2020 Honorary Life Member Selection

Jeff Stark

Being raised in southern California by a family that trained and raced quarter horses initially led Jeff to an undergraduate program in pre-veterinary medicine at Brigham Young University. However, after taking a couple of crop science courses he developed a keen interest in crop physiology and switched to agronomy, graduating with a B.S. in Agronomy in 1977. He then entered a graduate research program at U.C. Riverside evaluating water and nutrient use efficiency in vegetable crop production systems. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1981, Jeff was hired by the University of Idaho as an extension potato specialist, stationed at the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center. However, shortly thereafter he switched to a research agronomist position at the UI where he focused on developing more efficient irrigation and nutrient management systems for potatoes and small grain crops. Joe Pavek and Dennis Corsini with the USDA-ARS Potato Breeding Program at Aberdeen helped him get acquainted with potato variety development and management, which also sparked an interest in studying varietal responses to environmental and cultural variables. Jeff also learned a lot about the science and practice of conducting applied potato research from Robert Thornton, Dale Westermann and Keith Kelling.

During the next 24 years, Jeff’s research included some early work on using remote sensing data to assess crop water and nutrient stress. This work subsequently led to one of the first U.S. patents on variable rate center-pivot irrigation systems in 1992. He also led a large project in the Pacific Northwest on sustainable potato production systems, followed by a multi-year series of on-farm irrigation and nutrient management studies designed to develop optimal water and nutrient management programs for potatoes. The results of Jeff’s research are published in over 100 research publications and dozens of extension bulletins. He has also served as co-editor for two books on Potato Production Management Systems. In 1995, Jeff began a 25-year period of service in college and departmental administration at the UI, initially as Superintendent of the Aberdeen R&E Center from 1995 to 1999. He then served as Chair of the Plant Science and Horticultural Sciences Divisions from 1999 to 2013, followed by another term of service as Station Superintendent at Aberdeen from 2013-2020.

In the mid 1980’s, Jeff worked with several other PAA members to receive approval for the new Production and Management Section in PAA and helped get it organized. He has served on numerous PAA committees, including serving as program chair for two Annual PAA Meetings in Idaho, and on planning committees for several PAA symposia. He also has served as Production and Management Editor for AJPR and co-authored several PAA Symposia publications and a PAA publication on potato nutrient management.

In 2005, Jeff became the Director of the UI Potato Variety Development Program, which rekindled his interest in studying varietal responses to environmental and cultural variables. As a member of the Northwest Potato Variety Development Program team, he collaborated with researchers from the USDA-ARS, Washington State University and Oregon State University in releasing over 25 new potato varieties and developing management guidelines for these varieties.

Jeff recently retired from the UI after a 38-year career and is now a recovering potato scientist. However, his wife Linda and his three children and ten grandchildren seem to be totally committed to helping him completely recover.

In recognition of his exceptional service to the PAA and his many research accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate Dr. Jeff Stark as an Honorary Life Member of the association.

John R. Keeling

John Keeling served as Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Potato Council (NPC) from 2001 through 2019. In this position he directed the development and implementation of policy for the only national association of potato growers in the U.S. NPC has been highly successful in representing the diverse interests of U.S. potato producers and influencing policy that directly affects growers’ ability to compete domestically and globally.

In his leadership role at NPC, John represented potato interests before Congress and federal agencies and spearheaded efforts to develop and implement long-term industry strategies. During his tenure with the National Potato Council, he was a key player in the industry-wide effort to expand export markets for U.S. fresh potatoes and frozen potato products and in boosting the potato’s role in nutrition programs where he was instrumental in reversing the ban on fresh white potatoes in the WIC feeding program.  John also had served as co-chair of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance beginning in 2007, with the Alliance being successful in making specialty crops a meaningful part of the 2007 Farm Bill.

John has always been a strong supporter of The Potato Association of America (PAA) and research. That dedication was vital in securing and maintaining the needed federal funding to drive the science and education sector of the industry. Whenever the potato industry faced an issue regarding potato research, John involved PAA to assist in providing science-based answers.  An example of John’s commitment to potato research was the NPC’s success in increasing the federal funds available to potato breeding programs for developing improved potato varieties for industry by partnering with other state and national grower organizations.

As leader of the NPC, the organization always provided generous financial support for the PAA annual meeting and special symposium topics.  John was also instrumental in establishing the PAA poster session at the Potato Expo that highlighted the PAA, its scientists, and their research and created a researcher specific networking hour as well during Potato Expo. Posters presenting research with special pertinence to pressing industry issues were also selected by the NPC, with their authors verbally presenting their research on at Potato Expo.  NPC also provided an annual graduate student scholarship, which is often awarded to a PAA member’s graduate student. NPC support was initiated and guided by John’s leadership to acknowledge the contribution of potato research and the PAA to the industry.

John is also a frequent speaker at agricultural industry meetings, giving insight on trade policy, the legislative outlook, sustainability, biotechnology and environmental issues. John is a go-to resource for journalists and has frequently been quoted in industry publications including Agri-Pulse, The Packer, and Spudman.

Prior to joining the National Potato Council, John held positions with the National Food Processors Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation. He directed the Farm Bureau’s legislative and grassroots efforts on trade, budget and taxes, commodity, livestock and transportation issues, leading their efforts on the 1995 Farm Bill.  John received his undergraduate degree in economics from Washington and Lee University in 1974 and his Masters in agricultural economics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1985. From 1974 to 1983, John also owned and operated a real estate renovation and sales firm in Richmond, Virginia.

John resides in Arlington, Virginia, and with his brother co-owns a 150-acre cattle operation in Buckingham County, Virginia. In addition, he participates in the management of family farm and ranch properties in central Texas that have been in his family for four generations.

In recognition of his exceptional service to the PAA and his many accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate John R. Keeling, Jr. as an Honorary Life Member of the association.

Richard Veileux

Richard Veilleux grew up in New England. He is originally from an old mill town, Claremont, NH where he lived until 12 years old, then Reading, MA in the suburbs of Boston until he attended Tufts University in Medford, MA, double majoring in Mathematics and Psychology. After college, he and Karen married in 1972, just before starting graduate studies. They have two sons, two daughters-in-law and two grandchildren. Richard turned his attention to the Plant Sciences in graduate school, earning an M.Sc. under the guidance of Cedric Hornby in Plant Science at the University of British Columbia, and subsequently joining Florian Lauer’s potato breeding program for doctoral studies in Horticulture/Genetics at the University of Minnesota. The common theme to his education was problem solving, first in pure Mathematics, then in Genetics where the applications were much more graphic. After graduate studies, Richard took a teaching and research position in 1981 as Assistant Professor in the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (familiarly, Virginia Tech) where he was promoted to Associate Professor, then Full Professor, then Department Head until his retirement in August, 2018. He taught courses in Introductory Horticulture, Plant Breeding and Plant Tissue Culture.

Initially, his position at VT was not expected to be potato-centric, it gradually became more so as he focused on the Haynes Adapted Phureja population that was also central to his graduate research in Minnesota. The graduate research focus was identification of 2n pollen producers within the population to develop and evaluate 4x-2x hybrids comprised of half Phureja germplasm. The vigor and yield of these hybrids were exceptional even without selection for yield-attributing traits in the Phureja parents. This gave rise to the expectation of developing improved hybrids by focusing breeding effort on the unadapted component. Could inbred lines be developed through the elegant technique of anther culture and haploid regeneration? In the case of potatoes, because Phureja was diploid, the haploids would be monoploids with only 12 chromosomes. The results from Germany and Holland were not promising as their monoploids were weak and unstable that they could not be maintained. However, the adapted Phureja population was more amenable to the technique and, after considerable effort, yielded some monoploids that, although no one would ever mistake them for vigorous, were more robust than those previously reported and could be doubled to generate homozygous diploid potato lines.

Nearly all of the research that Richard conducted occurred through mentoring graduate students. Of the 41 total graduate students that he advised, 25 worked on potatoes (15 Ph.D. and ten M.S.). Most of these students presented their research at the Annual Meetings of the PAA. A few won awards in the Graduate Student Competition. The focus was usually related to monoploids or doubled monoploids of Haynes Phureja, although not exclusively. The message about the diminutive potatoes was received politely by the potato genetics community. They were a curiosity – truly homozygous but not much to look at. It was not until the age of genome sequencing that they hit their stride. Frustrated by efforts to assemble the genome of a heterozygous diploid, The Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium asked if there was anything that could be called a potato that was homozygous. The only homozygous germplasm available that could be classified as Solanum tuberosum were the monoploids and doubled monoploids of adapted Phureja. The old species, Solanum phureja, was no longer recognized as it was indistinguishable from other cultivated forms and had been reclassified as Solanum tuberosum. So, DM, a doubled monoploid that had been generated decades before and can be traced through the dissertations of a dozen of so of Richard’s advisees was selected, rapidly sequenced and has served as the reference potato genome since it was first published in 2011.

Actually, the most valuable commodity that Richard generated was the graduate students themselves. Throughout his career, he most enjoyed mentoring and is proud of the various careers that he helped to nurture. He received the Outstanding Graduate Educator Award from VT in 2018, the Award for Excellence in Basic Research in 2015 and was selected to receive the Gary Endowed Professorship in 2010 which he held until his retirement. He was also a Fulbright Scholar for a semester at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece and participated in the Winrock Farmer-to-Farmer Program in India and Nepal. Richard has served in several capacities in the PAA, as senior editor of the American Journal of Potato Research, on the graduate student awards committee and on the breeding and genetics committee. He values the relationships that he developed over the years through attendance at the annual meetings where the atmosphere was always warm and friendly and the food abundant and great.

In recognition of his exceptional service to the PAA and his many research accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate Dr. Richard Veilleux as an Honorary Life Member of the association.

Shelley Jansky

Shelley Jansky was raised in Stoughton, Wisconsin, where her parents, Orin and Dorothy Hermundstad, fostered her passion for science and nature. Like many, she was inspired by science educators, including Jacques Cousteau. She dreamed of a career in marine biology, where she could swim with the dolphins. This led to a college semester aboard the Research Vessel Westward in the Caribbean. While at sea, though, she felt a strong pull back to the garden she had carved out of the cornfield in her Stoughton backyard. After earning her B.S. degree in Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Shelley joined the potato breeding and genetics program directed by Dr. Stan Peloquin at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Peloquin’s enthusiasm for mentoring students and his innovative germplasm enhancement research shaped Shelley’s career. She focused on the development of potato haploid-wild species hybrids for her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics. Shelley is proud to be one of Dr. Peloquin’s academic “children.” The next step in her career path took her closer to her roots - the state where her Norwegian grandfather homesteaded. She joined the faculty at North Dakota State University as an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and Forestry. At NDSU, she learned from potato breeder Bob Johansen, who had an uncanny ability to identify selections that would became successful varieties. He attributed his success, in part, to carrying out selections in the harsh environment of Langdon, ND, near the Canadian border, where “the only thing stopping the north wind is a barbed wire fence.” Drs. Gary Secor and Neil Gudmestad were also influential, leading Shelley into the disease resistance research that became a significant component of her work with wild potato species. In 1990, Shelley returned to UW-Stevens Point, where the teachers who had inspired her – Drs. Kent Hall, Ed Gasque, and Doug Post – would become her colleagues. As a teaching professor and department chair, Shelley learned the value of effective communication and enjoyed the rewards of guiding undergraduate students. However, as was the pattern throughout her career, she kept feeling a pull in another direction – this time back to research. In 2004, she completed her geographic circle by accepting a research position with the USDA in Madison, focusing on potato germplasm enhancement. She has had the good fortune to work with exceptional colleagues, including Drs. David Spooner, Jiming Jiang, and Phil Simon, who epitomized David’s mantra that “the only thing holding us back is our own initiative.” Initiative was never lacking. Daily interactions with her USDA CRIS team, Drs. Paul Bethke and Dennis Halterman, have been rewarding and stimulating, evolving in recent years into the exciting opportunity to work on the leading edge of research to convert potato into a diploid hybrid crop.

Shelley served our organization well for many years and in many capacities, including offices in the Breeding and Genetics section, Director on the PAA Board, Vice President, President-elect, President and Past-president. She co-chaired the local arrangements committee for the annual meeting in Madison in 2006, was a member of the Frank L. Haynes graduate student competition committee for several years, and served as the Invited Reviews editor for the American Journal of Potato Research. As president, Shelley promoted a transition from how we had always run the business of our organization to how we run our organization today. She strongly advocated hiring professionals to assist the PAA Board of Directors and Local Arrangements Committees with finances, membership, outreach, and planning of the annual meeting. Shelley is grateful to be a member of the PAA family.

Shelley is feeling a pull in another direction, this time toward retirement.  She will return to the Stevens Point area, where she met her husband and raised her children, to start this next chapter.  She looks forward to spending more time with family and friends, enjoying time outdoors, and giving back to her community.

In recognition of her exceptional service to the PAA and her many research accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate Dr. Shelley H. Jansky as an Honorary Life Member of the association.