MADISON, Wis. – Elton “Abe” Aberle recently earned the 2020 Honorary Distinguished Service Award from the University of Wisconsin-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The operable word there is “service.”

Aberle retired in 2005 as dean of UW-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences but he’s continued to serve the university and his community. He’s a member of the Downtown Madison Kiwanis Club. He served as chairman of the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame committee. He also has served on the Advisory Council for the Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building, which is expected to open in winter on the UW-Madison campus.

In his retirement Aberle has given lectures and participated in undergraduate mentorship at the university. He established the Aberle Faculty Fellow Fund to support the first years of a faculty member’s career. And he and his wife, Carrie Aberle, established the Carrie Aberle Demeter Scholarship Fund. The scholarship recognizes her involvement in the Demeter organization as well as their shared interest in supporting undergraduates at UW-Madison.

Liv Sandberg is the undergraduate student-services coordinator for the department of animal and dairy sciences at UW-Madison.

“The first Carrie Aberle scholarship was awarded for the 2018-2019 academic year,” she said. “(It) continues to help any student in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Preference is given to students in applied-agriculture studies. Abe and Carrie have always been interested in helping students.”

Abe Aberle recently served on the Wisconsin Rural Opportunities Foundations premier scholarship committee.

“He was very insightful and thoughtful in his review and selection criteria during the committee’s final discussions,” she said. “This is another example of his involvement with youth and students in the agricultural industry.”

Dan Schaefer, UW-Madison animal-sciences professor emeritus, wrote a letter supporting Aberle’s nomination for the award.

“In 2018 I asked him to be a member of the Advisory Council for the Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery program, which I was directing,” Schaefer said. “The council is composed of visionary leaders from industry and academia. Abe agreed to be a member of the animal-biologics focus group, which contributed to the vision needed to assess the viability and staffing required for a novel academic pursuit. The objective is to add value to livestock and poultry by extracting molecules or tissues from animal harvest co-products and using them in animal- or human-health applications. Abe relished the challenge and has since become an ardent advocate for this programmatic component.”

Aberle was named in 1998 as dean of UW-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Schaefer had already known him when both men were faculty colleagues in the animal-sciences department at Purdue University. Schaefer welcomed the news that Aberle was coming to UW-Madison.

“Abe had – and has – a deeply rooted understanding of the land-grant mission of colleges of agriculture,” Schaefer said. “He grasped the significance of our teaching, research and Extension missions. And he could speak with students, faculty, farmers, Extension specialists, meat-plant operators and others, advocating on behalf of the college to the provost and state legislators.”

Aberle was raised on a 400-acre diversified farm near Sabetha, Kansas. In addition to crops his family raised beef cattle, hogs and layers. Aberle earned in 1962 a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from Kansas State University. His undergraduate adviser there, Robert Merkel, was a native of Marshfield, Wisconsin. Merkel would later join the animal-science department at Michigan State University and convince Aberle to pursue graduate work there.

Aberle earned in 1965 his master’s degree in food science and meat science, and muscle biology. He earned in 1967 his doctorate in those studies, also at Michigan State. He then was named as a professor in the animal-science department at Purdue University. He taught a course in food chemistry for undergraduates and first-year graduate students. He started a course in animal growth and development, and coached the meat-judging team at Purdue. He also conducted research in meat science and quality.

Then in 1983 he accepted a position to head the animal-science department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“His leadership of Nebraska’s animal-sciences department raised its visibility,” Schaefer said. “And he had chaired the Food Animal Integrated Research initiative of 1995, which raised his reputation to national prominence.”

Three years later Aberle became dean at UW. During his tenure he headed several infrastructure upgrades at the college. One of the projects for which he worked to obtain funding was the microbial-sciences building; construction began in 2007. It has housed both the agricultural college’s bacteriology department as well as the school of medicine and public health’s microbiology department.

Aberle worked to obtain funding for UW-Integrated Dairy Facility Program. It involved renovation and enlargement of dairy facilities at both the UW-Arlington Agricultural Research Station and the UW-Marshfield Agricultural Research Station. He credits the dairy industry for helping to complete those facilities.

Schaefer said, “He recognized the importance of the dairy-science component of the college’s portfolio and was an active advocate – along with Lou Armentano, then chairman of the dairy-science department, working with donors and legislators for rejuvenation of the dairy-cattle facilities."

Of learning he would receive the college’s Distinguished Service Award, Aberle said, “It was a total surprise. I had to catch my breath. It’s meaningful when people you’ve worked with want to recognize you. I’m appreciative and humbled.”

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.