CALS Honorary Recognition event set for Oct. 21

The University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) is planning to hold its annual Honorary Recognition Banquet and Ceremony on October 21, 2021. At the in-person event, the college will present its Honorary Recognition Award to Mitch Breunig and Al Gunderson; its Distinguished Service Award to Elton D. Aberle; and its Distinguished Alumni Award to Max Rothschild and Claire Huschka Sink.

These awardees were originally selected and announced in spring of 2020, but last fall’s Honorary Recognition event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This fall, they will finally enjoy a full celebration. No new awardees were selected for 2021.

These awards are the highest honors bestowed by the college, and one of its longest held traditions. The Honorary Recognition Award, now in its 111th year, recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to their professions, their communities and the university. The Distinguished Service Award, first given in 1994, recognizes meritorious service by CALS faculty and staff members. The Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes lifetime achievement and service, was established in 2009.

The awards will be presented at the CALS Honorary Recognition Banquet on Thursday, Oct. 21, in Union South. For more information and to register for the event, visit Modifications will be made to the event as needed based on the latest public health guidelines.

Honorary Recognition Awardees

An enthusiastic advocate for CALS and for dairy research and education at UW–Madison, Mitch Breunig (BS’92) stays connected to the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, CALS, and UW–Madison by participating in numerous research trials on his farm, Mystic Valley Dairy. He has also hosted tours and events for countless student and alumni groups. Over the past five years, Breunig has been involved in discussions on how to ensure that Wisconsin remains a world leader in the dairy industry. During a brainstorming session in Breunig’s office, the vision of the Dairy Innovation Hub was born on a marker board. The Hub is now a joint venture supported by the Wisconsin State Legislature that provides annual funding for dairy research at UW–Madison, UW–River Falls, and UW–Platteville. Breunig is the inaugural chair of the Hub’s advisory council, providing insight, leadership, a progressive nature and passion for both the dairy industry and CALS that will be invaluable to the Hub during its formative years.

As a proud Animal Sciences alumnus, Al Gunderson (MS’79) gives back to the university by helping coach students preparing to enter the agricultural industry as well as contributing financially to student scholarships. Gunderson recently worked to help raise funds for the new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building. A leader at Vita Plus, a feed and nutrition management company that serves the greater Midwest, Gunderson and his business associates have invited faculty, graduate students and undergraduates to their corporate headquarters in Madison for discussions, tours and instruction. Many undergraduates from CALS have completed internships with Vita Plus, opportunities that Gunderson helped develop. Last spring, Gunderson saw an opportunity to partner with the UW through the Vita Plus Serving Customers and Rural Communities Project. Through the project, Vita Plus provided funding and Gunderson provided leadership to develop a system to safely harvest surplus hogs from the Arlington Agricultural Research Station and provide the meat to food pantries. Given the COVID-19-related food shortages and meat processing plant challenges at the time, it was a win for all involved.

When Elton Aberle was selected as dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 1998, the college gained a highly qualified administrator, teacher and leader. As dean, Aberle prioritized securing infrastructure upgrades as well as research funding, which more than doubled during his tenure. Aberle emphasized strong linkages to Wisconsin’s agricultural organizations and businesses, which helped establish stronger communication and trust. He advocated for recognition of academic staff and university staff in the CALS Awards program, to highlight their valuable contributions to the success of the college’s mission. After retiring as dean in 2005, Aberle continued to engage with the college, finding time to give classroom lectures and participate in undergraduate mentorship. Always committed to supporting promising young faculty members, Aberle established the Aberle Faculty Fellow Fund to support the first critical years of a faculty member’s career. Aberle and his wife Carrie also created the Carrie Aberle Demeter Scholarship Fund, which not only recognizes Carrie’s participation in the Demeter organization, but also their joint commitment to undergraduate education at UW–Madison. Aberle’s service has always gone beyond his own career, and he has made a lasting and immeasurable effect on the mission of CALS.

As an animal geneticist, Max Rothschild (MS’75) has built an impressive research portfolio focusing on identifying, mapping and sequencing genes in pigs and other animals. Rothschild received his master’s degree in Animal Sciences at UW–Madison and recently retired as the C.F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences and the M.E. Ensminger Chair in International Animal Agriculture in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University. His research funding has totaled over $31 million, and he has 12 U.S. and many foreign patents. A prolific author, he has over 425 published refereed journal articles and over 700 abstracts, invited papers, popular press and extension articles, proceedings and book chapters. As a supportive alumnus of UW–Madison, Rothschild and his wife established the A.B. Chapman Fund in honor of Max’s M.S. academic advisor. Since 1994, this fund has been used to bring a world-renowned animal geneticist to the UW–Madison campus each spring to present the A.B. Chapman Lecture in Animal Breeding and Genetics, give a lecture on livestock genetics to students in the undergraduate animal genetics courses, and interact with faculty, staff and graduate students on campus.

Claire Sink, 2020 CALS Distinguished Alumni Award honoree. Provided photo.

Since her time as an undergraduate student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW–Madison, Claire Huschka Sink (BS’65) has gone on to make a number of contributions to society. Her dedication to public service began in CALS with her involvement in organizations such as the Livestock Judging Team and the Saddle and Sirloin Club. She spent several years working in Cooperative Extension at Pennsylvania State University before working in the private sector. While at Penn State, she developed the proposal to create the university’s first endowed chair, which was established in the School of Forestry. Today, there are 99 additional endowed chairs at this Big Ten University. In 1983, Sink began working at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) where she held leadership positions for over 20 years. At DOE, her work was dedicated to technology development for cleaning up U.S. nuclear weapons complex sites. Sink represented the program to the environmental remediation industry and published and spoke on environmental technology policy, innovative environmental remediation technology and encouraged environmental regulators and technology developers to collaborate toward common goals. While Sink has received several awards and honors in her career, she has maintained her ties to the university, specifically through the life sciences communication department by establishing an endowment for undergraduate and graduate students in technology management and sustainability.