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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Riveting life harvested for lecture

By Barry Schrader.................................November 9, 2010

Gary Wells may not call it this, but I would say he experienced his “15 minutes of fame” this fall when he was honored as Professor for a Day at the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
As part of the recognition, he was asked to deliver the annual seminar lecture, and he titled it “How Relationships and Experiences Formed and Enabled This Ag Engineer.” I listened to a tape of his talk, and it was full of lessons learned that would serve the students in that department well when they leave their sheltered college life and enter the working world where nothing is stable anymore.
Wells shared the story of his humble upbringing during the Great Depression in a farm family of eight kids in downstate Rock Island County. He learned the lessons of hardship from a family that had to produce its own food, make clothing from seed and animal feed sacks, and live day to day within its means.
He is a stellar example of someone who moved from poverty to success by hard work, ingenuity and building good relationships along the way. He told those college kids that “experience is a lousy teacher. It gives you the test first and the lessons later. But man does it stick, and that’s important.”
I could hear the positive audience responses to his instructive advice interjected with some humor, which made his talk more engaging.
Despite a hard life as the second of eight siblings, he managed to graduate as valedictorian of his class, but his folks had no means to send him to college. However, an aunt who recognized his potential told his

Gary Wells, at right, is honored by the University of Illinois. Shown with (at left) Dr. Loren Bode, past head of the ABE Department and Dr. K.C. Ting at the podium just prior to his lecture of a lifetime.

Closeup of Gary Wells


parents she would loan him the money to enroll in college. Although Wells was needed on the farm, his mother realized college was a good idea because he could get an education and earn money to help his other siblings go on to school.
So off he went to the University of Illinois where he not only applied himself to his studies but also earned scholarships and many honors. He graduated first with a bachelor’s degree in Ag Engineering and General Agriculture, then a master’s degree in Ag Engineering. His career ladder began with International Harvester, and the contributions he made included new designs, strategic planning, and later, managing five strategic business units – all at one time.
He was also promoted to director of North American Ag Parts and Service Marketing at its world headquarters, then director of Grain Harvesting Products worldwide. More advancements led him to become director of Product Reliability, then North American director of Engineering of Crop Productions and Crop Harvesting Equipment. After a merger with J.I. Case, he moved on to Benteler Industries in Kalamazoo as a vice president and head of such groups as corporate industrial engineering, information technology and general plant manager. He later decided to go it on his own and formed a consulting firm.
The story goes on, but he emphasized the importance of building good relationships with peers and bosses, making friends, and maintaining a balance with family life, plus community involvement and church.
He left the audience with a quote from Garrison Keillor of “Prairie Home Companion” fame: The wish that you “be well, do good works and stay in touch.”
Those young ag engineering students got an earful that day, and if they follow his advice, surely their lives will be richer and more successful than those who missed that one “lecture of a lifetime.”

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barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115