December 09, 2015

Agriculture college honors three alumni

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The College of Agricultural Sciences at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the college’s Alumni Board of Governors recently honored three alumni with achievement awards.           

The awards went to: John Kabat, Lifetime Achievement Award; Jeff Heepke, Mid-Career Achievement Award; and Amanda Martin, Early Career Achievement Award. 

Kabat is a 30-year agricultural educator. He has taught at Mt. Vernon Township High School his entire career. Under his watch, the Mt. Vernon FFA chapter has grown from 35 members in 1985 to 292 members in 2015. His students aren’t just FFA members, they are also FFA leaders: for example, 82 of his students have earned State FFA degrees, eight have earned American FFA Degrees. “I have never given up on any student, and I try to give them all hope and love for life,” Kabat said. 

Kabat grew up on a 748-acre grain and livestock farm near Scheller, Ill., as a fifth-generation farmer, and he still lives near the family farm today. He understands the value of FFA. Among his other high school activities, Kabat was an FFA member and president of the Waltonville FFA his senior year. He earned his State FFA degree that year as well, and was the top student in his class. 

He was also the top student in his class at Rend Lake College where he majored in agriculture production. He earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in agricultural education at SIU. He student taught at Pinckneyville High School, and he credits Sam Robb, the agriculture teacher there, as being one of the great influences in his life. Professors Thomas Stitt and James Legacy are other teachers who inspired Kabat. Family, however, is perhaps his greatest inspiration. Kabat says his love of teaching came from his mother, Louise, and his love of farming from his father, Melvin. He thanks his wife, Marcia, for her continual support of his teaching career and agriculture education generally. 

Mark Kabat, John’s brother, wrote a letter nominating him for the alumni achievement award, and noted John’s service on “countless boards and committees,” including 25 years on the SIU Agricultural Advisory Council. Kabat is also active in his church, St. Barbara Catholic Church in Scheller. He has served on the Rend Lake College Board of Trustees and the Agriculture Advisory Council, and he’s been involved with the National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association. 

Jeff Heepke is the co-owner and manager of Heepke Farms in Edwardsville. He is a fourth-generation horseradish farmer, and the co-organizer of both the Annual Horseradish Growers of North America Summit and the International Horseradish Festival. Furthermore, he’s president and spokesperson of the Horseradish Growers of Illinois. 

Heepke has become adept at modifying, fabricating and designing the equipment he needs, particularly when it comes to horseradish, though he also grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa. His horseradish expertise keeps him busy with research plots with SIU and with the University of Illinois, and he is a Monsanto Field Script Groundbreaker Farmer. He is an Illinois Farm Bureau member and a National Agricultural Consultant. 

Darin M. Grotefendt, a crop insurance specialist with Farm Credit Illinois, wrote a letter nominating Heepke for the achievement award. Marten called Heepke “the epitome of a family farmer” and possessing “an uncanny drive to further his family’s farming operation through technology and innovation.” 

Along with his wife, Marcy, Heepke also owns and manages Triangle H Farm, LLC, a horse training and boarding facility that hosts area horse shows and equestrian club events. He is also co-owner and manager of Jeff Heepke Family Farm. 

Amanda L. Martin currently works as a recruiter and in alumni relations at Auburn University in Alabama. In addition to helping students find the degree option that suits them best, she also helps students find internships, and assists them in career placement through Auburn’s Ag Alumni Mentoring program in which alumni take current students under their wing to teach them resume and interview skills. 

Martin honed her recruiting skills while working as a graduate assistant coordinator of recruitment for the College of Agricultural Sciences at SIU, where she also contributed to creating a “first year” curriculum and leading undergraduate students in student work positions. 

Tabitha K. Welch, a U of I Extension educator in 4-H Youth Development, nominated Martin for the award, saying Martin “exemplifies a passion for agriculture in all she does, and she lives to share that passion with budding agriculturalists.”  

Welch was herself a beneficiary of Martin’s inspiration, having met her while Martin was Rush/Public Relations chair for Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural Sorority, with SIU’s Alpha Gamma chapter. Welch described Martin as her “big sister in the sorority and one of my most powerful influences that ignited my passion for agriculture.”