A night of honors: CAFNR celebrates distinguished alumni

2023 Column Awards recognize six exceptional CAFNR alumni.

a group of six crystal awards sitting on a black tablecloth
2023 Column Awards

The College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources honored six recipients with the 2023 CAFNR Column Award for Distinguished Alumni. This is the only award specifically for alumni presented by the college – the highest honor bestowed by the College in celebration of outstanding alumni. The awardee class includes one graduate from each of CAFNR’s six divisions, reflecting the six historic columns at the University of Missouri.

Animal Sciences
Martha Fischer – B.S. Animal Sciences ’86
white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, wearing a blue blazer

Martha Fischer has dedicated her career to wildlife animal conservation, drawing upon her extensive experience in animal care and research. Her work has made a significant impact on the wellbeing of a number of wildlife populations.

Fischer began her career as a zookeeper at the St. Louis Zoo, and today she is the general curator of the St. Louis Zoo WildCare Park. In her nearly 37-year career at the zoo, she has worked with birds, elephants and hoofed mammals (deer, camels, zebras, caribou, etc.).

Trista Strauch, assistant teaching professor, Division of Animal Sciences, reached out to Fischer nearly 16 years ago about a potential guest lecture for a new course – Introduction to Captive Wild Animal Management.

“She responded from the field in Kenya where, as a St. Louis Zoo employee, she was combining her passions of conservation, Grevy’s Zebra, and community improvement. She accepted my invitation and has been a guest lecturer in that same course ever since,” Strauch said.

“Martha’s impact extends far beyond the St. Louis Zoo and Missouri.”

Fischer is an impactful international leader and a founder trustee of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust—working with others to create a vision for conservation of this endangered species while also providing opportunities for underrepresented groups in the areas the Grevy’s Zebra are found. She works tirelessly to move these initiatives forward in a positive way.

“Martha’s career spans a significant series of professional accomplishments that range from serving as president of the International Elephant Foundation to developing the Grevy’s Zebra Trust into a world-renowned program for education and conservation that spans from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Horn of Africa,” said Bryon Wiegand, director, Division of Animal Sciences.

As a leader in conservation and research for both captive animals, her “true tiger” spirit shines through.

“Martha Fischer’s career path has been nothing short of inspirational and serves as a classic example of ‘what is possible’ for all of those that interact with her,” said Wiegand.

Applied Social Sciences
Joseph Roetheli – B.S. Agricultural Economics ’70; Ph.D. Agricultural Economics ’79
older white man with gray hair, wearing a white checkered shirt with a dark sportcoat, posing in a studio

Joseph C. Roetheli is an active entrepreneur, alongside his wife Judy, having led seven companies and a private foundation. He grew up on a small farm near Hermann where, as he describes it, “the dirt was so poor it was never ‘elevated to the status of soil.'”

Roetheli and his wife have achieved entrepreneurial successes in the form of S&M NuTec/GREENIES® and SM Products/Spyder® and Pets Best Life/Yummy Combs®. The names with “S” and “M” honor their two sons, Steffan and Michael.

The GREENIES™ Brand was created by pet parents, for pet parents. Joe and Judy Roetheli wanted to help improve the world-class bad breath of their family dog, Ivan. They developed a mixture of wheat, chlorophyll, vegetable oil and other edible foods that Joe served dry to Ivan. Within days, Ivan’s teeth were clean, and the bad breath odor was gone. Joe later molded it into the bone with a toothbrush at one end that GREENIES™ Treats customers know today. The product was passed to Mars Petcare in 2006.

Following his Ph.D., Roetheli was employed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) from 1978 to 1988. One initial project examined alternative energy from reject heat at power plants to grow vegetables and flowers in greenhouses. Because of the project’s success, Joe was selected to a group that initiated a new TVA biomass/renewable energy program.

He joined Mizzou’s agricultural economics faculty on assignment to the USDA in 1988. USDA then hired Roetheli to lead their oilseeds program. There, he served as the ‘hub’ in drafting legislation in what became known as the Alternative Agricultural Research & Commercialization Center section of the 1990 Farm Bill.

“Joe is a strong supporter of education and believes that it is a key to upward mobility and economic development. He was a CAFNR Executive-in-Residence and has also been a Professor-for-a-Day on several occasions,” said Ken Schneeberger, professor emeritus and former director of CAFNR International Programs.

Aneesh Tosh – B.S. Biochemistry ’97
brown-skinned man with glasses, wearing a blue shirt, standing in front of a large stacked MU emblem

Aneesh Tosh is an professor of pediatrics in the University of Missouri School of Medicine and a board-certified pediatrician, as well as a member of the MU Childhood Obesity Initiative.

He joined the Mizzou faculty in 2007, served as the department director of pediatric obesity from 2007–2013 and was a key player in establishing the MU Adolescent Diabetes and Obesity (ADOBE) Clinic. ADOBE takes a family-focused, multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of children with diabetes, obesity and endocrine disorders.

Tosh earned his bachelor’s in biochemistry in CAFNR before completing medical school at the University of Missouri. He then completed a fellowship in adolescent medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine before coming back to Columbia to practice.

Tosh investigates Adenovirus-36, a virus that has been linked with human obesity, hoping to better understand how geographic region impacts research results.

In 2017, the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals recognized Tosh as a certified eating disorder specialist.

“Aneesh is an extraordinary physician who works closely with families dealing with eating disorders. He is compassionate and caring to both adolescents and parents and helps them see their way through extremely difficult circumstances. To say he saves lives is not an overstatement. He works with patients who are dealing with physical and mental health issues, and he does so with amazing competence and empathy,” said Shari Freyermuth, assistant dean of CAFNR Academic Programs and professor in the Division of Biochemistry.

Food, Nutrition & Exercise Science
Theodore C. “Ted” Jacoby – B.S. Agriculture ’62
older white man with glasses and gray hair, wearing a light blue shirt under a navy blazer

Ted Jacoby, Jr. is Chairman of the Board of T.C. Jacoby & Company, a third-generation family-owned business and one of North America’s premier dairy product trading companies. After graduating from the University of Missouri and serving in the Marine Corps, Jacoby began his career in the dairy industry with Crystal Dairy Products in Watseka, Illinois, where he rose to General Manager of their Lebanon, Indiana, plant.

Jacoby joined the family business in 1966 and began trading fluid dairy products, expanding business from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast. Jacoby was instrumental in computerizing the business in 1979, and expanded operations to Mexico in 1995. He worked with Pecos Dairymen as a managing partner to form North American Milk Products, which developed and began marketing ultra-filtered milk throughout the United States.

Jacoby successfully managed and transitioned the company from the first generation, served as CEO from 1986-2015, helped dairy farmers market their milk and successfully transitioned the company to the third generation of leadership – his son.

Nominator Donald Street, another CAFNR alumnus, recalls knowing Jacoby and working with him in the industry over the past 30 years, although as a competitor.

“When seeing Ted at industry conferences and meetings, he would always want to know how we were doing as a company and how we were understanding the continual progression of the markets. Ted was always willing to share his views as well. This was how Ted approached the entire industry, not just the company where I worked,” said Street.

“Innovation is exactly what Ted brought to the dairy industry. As one of the pioneers to understand the impact and potential of ultra-filtered milk, Ted worked with dairy farmers to concentrate milk by removing water through ultra-filtration. Ultra-filtration helped farmers bring milk to markets by reducing transport costs. The implementation of ultra-filtered milk became the foundation for a new product in the dairy case, most widely known today as the Fairlife brand of milks.”

Plant Science & Technology
Jeffrey Volenec – M.S. Crop Physiology ’80; Ph.D. Crop Physiology ’83
middle-age white man with brown hair and glasses wearing a brown suit jacket with a red tie

Jeffrey Volenec is the interim department head and professor of agronomy at Purdue University. His tenure with Purdue’s agronomy department began in 1983. Volenec’s research resides at the intersection of agriculture and the environment. His work aims to understand how crop plants adapt to stress, including climate change.

Throughout his career, Volenec has advanced the education of future generations of crop scientists, having mentored more than 50 master’s and Ph.D. students in his lab, as well as 17 postdoctoral scholars.

Volenec was elected as a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America in 1993, and was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1997.

He has served as research fellow at the Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth, Wales; a nonresident fellow at the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., and on the graduate faculty at the University of Tasmania, Australia.

As one of only a few certified senior ecologists in his profession, Volenec has advised members of Congress and the National Academy of Sciences on matters related to climate change, agriculture and the environment.

“Jeff Volenec exemplifies the qualities of sustained excellence in research, education, professional service and leadership that are embodied in the CAFNR Column Award for distinguished alumni. I give him my strongest recommendation,” said Robert Sharp, Curators’ Distinguished Professor, Division of Plant Science and Technology.

School of Natural Resources
Harold E. “Gene” Garrett – Ph.D. Forestry ’70
older white man with white hair and glasses, wearing a black blazer over a white button up and patterned tie

Gene Garrett is a professor emeritus in forestry at the University of Missouri. His career began at Louisiana State University before returning home to Mizzou in the School of Natural Resources where he dedicated 40 years to silviculture research and developing the agroforestry program.

In 1998, Garrett established the Center of Agroforestry at the University of Missouri – a global leader in research, education, outreach and economic development serving Missouri, the nation and the world. Under his leadership and efforts, the Center of Agroforestry staff developed new knowledge in agroforestry systems and disseminated cutting-edge science to countless students, professionals, practitioners and managers through various courses (in person and online), symposia, field days, and the Agroforestry Academy. Mizzou’s Center for Agroforestry is the only institution in the U.S. that offers graduate programs (M.S. and Ph.D.) in Agroforestry.

“For 40 years or more, Dr. Garrett taught silviculture to students in undergraduate and graduate classes and research programs, myself included,” said Daniel Dey, assistant director of research, Northern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service.

Garrett also served as the director of the School of Natural Resources, as well as a long-term Editor-in-Chief of Forest Science.

“I am personally grateful to Professor Garrett for enriching my life, helping me grow as a man, and encouraging me to embrace challenges and opportunities, said Robert Dixon, senior advisor to the secretary, U.S. Department of Energy.

“Professor Garrett worked with honor and integrity throughout his career. He is a beacon for the Mizzou core principles of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence.”