Dr. George Heersche, Jr. (posthumously), Dr. Richard Saacke, Dr. Charles Sniffen and Dr. Pearse Lyons (posthumously) are the 2023 recipients of the National Dairy Shrine’s Pioneer Award. This award recognizes dairy industry leaders who have made significant contributions to dairy throughout their lives.
Dr. George Heersche, Jr. began his 45-year tenure as a dairy industry leader in the Cooperative Extension Service in South Dakota. He moved on to spend the majority of his career as an Extension Professor at the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. His notable accomplishments include developing the Heersche/Corbin Synchronization program and working with AI companies to assist with AI trainings. Dr. Heersche was also known for his passion for and leadership in dairy youth programs. For decades, he led the Kentucky 4-H dairy program. He coached three national champion 4-H dairy judging teams and served on the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest Committee for many years. In 2008, he received the prestigious Hoard’s Dairyman Youth Development Award, presented by the American Dairy Science Association. Dr. Heersche’s propensity to cultivate meaningful connections was a key to his success. “He always had a kind word or joke to help lighten the situation,” says Larissa Tucker, Extension Associate for Dairy Youth Programs at the University of. Kentucky. “He made sure that whoever he was talking with felt heard and was given his attention.” His passion and positive influence were reflected in every facet of his life, both at home and at work. Heersche and his wife, Kathy, had three children and fostered 13 others over the years. “If you had a question regarding dairy of any kind – or maybe it wasn’t really related to dairy – he would work to find the answer for you,” Tucker says. “He truly was a
Dr. Richard “Dick” Saacke has been known for his kindness, sincerity and humility his entire life. His earned his B.S. in Animal Science from Rutgers University, and M.S. and Ph.D from Pennsylvania State University. He also served in the U.S. Army in between earning his graduate degrees. His influence in the dairy industry is made up of groundbreaking sire fertility research and guidance of 23 graduate students. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications. Thanks to his extensive research into sire fertility and semen quality, Dr. Saacke is a highly valued ally and consultant in the AI industry. Twice, he was invited to speak at the National Association of Animal Breeders Technical Conference on Artificial Insemination and Reproduction. He is often requested to evaluate and critique semen collection and quality control procedures of many AI centers. Trade secrets are often shared without reservation due to his impeccable character and integrity. He has been recruited as a third- party mediator in disputes regarding semen quality standards among international barterers. Nominator Sarah Thomas says, “Dr. Saacke can diplomatically solve a problem and create agreement amongst peers with no one becoming embarrassed or insulted. In his presence, the most difficult of situations always seems to evolve into an educational and worthwhile experience.” As a member in a plethora of scientific societies, Dr. Saacke has also served as a reviewer for seven major journals and a grant reviewer for many industry and government entities. His research contributions have been recognized by countless publications. Dr. Saacke currently resides in Blacksburg, V.A., and celebrates 69 years of marriage to his wife, Ann, in 2023. They have five children and more than a dozen grand and great grandchildren.
Dr. Charles (Charlie) Sniffen is truly a pioneer in dairy cattle nutrition, through his legacy of contributions to protein and amino acid nutrition, understanding of rumen function and optimizing diet formulation for high-producing dairy cows. His ultimate goal was to quantitatively predict metabolizable protein and amino acid supplies to the cow and their impact on lactation performance. His dedication to this research has resulted in an impressive 158 peer-reviewed publications, 129 abstracts, and 368 articles in conference proceedings and extension publications. Dr. Sniffen holds the unofficial record for the most published peer-reviewed papers on original research in ruminant protein and amino acid nutrition. Of equal importance to his own research were the 43-plus students that Dr. Sniffen mentored over the years, amplifying the industry’s continued advancement and understanding of ruminant nutrition. Many of these students have moved into academic positions and have trained additional students, continuing the tradition of inquiry and problem-solving. Colleagues and former students all remark on Dr. Sniffen’s boundless energy, infectious enthusiasm, and dogged determination that have made such a positive impact on the outcome of their research collaborations. The many stepwise contributions resulting from his research over a 40-year career and his enthusiastic ability to translate basic research findings into practical recommendations for dairy cattle nutrition marks him as a great dairy scientist.
Dr. Pearse Lyons immigrated to the United States in the late 1970’s. He founded Alltech from his home garage with $10,000. His company’s vision remains true to this day, with a global team of more than 6,000 people focusing on improving animal, crop and human health and performance. It remains the only privately held and family-owned business among the top animal health companies in the world. Dr. Lyons was first and foremost an entrepreneur and tireless innovator with a keen scientific mind. He was widely regarded as an inspirational leader and communicator, living each day with passion and purpose. He has been widely recognized for his contributions to science and industry and was awarded honorary doctorates from many colleges and universities around the world. Because of their belief in lifelong learning, his wife and he funded and oversaw construction of more than a dozen state-of-the-art laboratories at primary schools in Kentucky and Ireland. A particular interest in budding scientists and entrepreneurs led to the establishment of the Alltech Young Scientist program: the largest global agriscience competition of its kind. It has engaged more than 100,000 university students.
Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari says he was a close friend and admirer of Lyons. “His legacy was far more than just his company. It was his ambition and servant
leadership that separated him from other business leaders in our community and made him such a giant in his field,” Calipari says. “His random acts of kindness knew no
boundaries. I would use the term legendary to describe them, but you would only know about them if you were touched by them or if you’re really close to him because most of it
was done in a silent way.” The Lyons family has been a large part of the legacy that Dr. Lyons began. His daughter, Dr. Aoife Lyons was a licensed clinical psychologist and global director of educational initiatives and engagement for the company, while his son, Dr. Mark Lyons is now the president and CEO. His wife Deirdre, co-founder of Alltech, is director of corporate image and design, designing and outfitting the company’s more than 80 offices around the world and overseeing philanthropic involvement.
Dr. Saacke, Dr. Sniffen and the families of Dr. Heersche and Dr. Lyons will receive the Pioneer awards at Dairy Shrine’s Awards Banquet on Monday, October 2nd in Madison,
Wisconsin. Portraits of each winner will then be displayed in National Dairy Shrine’s Dairy Hall of Fame and Museum in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. For more information about Dairy Shrine, the banquet or this year’s award winners, please contact Dairy Shrine at inf[email protected] or visit their website at www.dairyshrine.org.