MU agronomist Roger Mitchell, former CAFNR dean, dies at 80

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | 11:16 p.m. CDT; updated 10:18 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 7, 2013

COLUMBIA — Agronomist Roger Mitchell, former dean of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, was described as a generous man and friend to all by his family, friends and colleagues. 

"He had overwhelming kindness toward everyone and anyone," said Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. "I've never met a man as kind and gentle as Roger Mitchell."  

After serving as the dean of CAFNR from 1983 to 1998, Dr. Mitchell retired and became involved with the food bank, and he was on the board of directors for many years. 

Kirkpatrick described Dr. Mitchell as a tremendous partner. She said he treated everyone who came in to the food bank like a king. He loved to work with children and students.  

Dr. Mitchell died Tuesday, June 4, 2013, at his home in Columbia. He was 80. 

He was born Sept. 13, 1932, in Grinnell, Iowa, to Robert and Cecile Mitchell. 

He began to work on the farm at a young age and started plowing by age 10. Because the tractor didn't have a radio, "he taught himself how to whistle," his daughter Laura Mitchell said. "He could whistle anything."

Instead of a growing up with a bike, Dr. Mitchell had a pony, which his mom asked him ride to the grocery store, his daughter said. In high school, Dr. Mitchell was the quarterback and played Biff in his school's production of "Death of a Salesman."

Dr. Mitchell met his wife, Joyce Lindgren, while they were students at Iowa State University, where he was majoring in agronomy and she was majoring in home economics. They married June 26, 1955. 

As a past president of the Golden K chapter of the Kiwanis Club, Dr. Mitchell strived to get members working together as one.  

"He was a good president and deft leader," Charles Dreyer, former chapter president, said.

In fall 2012, Dr. Mitchell brought members of the Golden K and the Smithton Middle School Builders Club to the food bank to build Buddy Packs.

"That was the epitome of Roger," Dreyer said.

Dr. Mitchell received his bachelor's and doctorate in agronomy from Iowa State University and his master's in agronomy from Cornell University.   

He was on a tight budget while finishing his doctorate while married with three daughters.  

"He made the money from his fellowship last for a year by dividing it into 12 envelopes," his daughter said.

Dr. Mitchell began teaching agronomy at Iowa State University and in 1962 was voted professor of the year by students in the agriculture college. 

In 1969, he left Iowa State and took a position at MU as a professor and the chairman of the Department of Agronomy. Dr. Mitchell became the dean of the MU Extension division in 1972.

He worked as vice president for agriculture at Kansas State University in 1975 then became the executive director for the MidAmerica International Agricultural Consortium in 1981 and returned to MU shortly after.    

As dean of CAFNR, Dr. Mitchell was a leader in the Food for the 21st Century program, which grew into an interdisciplinary research effort in food-related areas. 

"He blended dignity, charm, character and intelligence with a genuine concern for everyone he met," Thomas Payne, vice chancellor and CAFNR dean, said, according to an article on the CAFNR website. "His was a life devoted to making good things happen – from great concepts like the Bond Life Sciences Center, and development of the exceptional collaborative program Food for the 21st Century – to a helpful word to a person struggling with a problem. This college and university benefited greatly from his presence."

Dr. Mitchell is survived by his wife, Joyce, four daughters, Laura Mitchell of Minneapolis, Susan Smith of Fairway, Kan., and Columbia, Sarah Feyerherm of Shawnee, Kan., Martha Mitchell of Las Cruces, N.M., and their families.  

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, at Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St.

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