This year’s inductees to the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame will be honored at a Jan. 19 dinner and installation gala at the Pasco Red Lion, sponsored by the Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Pasco.
In its 17th year, the Hall of Fame honors Mid-Columbia farmers, families and agribusiness leaders in Franklin County and neighboring Mid-Columbia counties.
The new inductees are being recognized for their outstanding contributions to agriculture and agribusiness in five categories.
The 2017 inductee is William W.T. Bennett of BB Cattle Co. in Connell.
This award honors those who have had a significant influence on the development of agriculture and unselfishly served their communities.
Bennett was born in 1926 and grew up on a cattle ranch in Colfax. He attended Washington State University and managed the WSU beef-cattle herd for six years before becoming a manager and partner in TT Herefords of Connell. He bought the company land in 1969 and founded BB Cattle Co.. Bennett has received numerous honors as a cattleman and seed-stock producer and has been active in serving the Connell community.
Rob Mercer, owner of Mercer Estates Winery, is this year’s Rising Star, an award that acknowledges a young person committed to agriculture and community service.
Four generations of the Mercer family have farmed in the Horse Heaven Hills, and they were among the first to plant wine grapes in the region in 1972.
Rob graduated from WSU, served as a Marine Corps officer and returned to manage the family business in 1995. He has served on the boards of the Columbia and Snake River Irrigators and Washington Wine Commission, and has been a tireless promoter of the Washington wine industry.
He serves on the WSU Tri-Cities Advisory Council, which was instrumental in the development of the WSU Wine Science Center in Richland. The Mercer family is known for their patriotism and community service, and in 2010 the winery was honored with an Environmental Excellence Award from the Association of Washington Business for its exemplary environmental practices.
Gerry Ringwood, director and principal of Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick, a school that serves seven school districts and teaches vocational skills to more than 900 students a year, was honored for making a significant impact through mentoring of young people in ag-related industries.
Ringwood studied ag education at WSU and graduated in 1977. He taught agriculture courses and advised FFA students in Finley for 18 years, taking a year off to get a master’s degree in adult education. He has directed Tri-Tech since 1997. He has served and chaired many education organizations, earned numerous awards for his service and testified on vocational training before legislative committees. He is also co-owner of farming operations in Finley, Quincy and Sprague.
Merle Booker, owner of Booker Auction Co. of Eltopia, received the Stewardship Award for serving the community and displaying leadership in agriculture over a long period.
He earned a degree in animal science at WSU in the mid-1970s, and his first jobs after graduation were on area farms and in sales of pivot irrigation systems and area real estate.
When the farm economy slumped in the 1980s, he began helping farmers liquidate their property and equipment, and formed the Booker Auction Co.
The company grew to regional and national prominence, and today has a modern marketing facility in Eltopia.
Booker has served on the boards of many industry organizations and “worked unselfishly for the betterment of the community,” according to a release.
The entire Booker family is involved in the auction business and in actively supporting youth programs such as the Junior Livestock Show.
This year, three people share the Visionary Award honor for their key roles in the creation of the Pasco Processing Center: retired Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield, retired Port of Pasco Executive Director Jim Toomey, and retired Franklin PUD General Manager Ken Sugden.
Faced with declining employment at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the 1980s, their vision was to develop an industrial park for food-processing operations.
Under their leadership, the plan became a key economic-development strategy of each of their organizations. The Port of Pasco purchased land north of Pasco, the city leased surrounding farmland to receive treated wastewater, and Franklin PUD installed the needed electrical
infrastructure. They worked together to secure the first tenant, J.R. Simplot, in 1995.
Today, companies in the Pasco Processing Center employ about 1,200 full-time family-wage workers and provide nearly $1.7 million in property-tax revenue.
“By all measures, due to the vision of these three men, the Pasco Processing Center has been a resounding success,” the release said.
The Agriculture Hall of Fame Gala is Jan. 19 at the Pasco Red Lion, starting with a social hour at 5:30 p.m. A full-course dinner will feature local produce and local wines. Cost is $65 per person.
For reservations and information, call the Pasco Chamber at 509-547-9755, visit 1110 Osprey Pointe Blvd., Suite 101, in Pasco or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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