(Jan. 31, 1913- March 6, 2006)
Anderson is a soils specialist well-remembered for his impact in Extension for Iowa State University.
Marvin A. Anderson was born to Lewis and Olga Anderson on January 31, 1913, in Stanhope, Iowa. He received his B.S. (1939) in agronomy, M.S. (1949) in soil management, and Ph.D. (1955) in agricultural economics and soil management from Iowa State College (University).
Anderson was employed as a Wayne County Iowa 4-H Agent (1939-1940) and then as a District Soils Agent (1940-1942) at Creston, Iowa. He served in the U.S. Navey from 1944 to 1946.
Marvin Anderson, long-time dean of Extension at Iowa State University, commented, “the changes in our time have been greater than many expected.” He would know. Anderson not only had a front-row seat to observe the many changes in Iowa agriculture; in many instances his hands and mind were involved in them.
He was awarded the USDA Superior Service Award in 1963 for “aiding re-direction of programs locally and nationally to deal with urgent educational problems, particularly in economic adjustment, public affairs and area development.” Throughout his career, research around agriculture was changing so fast that within a decade of attending college farmers’ practices were out of date, reinforcing the importance of extension to bring current research out to the fields.
Anderson gained attention first as an area soils specialist stationed in Creston in 1940. Interest was growing in conserving soil and water resources and Iowa farmers were organizing county soil conservation districts. Anderson, as an agronomist, played a key role in the conservation movement and helped organize conservation districts.
In 1952, he became associate director of the ISU Cooperative Extension Service. In 1966 he advanced to dean and director, a new post and a new title. He led the department through changes in growing agribusiness, industry, production and marketing for agriculture, alongside changing urban and rural problems. During his tenure were significant studies involving county and community leaders including the “Iowa 2000” series that held town meetings for citizens to give input concerning their vision of Iowa in the future.
Anderson also changed the way ISU’s extension program worked. Four previous extension areas (engineering extension, cooperative extension service for home economics and agriculture, the Center for Industrial Research and Service and extension’s Short Course programs) merged into one unit, University Extension. Doing so allowed for growth in the program without worrying about which department it fell onto to support that growth.
Under his leadership, area Extension offices staffed by specialists were developed, a major departure from the traditional ISU-county educational link. Anderson and other recognized that in a more modern agriculture, the local Extension agent/director could not be an educational jack-of-all-trades as in the past. Through technology farming was changing too swiftly for any one person to be fully up-to-date in all fields of available information. Under the area structure, the county office put farm people in touch with specialists in various fields like agronomy, farm management and animal health.
Anderson saw extension as providing information for others to make educated choices. He encouraged staff to provide information, not direction, and to take into account the impacts their recommendations could have on environmental and conservation efforts.
After his official retirement, Anderson moved into the international spotlight as the executive director of the 1976 World Food Conference held at the then newly built Iowa State Center on ISU’s campus. The conference focused on what was then a disturbingly low world food supply. Anderson had advised on world food problems during his time as dean, first for India’s food crisis in 1959, then five years after in Brazil to help a rural university.
Anderson and his first wife, Mariette B. Bamble, were married in 1940 and had four children: Mark, Mary Kay, Merrill, and Martha. His wife passed away in 1968 and he later married Julia M. Faltinson in March 1970. He was a member of Rotary International and a charter member of St. Andrews Lutheran Church and later a member of Bethesda Lutheran Church.
Anderson passed away on March 6, 2006, at the age of 93 and is buried in the ISU cemetery.
Marvin Anderson Papers, RS 16/01/11, University Archives, Iowa State University Library