University News

Four WIU School of Ag Graduates Named Distinguished Alumni

May 4, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – Four graduates from Western Illinois University's School of Agriculture have been named Distinguished Alumni.

The honor is a tradition that started in 2020 during the school's 100th anniversary. This year's honorees are 1985 Agriculture alumnus Mary Barnes, of Nebo, IL; 1983 Agriculture and 1986 MBA alumnus Marsha Webster, of Allerton, IA; 1987 Agriculture alumnus Kurt Rahe, of Bluffs, IL; and 1987 Agriculture alumnus Mark Dempsey, of Fowler, IL.

Mary (Turnbull) Barnes: Barnes, a 1985 graduate with a degree in Agriculture, was the first female WIU graduate to secure a secondary agriculture teacher position in Illinois and one of four who taught in the state in 1985. She has also served on the section, district and Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (IAVAT) and the Illinois FFA Board of Directors.

Barnes has taught at Barry Community School in Pike County; Western High School in Barry (consolidation of Barry and West Pike); and Pleasant Hill High School.

She received the 2008 National Association of Agricultural Education (NAAE) Teacher Mentor award winner in Illinois, in 1995, was named the Outstanding NVA (NAAE) outstanding Region IV teacher, in 1996 and 2019, received the District III Excellence in Teaching Award along with her FFA American Farmer Degree in 1983 and the Honorary American FFA Degree in 1999.

Barnes completed her Master of Science degree at Southern Illinois University in Agriculture Education and Mechanization. She retired in 2019, after 35 years of teaching.

"Through the years, I have seen many changes in agriculture and education, but the students still need and want to have someone believe in them," she said. "All teachers have that ability to make a positive difference in their students' lives. Making the difference has led me to enjoy a simple life, raising my children, teaching God's children, and caring for the land. I credit my success to doing things I have a passion for and being adaptable to life's change."

Barnes has served as an advisor to four FFA chapters and taught more than 4,000 students about agriculture and FFA. She and her husband, Jerry, have two children.

"I am so honored to be among an elite group of individuals such as the WIU Distinguished Alumni within the School of Agriculture," she said. "My life's work has allowed me to make a positive difference in the lives of youth."

Marsha Webster: Webster, who received her bachelor's degree in Agriculture in 1983, and her Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in 1986.

Her professional career has involved many roles - Commodity Trader, CFO, Director of Operations, Consultant - to name a few, at a wide array of companies – Hawkeye Gold Division, The Andersons, PIC, Tyson Fresh Meats are just some of the 12 companies she has worked for in her career. For the past 10 years she has been employed by J.D. Heiskell Company, a 136-year, family-owned company.

"I am humbled to receive the WIU School of Agriculture Distinguished Alumni Award," said Webster. "WIU was my home for six years while I received my undergraduate and graduate degree. The School of Agriculture gave me a great foundation to build my career and many life-long friends."

Webster's true passion is the livestock industry. She and her husband, Jon, also a WIU animal science alumni, live in southern Iowa and have a cow/calf herd in northern Missouri with their son, Ty, and his family. Marsha and Jon also have a daughter, Jessica Moore, who lives in Madill, OK.

Kurt Rahe: Rahe, a 1987 agriculture business graduate, began his career as a sales representative with Asgrow Seed Company in the Illinois and Wisconsin sales territories. After six years, Rahe was promoted to lead a sales team in Indiana for three years, before becoming the Eastern Regional Manager for Asgrow. When the company was purchased by Monsanto, Rahe and his family moved to St. Louis, MO to continue his career and to begin working in marketing, supply chain, strategic account operations, and account management within the licensing organization.

Rahe led one of the top Strategic Accounts and eventually headed the U.S. Soybean Portofolio team, before retiring from Bayer in 2019, after 32 years of service. He and his wife, Dana, who graduated from WIU in 1987, with a degree in administrative office management, purchased a home farm in Bluffs, IL, where they raise corn and soybeans, along with registered Angus cattle. Rahe also became the general sales manager for Burrus Seed Company in Jacksonville, IL.

At WIU, Rahe became a member of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, like his four brothers before him - becoming president during his time on campus. He became a member of the 1984 Livestock Judging Team, and served on other ag-related clubs, including Hoof N Horn, Collegiate FFA, Ag Business Club, Ag Council, and Alpha Zeta.

Rahe and Dana have two sons, Nathan and Jared.

"I'm very honored and humbled to receive the 2022 School of Ag Distinguished Alumni recognition," said Rahe. "WIU prepared me very well for my 35-year career in the seed industry, bringing innovations, technologies, and improved genetics to growers across the US. My passion for WIU continues as I'm currently serving on the Ag Advisory Board to assist in the growth of the School of Agriculture."

Mark Dempsey: Dempsey, a 1987 WIU graduate, with a degree in agriculture science, currently owns Bigneck Outfitters, a hunting business, and RKBA Gun Range. After graduation, he returned to his family farm near Quincy, IL and is now in his 35th year operating the farm, first with his father and now with his son.
During his farming career, Dempsey won second place in the National Corn Growers yield contest in 2004, and took first place in 2008, with a 348-bu. yield per acre. He also enjoys focusing on the marketing side of agriculture.

While at Western, Dempsey was a member of AGR, the Hoof N Horn club, as well as a member of the 1987 Livestock Judging Team. He is still active on campus, serving six year on the School of Agriculture's Advisory Board, and many years as the president of the AGR Alumni Association.

Dempsey, and his wife, Milicent, have two children, Grant and Gabrielly, who are both WIU School of Agriculture graduates.

For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit

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