelong commitment to student development. Other traditionally black colleges and universities where he served were Southern University in Louisiana; Langstan University in Oklahoma; Savannah State College in Georgia and St. Augustine College in Florida.

His achievements during the turbulent World War II years influenced thousands of military personnel in a very personal way. He served as a director and administrator with the USO in several regions of the United States.

Ottawa resident Curtis Hildebrandt, who stops by frequently to visit, said Wilson is an authority on the history of the area.

Wilson’s grandfather, a slave in Howard County, Mo., was freed after the Civil War and fled with his family to Franklin County, Kan.

His father, an astute businessman, owned the first gas station in town and several rental properties.

Wilson still lives in the same house he grew up in on North Main in Ottawa, playing the piano and organ in his parlor.