Everyone at Cowsmo would like to send their most sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Joe.
Gaylord Joe Lyon, 92, of Toledo, passed away Friday, January 22, 2021 at Sunny Hill Care Center in Tama under the care of Iowa River Hospice. The family is planning a Celebration of Life at a later date.
An eminent dairy industry leader, Joe was born on November 10, 1928 in Toledo, Iowa, the third son of Earl and Helen “Nellie” (Zmolek) Lyon.
Joe has been called a “Dairyman’s Dairyman” active in many dairy industry organizations, including being appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the only Democrat on the inaugural National Dairy Board in early 1984. But Joe was usually found, daily, milking his own cows.
On July 22, 1950, Joe married Norma Duffield “Duffy” Stong at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Ames, Iowa where he and Duffy had both just completed their university degrees. The couple returned to Toledo to join the family farm with Joe’s dad, Earl and brother, Howard, north of Toledo.
From humble beginnings, Joe, along with his brothers, and cousins, were able to develop, from their 4-H projects, a world-renowned breeding herd of dairy cattle. In those early days, Joe rode train cars with his show cattle across the country. The Lyon Jerseys herd came into prominence in 1958 when they swept the show at the Waterloo Dairy Cattle Congress, against cattle from all the prominent millionaire’s herds across the country. Eventually, they exhibited All-American show cattle in each of three breeds. Their efforts in producing award winning production cows and bulls in stud service led to Lyon Jerseys being honored as the American Jersey Cattle Association’s Master Breeders in 2015. Through his life, Joe judged many cattle shows across the country, as well as internationally, from New York to California, and from Minnesota to Tennessee, in the U.K. and Australia. Joe even shook hands with the Queen of England, when judging and touring her own Jersey herd.
Joe used this notoriety to embark on a lifelong passion of reforming the existing farm milk pricing system. His advocacy was instrumental in finally getting, against all odds, “end product pricing” installed throughout the entire federal milk pricing system. His lifetime of leadership on cooperative boards led the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives to install Joe into their Hall of Fame in 2015.
Joe served as President of the American Jersey Cattle Club in 1970, All-Jersey Milk Board, was a member of the American Dairy Association of Iowa and the Iowa Dairy Industries commission, and the board of Swiss Valley Farms milk cooperative. Among other positions, he served as secretary of the Iowa Jersey Cattle Club, President of the Iowa Pure-Bred Cattle Council, President of the old Marshalltown Milk Producers Association, a director of the National Dairy Shrine Club, and regional and national milk promotion boards.
Throughout, Joe managed the growing dairy, predominantly Jerseys, a herd started in 1925 by his father, Earl L. Lyon. Joe was named an “Iowa Master Farmer” with his brother Howard, in 1983. His dad, Earl, had been awarded Master Farmer in 1947. The family farm is still owned and operated by a third generation, and is now a “Century Farm” awarded in 2017. Joe Lyon lived nearly his entire life in the house still standing; born, raised, and started school at “Howard No. #7” country school, and then returned to live in that house with wife Duffy, raising their family, and living out their remaining days in that home on their farm.
A strong community leader, Joe spent years on the South Tama County School Board, being instrumental in balancing the books, at the same time building the new elementary school, now serving the community near the upgraded high school. Joe was a good friend to his neighbors and they valued his counsel.
Joe often referred to himself as “The Husband of the Butter Cow Lady” being a proud supporter of his wife Duffy Lyon, who gained world renown for her nearly fifty years of sculpting the butter cow. Recently, he was pleased to see the success of efforts to bronze her “Cow/Calf” sculpture for his hometown and at the Iowa State campus.
As a proud alumnus of Iowa State University, he continued to work closely with ISU in the interest of dairyman and dairies, serving on various committees there. He was given the Ag College “Floyd Andre” award for his efforts in 1984. All of Joe’s nine children achieved university degrees, seven at Iowa State, two of whom “wandered off the track elsewhere” something he enjoyed reminding them regularly. In 2017, Joe was honored in the Iowa State University’s “Faces of Iowa” state exhibit his portrait being hung in Brunnier Museum, in the Scheman Building on the ISU campus. He was on the board of Iowa Barn Foundation.
Joe valued hard work over almost anything else, expecting no less in his children, and if there were chores to be done, any extracurricular activities could wait. Having said that, he must have attended a record number of concerts, plays, recitals and sporting events of every description throughout his kid’s school years. Joe had a quick mind, and sharp tongue if you dared to match wits with him in debate. Lyon died while convalescing from a broken hip, having only gone into assisted living in November 2020.
Lyon is survived by seven of his nine children, Emily Lyon Hansen (George) of River Falls, WI, Eric Lyon (Theresa) of Toledo, Michelle Lyon Juhl (Tim) of Greene, Valerie Lyon of Perth, Australia, Lori Lyon Hartman (Jon) of Dallas, TX, Kurt Lyon (Jane) of DePere, WI, and Doug Lyon (Steve Loucks) of Minneapolis, MN; two daughters-in-law, Bonnie Hill Lyon of Newberry, SC, and Kathy Collier Lyon of Clarence; 23 grandchildren; 27 great-grandchildren; his brother, Thomas (Barbara) Lyon of Cambridge, WI; his sister-in-law, Margaret Lyon of Toledo; and many, many nieces and nephews.
Preceding him in death were his parents; his wife, Duffy; two sons, Mark and Greg; and his older brothers, Howard and Durward.
Memorials may be directed to the family for a scholarship fund.
Kruse-Phillips Funeral Home, Tama-Toledo, is assisting the family with arrangements.