By Ray Hammerschmidt
I grew up in LaGrange Park, Illinois, a village just outside of Chicago. My dad, like many in his family, was a carpenter, and my mom was a homemaker.
As far back as I can remember, I was interested in science. I attended Purdue University with the intention of becoming a biology teacher. However, shortly after I arrived at Purdue, I realized my interests were more in biology and chemistry. I was able to combine those interests by switching my major to biochemistry and in 1974 received a B.S. degree. Biochemistry was, and still is, in the School of Agriculture at Purdue, and it was through that connection and research opportunities in the Biochemistry Department that I became interested in plant pathology. I stayed on at Purdue and earned a master’s in plant pathology in 1976.
I then studied the biochemistry of plant disease resistance at the University of Kentucky, where I received a Ph.D. in 1980.
In 1980, I received a research and teaching appointment at Michigan State University doing fundamental and applied research on potato diseases. It was through the “applied” work that I became involved with Extension, talking to growers. Although I had no Extension appointment, I worked closely with specialists and became familiar with Extension’s role.
I have taught many courses and have been involved with the Diagnostics Services lab and Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs). I also direct the North Central Region part of the USDA-funded National Plant Diagnostic Network. For nearly 13 years, I was chair of the Plant Pathology Department.
My time at Purdue was significant not only in steering me toward my life work but also in introducing me to my life partner. Many of you may know my wife, Pat. We met on the first day at a freshman mixer.
Pat also had her sites on teaching and received a B.S. in vocational home economics from Purdue. She then went on to receive an M.S. in food science from Purdue.
At Kentucky, while I earned my doctorate, Pat taught in the Foods and Nutrition Department. In 1979, she began doing nutrition programming for Kentucky 4-H.
She started with Michigan 4-H Youth Development in 1981 and became state program leader for nutrition. Later, with organizational changes, she became nutrition program leader with Children, Youth and Families. Our two children, Eric and Sara, were often the guinea pigs for many of the projects Pat was involved with. Our kids were involved because we were involved, and we have many great memories of those times.
Today, we have one beautiful granddaughter. We enjoy visiting our children who both live in northern Virginia. We like to garden and cook, and drive around Michigan visiting microbreweries and wineries, and seeing the sites around this great state.
I’m honored and thrilled that Dean Poston invited me to become involved in Extension administration. Since I’m primarily a researcher, I like to take a problem, gather all relevant information, and think about ways we can solve it. We use research to make improvements. Any research we do is not complete till the information discovered gets out and we can use it to make a difference. That’s what we do in Extension, and I look forward to being part of that process with you.