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Mendell, Frank H.

from Iowans who made a difference: 150 years of agricultural progress

Published onJul 30, 2021
Mendell, Frank H.

(1906 – April 1974)

Quick Facts

Iowa State alumni that established first soil erosion and conservation demonstration project in Iowa; worked for USDA Soil Conservation Service.


One of Iowa’s premier soil conservation figures was truly a pioneer in the field, coming onto the scene in the era of the 1930s dust storms which spawned a national movement. Frank Mendell graduated in agronomy in 1925, completing his master’s in soils in 1927 both from Iowa State College (now Iowa State University). He was to be one of the first hired to work in the newly established federal government agency known at first as the Soil Erosion Service, located in the U.S. Department of Interior.

From this beginning, Frank H. Mendell went on to earn the title of “Mr. Conservation” in Iowa, thanks to his 34 year career with the then new USDA Soil Conservation Service. For more than 30 years, this Dows, Iowa native and former farm boy was in charge of the soil and water conservation movement and the corps of professional conservation workers and technicians as the State Conservationist for Iowa.

As one of the pioneer conservation technicians and administrators, Mendell was to the be part of the movement that would implement the historic federal soil conservation district law enacted in 1937. Iowa’s first locally-governed soil districts were organized in the spring of 1940. The last of the state’s 100 county conservation units was organized 12 years later.

Mendell was instrumental in several conservation projects, beginning with his appointment as agronomist with the West Tarkio Erosion Demonstration Project at Shenandoah in May 1935. The WT project was the first of its kind to enlist the active participation of farmers in the physical planning of farms, terrace construction, the building of grassed waterways, contour farming, crop rotations, and other conservation practices that were then new to most farmers.

When the popularity of the old national and state plowing contests grew, Mendell was a leader in teaming up this event with “conservation field day” programs where terraces were built or a farm pond dam was constructed in a single day. The plowing matches-conservation field days program attracted thousands of people and featured presidents and presidential candidates as speakers.

Mendell also was a charter member of the soil conservation society of America, an international group of people supportive of wise land-use and conservation of natural resources, that was founded in Iowa. Later, Mendell became the Society’s president and headed its building committee which located the organization’s first permanent headquarters at Ankeny where it remains today. The Conservation Society named Mendell a Fellow in 1956 and twice awarded him the Society’s presidential citation (1961 and 1962). He was among the first group of inductees in to the Iowa Conservation Hall of Fame when it was established in 1967.[1]

Mendell also was instrumental in the publication of a 40-year history of the soil and water conservation movement, titled Iowa Soil Conservation 1939-79. The Frank H. Mendell Scholarship was established at Iowa State for a junior or senior in agronomy, animal ecology or forestry with selection based on scholarship and career interest in conservation.

Mendell passed away in 1974 and is interred at the Ames Municipal Cemetery, Ames, Iowa.[2]

Selections of text republished with permission from Iowans who made a difference: 150 years of agricultural progress by Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley, published by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, 1996.

Selected Sources

Find a Grave:

See also

Iowa Heritage Digital Collections:

Sylvan T. Runkel Papers, MS 619, Iowa State University Library, Special Collections and University Archives. [Series 3. Soil Conservation Service (SCS) and Watershed Work. 1937-1991, undated]

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