The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Hall of Fame continued its long-standing tradition of honoring members for lifetime achievement in the development of the state's potato industry.
This year the WPVGA inducted Charles A. Cofer, posthumously, and Robert J. Guenthner into its Hall of Fame. Both men have made significant contributions to the potato industry in Wisconsin. They were inducted during the association's annual awards banquet Feb. 3
Charles A. Cofer
Charles A. (Charlie) Cofer was born in Bruceville, Ind., in 1917, to John and Mary Cofer. He graduated from Bruceville High School in 1936. After graduation he joined the U.S. Navy, serving during World War II. When he returned from the service he married Ann Cline on Nov. 12, 1947, in Columbia, Tenn.
His life in the potato business began in Knox County, Ind. He drove trucks to Wisconsin to buy loads of potatoes, and returned to Indiana to sell them. Cofer accepted a job selling potatoes for Arrowhead Potato Company in Antigo in 1953, and re-located there with his wife, Ann, and children.
After several years at Arrowhead, Cofer founded Pack Right Foods under the Alamo brand, and later established Antigo Auction Sales.
He was past president of the Wisconsin Short Horn Association, and Belgian Horse Association of America. In 1968 and 1969 Cofer worked seasonally for Kerr & Rebel, brokering potatoes out of Florida. During this time he also farmed with Circle P Farms, and started contracting with Old Dutch Foods. He continued to rent land farming potatoes privately.
In 1975 he began purchasing land in Adams County around the Coloma area and became an early innovator in growing chip potatoes.
Along with his son, Dan, he farmed 600 acres. Another son, Bill, helped out when needed. In 1965, Cofer founded Farmers Potato Exchange in Antigo, acting as a broker for farmers throughout Wisconsin and other areas of the country. His son, Dave, joined the brokerage division of the business in 1979.
Farmers Potato Exchange continued to operate successfully with sons Dave and Dan for many years. The Adams County farm was sold in 2006 ending the farming portion of the business. The Farmers Potato Exchange is currently owned and operated by Dave Cofer. Charlie passed away on July 27, 1993 at the age of 75.
He is survived by his two sons Dave (Dee) Cofer Antigo, and Dan (Lisa) Cofer, Ekalaka, Mont., two daughters: Debbie (Jim) Mattek Deerbrook, and Dianne (Bill) Zelinski, Plover, Daughter-in-law Betty Cofer, Rochester, Minn., and many grandchildren. His wife, Ann, passed away in 1995, followed by his son Bill in 2012.
Robert J. Guenthner
Robert J. Guenthner was the first child born to Joseph F. Guenthner and Carol Dawley, who owned and operated a potato farm near Antigo. The farm was founded in 1926 by Bob's grandfather Joseph S. Guenthner.
Bob and his wife, Cheri own and operate the farm today. Guenthner Potato Company, Inc. currently grows certified seed potatoes, along with oats, rye grass and red clover on 800 acres of land.
After attending Antigo High School, Guenthner graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics.
Guenthner served two terms as a board member of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA). He was elected president in 1979 and again in 1980. He received the WPVGA Young Grower of the Year award in 1983, and served for many years as a member of the WPVGA Research Committee.
Guenthner served two terms on the board of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association (WSPIA), and also served as WSPIA president. He also chaired the 7th Annual North American Seed Potato Seminar, which was hosted by Wisconsin in December of 1988. Along with a grower from Montana, he developed the Universal Seed Potato Contract.
He was the first potato grower in the U.S. to demonstrate and use the Norwegian built Underhaug cup potato planter, which soon became very popular in Wisconsin and throughout the US.
Guenthner is currently a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, certified in both Wisconsin and Florida. He has participated in 16 search and rescue operations.