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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumnus Jon Althaus,
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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumnus Randy Bowman.
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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumnus David Erickson.
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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumnus Bill Henning.
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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumnus Rich Hollis.
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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumnus Bill Johnson.
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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumna Jana Knupp.
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WIU Office Manager Carrie Lowderman is pictured with Distinguished Alumnus Mike Thurow.
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Eight Named WIU School of Agriculture Distinguished Alumni

March 30, 2023

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MACOMB, IL – During Farm Expo weekend earlier this month, the Western Illinois University School of Agriculture designated eight of its graduates as Distinguished Alumni Award Winners.

The designation began in 2020 as the School of Agriculture celebrated its 100th anniversary and this year's honorees are Jon Althaus, a 1985 graduate, of Mattoon; Randy Bowman, a 1986 graduate, of Hoyleton, IL; David Erickson, a 1980 graduate, of Altona, IL; Bill Henning, a 1968 graduate, of University Park, PA; Rich Hollis, a 1988 graduate, of Columbia, IL; Bill Johnson, a 1987 graduate, of Lafayette, IN; Jana Knupp, a 2002 and 2004 (MBA) graduate, of Macomb; and Mike Thurow, a 1973 graduate, of Naperville.

Jon Althaus graduated with a degree in animal science, and was a member of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, WIU Hoof-N-Horn Club and the Livestock Judging Team. He was also an employee of the WIU Swine Farm and the Boar Test Station.

"I am deeply honored by this recognition, especially when I consider those who were also recognized and those who have received the award in the past," he said. "I look forward to celebrating the achievements of more WIU alumni in the upcoming years."

After earning his master's degree at Western Kentucky, Althaus worked for the American Yorkshire Club before beginning a 30-year career in higher education at Lake Land College. During his time at Lake Land, he served as agriculture teaching faculty, Livestock Judging coach, Agriculture Division Chair, and was recently retired as Vice President for Academic Services. Althaus has judged numerous county, state and national swine shows throughout his professional career. He attributes much of his career success to his time at WIU, his academic advisor, Dr. Jon Carlson, and his Livestock Coach, Swine Unit Manager and great friend, Bruce Engnell.

Randy Bowman graduated with a degree in agriculture education. After graduation, he became general manager of the Great Plains region for The Maschhoffs, a family-owned swine production company, based in Carlyle, IL, where he had oversite over 155 employees, 32,000 sows and 30,000 WTM spaces. He was employed by the Maschhoffs for 19 years, having past oversite of the research production sites, genetic program management and a technical support team.

Bowman served on the WIU Agriculture Advisory Board, the Kaskaskia College Advisory Board and the National Junior Swine Association Advisory Board.

"My path to WIU was created by basketball, but my lifelong skills were developed at WIU through the culture of hands on training and hard work," Bowman said. "The size of the university gave me the chance to be involved in about anything I wanted to be involved in, and allowed me to meet a lot of people that are lifelong friends."

Bowman and his wife, Angie, live in Hoyleton, IL; and his daughter, Brooke, attends the University of Missouri.

David Erickson, a 1980 agricultural education graduate, and his wife, Nancy, farm and operate a farm management business. They have one son, Adam. David is a graduate of WIU with a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Education.

David taught Vocational Agriculture and was an FFA Advisor for four years before beginning his farming career. He served as Illinois FFA secretary-treasurer, president of the Illinois Soybean Association, president and chairman of the board of the American Soybean Association, and chairman of the Illinois Foundation FFA. He served as director and president of the Knox County Farm Bureau and as Illinois Farm Bureau vice president. David served six years on the Knox County Board. He is active at Immanuel Lutheran Church of Altona, currently serving chairman of the Church Council.

David is a past director of the Oneida Telephone and Cablevision Companies, the Knox County Zoning Board of Appeals, past chairman of the Galesburg Cottage Hospital Board of Trustees, served on the Unit #10 Extension Council and was past director for Midwest Bank of Western Illinois. David currently serves as chairman on the board of the Galesburg Community Foundation.

Bill Henning, a 1968 graduate, has had a plethora of experiences within higher education, teaching his students at Penn State University about various agriculture topics, specifically meat science. Bill has also been able to share his passion through extension and outreach programs. He has been chosen for various titles and awards for his efforts over the years. He is an active member of the American Meat Science Association and has been involved in many other associations and societies in the past.

"I was very fortunate to have attended WIU. I actually started out on a different career path, but felt like I didn't really fit in the school or the major and I transferred to WIU to study agriculture, still not knowing what I wanted to do," he said. "With help from Dr. Loren Robinson, my advisor, my classes, my classmates, my work on the farm with Bob Chatterton, work at the Boar test station and my experience on the livestock judging team with Gary Cowman I received a great education. Not just what I learned, but how to learn and to question things. When I graduated, I had numerous opportunities in industry, banking and grad school. I chose the latter and was fortunate to come back and be on the faculty where I realized what a great group of hard working, intelligent and well grounded students attending. I'm very grateful for everyone at WIU for helping me to become who I am."

Rich Hollis, a 1988 agriculture education graduate, joined American AgCredit as chief people experience officer in March 2021. He brings over 25 years of executive leadership in the agricultural industry. Most recently, Hollis served as a member of the executive team for The Maschhoffs, the fifth largest pork production company in the U.S., leading the people strategies, environmental and sustainability initiatives, and generational transfer programs. Prior to that, Hollis led Rabobank's people strategies.

"It's humbling to be recognized by those that I consider leaders in agriculture," said Hollis. "I appreciate WIU and the College of Agriculture for the opportunity."

Bill Johnson, a 1987 WIU graduate, received his master's and doctoral degrees in weed science from the University of Arkansas before beginning his professional career. He began his working as a field research scientist with Cenex/Land O' Lakes in 1994, before joining the University of Missouri as an assistant professor of weed science and the State Extension weed specialist, where he spent seven years.

In 2002, Johnson joined Purdue University, where he has been ever since, as a professor of weed science in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. He has statewide responsibilities for weed science research and extension in agronomic crops, he teaches a graduate level weed biology course, and an undergraduate course on communication of scientific information. Johnson is a past president and Fellow of the North Central Weed Science Society. He has won many awards for his outstanding efforts, has published over 175 peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, over 100 extension publications, and received over $10 million external funding to support his research and extension program. He has trained 33 graduate students, three post-doctoral research associates, and currently has an additional four students currently working on master's and doctoral degrees in weed science.

"My time at WIU helped to bring my career goals into focus and launched me into the next step of my professional journey," Johnson said. "I am very appreciative of the quality of instructors I had in the classroom and while I worked on the WIU Farm. The instructors were always available to help with academic questions and willing to chat and provide guidance about my career questions as well. I am very appreciative of receiving this recognition from the WIU School of Agriculture, and have no doubt that my trajectory might have been different had I chosen to do my BS degree at another institution."

Jana Knupp, a 2002 agriculture and 2004 MBA graduate, is a "two-time 'Neck" from a family of Leathernecks. Knupp served as the program director for the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation and the associate director of WIU Alumni Programs before heading back to the School of Agriculture, where she currently serves as an associate faculty member. Outside of her classes, Knupp wears many hats on campus, all in an effort to help students have a memorable Western experience. Off campus you can find her cheering on one of her three sons at a sporting event with her husband, and fellow Leatherneck, Scott.

"I am humbled and honored to receive this award and join a group of WIU Agriculture alumni that have made great strides for WIU, the agriculture industry, and their communities," she said.

Mike Thurow was raised on a grain and livestock farm in northern Illinois. He received his bachelor's degree in Agricultural Engineering-Mechanization from WIU with Honors in 1973, and completed an MBA degree at Keller Graduate School of Management in 1985. His career started at International Harvester Company with over 13 years in various sales, marketing and product management positions.

"Receiving this honor along with other talented individuals was very special," said Thurow. "Seeing former professors Dr. Breece and Dr. Wesley from 50-years ago was heartwarming."

Thurow wrote a business plan in graduate school for a company he would later start, with a mission to bring plant measurement technology to aid in decision making for agricultural producers and researchers. He started Spectrum Technologies, Inc. in 1987, and has grown the company into a world leader in advanced plant measurement technology. The company does over half its business internationally and has 45 employees. Spectrum has 25 products, which are AE50 award winners by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers for outstanding product innovation. Mike and his wife, Donna, live in Naperville, IL. They have three daughters and three grandchildren.

For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit

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