Whether judging cattle or investing in students, David Dickson (’63 MS, ’67 PhD CALS) had an uncanny ability to seize the positive and sum it up succinctly.
Dickson was a distinguished dairy scientist, professor emeritus of dairy science and former coach of championship Dairy Cattle Judging teams when he died in July 2010. Dickson had an enviable resume of academic and professional accomplishments, yet the legacy he leaves is one of personal inspiration. Affectionately known as “Dr. Dave,” Dickson had an impact on generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students, especially those he coached on the Dairy Cattle Judging Teams from 1964 to 2009.
Dickson’s sister Linda Sorstokke recalled he was involved in dairy judging from the age of 10, when he joined 4-H and started showing dairy animals and judging them at the local Lynden Fair in the state of Washington. “He carried that love of judging on through the university and passed that love on to young people all over the world. Judging opened doors for Dave that might not have happened any other way, and he spent the rest of his life using judging to open doors for himself and for others.”
“When it came down to determining where Uncle Dave would want to leave a legacy, I had to focus on the things he loved most in life: teaching, cow judging and the University of Wisconsin. Supporting the Dairy Cattle Judging Team was the obvious answer,” said his nephew Tim Garnett. Garnett directed memorial gifts to the David Dickson Dairy Cattle Judging Team Fund to help current Coach Theodore “Ted” Halbach with expenses like contest registration fees, student travel expenses and contest materials. Previously, these expenses were offset with fundraisers such as the golf outing Dickson and Halbach created in 2005. This summer marked the first Dave Dickson Memorial Golf Classic.
Cattle judging is a small but important niche in the livestock industry because knowledgeable officials are needed to evaluate the grade of the animal and provide information used in genetic improvement programs and marketing of livestock. And, of course, there are the collegiate competitions at several national shows every fall. Students have 15 minutes to view four animals in one of the 10-12 classes of cattle. During that 15 minutes, they need to compare the animal to the recognized perfect cow of the unified scorecard. Twenty minutes after viewing the four animals, they must give a two-minute oral defense or “reasons” for their judgment of the animal, without their notes and with poise and confidence. Dickson’s students excelled in the reasons competition, winning 18 reasons titles at national contests.
The impact Dickson had on his students and the dairy industry is unmistakable.
“I think he was very intentional in investing in youth,” said Shelly Mayer (’88 BS CALS). Mayer was on the judging team during three national wins for reasons. Today, she is executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, a network of 1,600 members in 18 states. “Dr. Dave met us where we were, rough-around-the-edges farm kids, polished us up and helped us see our own talents. I wouldn’t have gotten through school without him.”
Team member Laurie Winkelman (’03 BS CALS) took High Individual honors at the 2002 National Contest. She went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in animal science and ruminant nutrition. She is now a dairy nutritionist with VitaPlus Corporation, livestock feed specialists. “Though dairy judging didn’t necessarily push me towards graduate school or a career in dairy cattle nutrition and consulting, the skills I gained through dairy judging have been very helpful in being successful in those efforts,”said Winkelman. “The ability to sort through information, make an informed decision, and be able to verbally justify those decisions with confidence and poise are lifelong skills that will be valuable for any career choice.”
East Central/Select Sires Director of Dairy Programs Kevin Jorgensen (’91 BS CALS) agrees. “I am eternally indebted to a man that encouraged an FFA kid from nowhere with no plans of furthering his education to come and be a part of the UW-Madison judging team,” said Jorgensen. “I have no idea where I might be today without that 5-minute conversation almost 25 years ago. More important than his amazing accomplishments was just knowing him as the man.”
“Spending time with many of Uncle Dave’s former students only reinforced the fact that cattle judging was not a job, activity or hobby,” said Garnett. “It was a way of life, and he taught it as such. Whether it was competitive spirit, self-confidence, showmanship or character, Uncle Dave passed a lot of life lessons on to his students through his coaching of the judging teams, and that is the spirit we hope will live on forever.”