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University of Illinois President Emeritus and Dean of ACES to Provide Keynote at Orr 40th Anniversary Event

Kimberlee Kidwell

PERRY, Illinois – University of Illinois President Emeritus Bob Easter and Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Kimberlee Kidwell will serve as keynote speakers at the 40th anniversary celebration of the University of Illinois Orr Agricultural Center and John Wood Community College Agricultural Education Center on August 2 at 5 p.m.

In 1977, Governor Jim Thompson approved the appropriations that led to the historic agreement between JWCC and the University of Illinois to share educational and research facilities near Perry, Illinois. This partnership is one of very few in the country between a flagship four-year land-grant institution and a local community college. 

“I’ve been privileged to be an observer of and at times engaged in activities at the Orr Center since its very beginning,” Easter said. “The incredible ongoing support of the local founders and advocates, and the strong and positive relationship with John Woods Community College have enabled ACES faculty and staff to do in-depth, locally relevant research and to provide solid public education programs for the citizens of the region.”

The University of Illinois College of ACES conducts agronomic and animal science research at the facility and JWCC provides instruction and training for agricultural certificates and degrees at the same location.

“The connections among the College of ACES, JWCC, and the Orr Center allow us to live into the land-grant mission on the ground in this region of the state of Illinois,” Kidwell said. “This anniversary celebration creates an opportunity for us to honor the journey we have traveled together up to this point, and for us to frame a path forward to expand and strengthen our efforts to build the workforce pipeline for agriculture and allied industries through collaborative education, and to promote a vibrant future for agriculture through applied research and extension.”

Larry Fischer, JWCC Board of Trustees chair shared, “As former and current leaders of the University of Illinois, Drs. Easter and Kidwell understand the value of the research and education made possible by the unique partnership between the two institutions. This collaboration has helped thousands of students and farmers access new technology, practices, ideas, and opportunities to feed and fuel the world. Local research and creative use of public educational dollars support the private agricultural sector, which is the backbone of the economy. We are honored to host them and appreciate their support to continue this partnership well into the future.”

JWCC has educated more than 1,600 ag students since the facility opened. Each year more than 50 agronomic and animal science research and demonstration projects are conducted by University of Illinois campus-based staff and the station superintendent, supported by JWCC ag students and interns. The research includes soil chemistry and fertility, soil management, crop production, animal science, weed science, variety testing, and environmental quality. 

In addition to Easter and Kidwell’s remarks and short program, the center’s agronomy and beef research areas will be available for viewing. To RSVP for the event or to obtain more information, contact or 217-833-2944.

Dr. Robert Easter

Easter, who retired in May 2015, came to the University of Illinois as a graduate student in 1973 and joined the faculty after earning his doctorate in animal science in 1976. He served as a department head, dean, interim provost, interim chancellor, and interim vice chancellor for research at Urbana-Champaign and was appointed president of the University of Illinois in 2012. He was named president emeritus in May 2015 and is also an emeritus professor.

During his distinguished career, Easter mentored thousands of students, collaborated with industry and stakeholder groups, and conducted groundbreaking research in swine production and nutrition. He led cutting-edge swine-related research projects and taught students and others around the world about ways to improve pig production. His research was instrumental in developing a lean growth model in the early 1990s.

Easter also engaged in educational and consultative activities in the swine and feed industries in the United States and around the world. He lectured in the American Soybean Association-sponsored Chinese Animal Management and Production Systems (CHAMPS) program in China and co-authored a textbook on swine management used in that country.

He received the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Medallion in 2015 for his unwavering devotion to the university and the Robert A. Easter Endowment Fund was recently created to recognize his outstanding leadership and service. The endowment fund supports a chair to be held by the dean of the College of ACES.

Dr. Kimberlee Kidwell

Kidwell, a nationally respected scholar of plant breeding and genetics, was appointed as dean of the College of ACES in November 2016 and holds the inaugural Robert A. Easter Chair. She is an award-winning teacher, student mentor, and academic administrator with extensive experience in academic program development, financial management, and engagement.

Kidwell is dedicated to improving student learning; driving sound, innovative research; and cultivating industry partnerships to improve the lives and livelihoods of the residents of Illinois, in support of the land-grant mission of the University of Illinois. 

She is an accomplished spring wheat breeder and geneticist, developing more than 20 wheat varieties for Washington State farmers. Her research has led to multiple patented discoveries, and addressed basic questions involving gene discovery, genetic characterization, and genetic mapping of important traits for wheat improvement.

She has been recognized with numerous honors and awards for her hard work in research, teaching, and leadership. Most recently, she was named a Crop Science Society of America Fellow. She grew up in Danville, Illinois, and earned bachelor’s degrees in both genetics and development and agriculture science from the University of Illinois. She received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Tracy Orne, 217-641-4109