(August 14, 1919 - Feb. 1, 2005)
Professor Beneke was known for being an influential adviser in the department and designed the curriculum for the first agricultural business program in the country.
Raymond R. Beneke was born on a farm in 1919 in Pocahontas, Iowa. He experienced firsthand the mental and physical suffering caused by the Great Depression. Inspired by his high school teacher to become an educator, he studied agricultural education at Iowa State, receiving his Bachelor’s degree in 1940. He taught vocational agriculture in Winfield, Iowa until 1942, when he was drafted into World War II.
He returned to Iowa State College (ISC) to study for his Master’s degree in agricultural economics and then completed his PhD at Minnesota in 1949. He returned to Ames to teach in 1948. ISC was undertaking numerous changes in response to the changing needs of society. Mechanization was making it possible for Iowa to get by with larger and fewer farms. The state had gone from 228 thousand farms in 1900 to 203 thousand farms in 1950. Training farmers had been a major mission of the agriculture college, but that need was declining.
ISC created the farm operations program (now agricultural studies) to focus on training future farmers. Only students who were destined to inherit and farm the family farm were eligible to enroll in the curriculum. In order for a student to get in, his parents had to sign a form stating that he was to get the farm upon the death of the parents. And while one child could expect to inherit the farm, remaining children had to find other careers. While fewer graduates would be engaged in production agriculture, there was a growing need for those trained for careers in firms providing inputs and services to farmers or manufacturing products from agricultural commodities.
Professor Beneke was given the task of designing a new curriculum which in 1951 became the first agricultural business program in the country. From an initial enrollment of 56 majors, the program grew steadily. By 1965, the last year Beneke had primary responsibility for the agribusiness curriculum, enrollment had reached 293 majors. By that time, he had provided career advice to almost 500 Bachelor’s degree recipients in the major he pioneered. The program continued to grow thereafter, ultimately reaching 699 majors by 1980.
Professor Beneke taught practical but rigorous courses in agricultural economics. He was a pioneer in developing applications of linear programming to solve farm level problems such as the choice of an optimum combination of enterprises and identifying least-cost livestock rations. These concepts became the basis for his capstone course in farm business management.
As he developed the agribusiness curriculum, Beneke began to develop textbooks for the new major. These included Managing the Farm Business (1955); Managing the Tenant Operated Farm (1956) coauthored with James J. Wallace; and Linear Programming with Applications to Agriculture (1973).But even as he moved the program toward more practical applications, Beneke insisted that the properly trained major required something more.
“Education for agribusiness should have a broader purpose than preparation for a vocation,” he wrote in 1963. “The college trained [student] will have the opportunity and a responsibility to provide leadership in community, church and government activities. Although general education courses may help a college graduate become more productive in his work, their chief purpose is to make him a more effective citizen and to guide him toward a fuller and more satisfying life.”
Beneke was considered an excellent adviser, and he inspired numerous students to follow careers in academia. Among the students who went on to complete doctorates were Michael Boehlje, Neil Harl, Duane Harris, Ron Rakes, Wallace Huffman, William Edwards and John Miranowski, who all came back to teach at Iowa State. For students aiming for business careers, Beneke started the Agricultural Business Club so that students majoring in agricultural business could develop their leadership skills and take advantage of educational opportunities outside the classroom. In 1968, he received the Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award from the American Agricultural Economics Association in recognition of his role in curricular development, teaching and advising.
Professor Beneke went on to many other areas of service. From 1966-1972, he worked on various international projects in Peru, Mexico and Costa Rica along with his now reduced teaching requirements. Then in 1972, he took over as chair of the Department of Economics, a position he held until he turned 65 in 1984. That freed his time to take over as secretary-treasurer of the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA), a position he held until 1996. Neil Harl, who served on the AAEA board when Beneke was secretary treasurer, credits him with many innovations including the establishment of a full-time professional staff for the AAEA and the transition of the annual meetings from university campuses to commercial convention venues. But his most lasting influence was his drive to form the American Agricultural Economics Foundation. The proceeds have funded libraries and provided journals to universities in developing countries, underwritten undergraduate programs and have allowed international scholars to attend AAEA meetings,. He was named an AAEA Fellow at age 76, the year he retired.
Most of all, Ray Beneke is remembered as a teacher. Alumnus James Forsberg wrote that Beneke stressed to his undergraduates the importance of separating fact from fiction. He impressed them, “with a remarkable ability to apply basic economic principles to situations with which we were familiar,” said Forsberg. Karl Fox, who preceded Beneke as chair of the department concluded that Beneke, “had the capacity to go the extra mile for every student….He was altogether one of the most constructive people I have ever worked with.”
Beneke passed away in 2005 and is interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery.
William Edwards, Neil Harl, and Dennis Starleaf
Raymond Beneke Papers, RS 13/09/17, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.
Raymond Beneke Memorial Resolution, Faculty Senate, Iowa State University. https://www-facsen.sws.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/Memorial%20Resolutions/MemorialResolutions20050426.pdf