Ralph Anderson loved his family, researching dairy science

Saturday, October 27, 2012 | 6:25 p.m. CDT; updated 8:13 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 27, 2012

COLUMBIA — Ralph Robert Anderson fell in love with the idea of being a farmer at a young age. It was an uncommon dream for a city boy growing up in New Jersey during World War II, and it evolved into an extensive academic career in endocrinology and dairy science.

“Our father was a fantastic father," said Dr. Anderson’s son, Richard Anderson. "He was very passionate about his farm. Basically he liked to go play on the farm. It’s that simple. That was really his passion outside of his work and family.” 

Dr. Anderson died Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. He was 79.

Dr. Anderson was born on Nov. 1, 1932, in Fords, N.J., to Harry and Johanna (Damgaard) Andersen. He married LaVeta Ann Phillips on Jan. 28, 1961.

He worked on a farm in Far Hills, N.J., and at several other odd jobs to afford college tuition, said Harriett Wilding, Dr. Anderson’s sister. He was the first in his family to go to college.

“He was determined to get his master's and doctorate degrees,” Wilding said. 

Dr. Anderson earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in 1953. He began his service in the Army that same year, until he was honorably discharged in 1956. He got his master's degree in dairy science from Rutgers University in 1958 and a doctoral degree from MU in 1961.

After holding a predoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health and working in a faculty position at Iowa State University, he returned to MU in 1965, where he taught and researched endocrinology and dairy science until he retired, in 1993.

Dr. Anderson was drawn to Missouri. 

“He always thought that Missouri was beautiful. He was drawn to the rolling hills and the pasture land,” said Laura Vancuren, Dr. Anderson’s daughter. 

Dr. Anderson’s research at MU focused on dairy science, specifically DNA research that sought to improve milk production in cows.

“Very early on, he was doing some very cutting edge, fundamental research in dairy science. He was studying the metabolism and activity of the cells in the mammary gland,” said Professor Fred Martz, Dr. Anderson’s colleague in the animal sciences department at MU from 1965 to 1990.

Martz said Dr. Anderson was an easy person to work with and be around. “Cooperative – I guess that would be a good word. He was a good team member,” Martz said.

Dr. Anderson's endocrinology course at MU was popular, Martz said.

“Graduate students from other departments, zoology, arts and science, and some graduate students from the medical school took his class because it was the only course of its kind on campus. It was unique, and I think it was well taught,” Martz said.

Outside of Dr. Anderson’s extensive professional career, his children remember their father as a happy man who was loyal to his family and his university.

“In general, we remember him as being very funny, very witty," Vancuren said. "He had a song for everything. He used to sing old songs from the '30s and '40s. He was a happy man. We used to help him plant gardens in the summer. We would go to his lab and his research barn with him. We liked to tag along with him. He was just that kind of father.” 

Richard Anderson said that his father's graduate students, extended family and their children continue his legacy by pursuing higher education and serving people all around the world.

Dr. Anderson is survived by his wife, LaVeta Ann Phillips; son, Richard Anderson of Dearborn, Mich.; daughter, Laura Vancuren of Tulsa, Okla.; sisters Harriet Wilding and Gertrude Hansen, both of New Jersey; and grandchildren Claire Anderson, Ian Vancuren and Austin Vancuren.

Dr. Anderson’s brother, Walter Anderson, died earlier. 

Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at Parker Funeral Service, 22 N. 10th St. Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church, 16 Hitt St.Burial will follow at Columbia Cemetery, 30 E. Broadway.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Ralph R. Anderson World Graduate Scholarship Fund: Attn. Gift Processing, 109 Reynolds Alumni Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211 or online at

Condolences can be posted at

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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