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Two ag leaders named honorary members to fraternity

David Laatsch

MADISON - Two Wisconsin agricultural leaders, John Oncken and Jeff Hicken, were named honorary members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity on April 8. Induction ceremonies were held during the 101st annual Founders Day meeting held at the campus chapter house.

John Oncken (left), columnist for the Wisconsin State Farmer and Jeff Hicken, Wisconsin FFA Advisor, became Honorary Members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho, agricultural fraternity. The induction ceremony occurred during the 101st Founder’s Day Celebration, held April 8 in Madison.

Recognized for their service to agriculture and commitment to agricultural education, the two were welcomed into membership by active and alumni members of the fraternity.

Oncken is best known for his position as a column writer for the Wisconsin State Farmer for more than 30 years. Having grown up on a dairy farm, first near Waunakee and later in Stoughton, he graduated from Oregon High School in 1949.

Hicken is known to many agricultural youth as the Wisconsin FFA Advisor, a position that he has held since 2006. A native of Lomira, he was an active FFA member having served as State FFA Sentinel 1992-93.

Oncken recalled, “I received a scholarship, an athletic scholarship, to attend the University of Wisconsin, but truly desired to forego college and farm with my dad. I ultimately decided to accept the scholarship. I hitch-hiked back home to work on the farm throughout my college years. I graduated with a degree in agronomy and received an ROTC commission as 2nd Lt. in 1953.”

After serving in Korea, he married Jennette Elizabeth Crane. He became the Clark County UW Extension 4-H agent where he advised farmers, agribusiness and industry. He initiated the consolidation of five DHI units into the nation’s largest dairy herd testing laboratory.

In 1965, he became the farm director for WFRV TV in Green Bay. In 1971, he became the advertising manager at American Breeders Service until accepting the position of general manager of the American Dairy Association of Wisconsin. In five years, the Wisconsin ADA dairy farmer membership grew from 3,000 to over 18,000 producers. Advertising funds grew from $40,000 to $5 million.

Oncken initiated the action that culminated into the passage of the dairy promotion program and formation of the producer-financed Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) and its $28 million dairy promotion funds.

He stayed active in his father’s farm until it was sold in 1982. He then formed Oncken Communications Inc., a marketing consultant and communications firm.

Oncken has two daughters, Lynne and Laurel and a son John, a UW- Platteville member of Alpha Gamma Rho.

Hicken attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls majoring in agricultural education. He began his career as the agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor at Sauk Prairie High School. He was named Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year as well as the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators John Deere’s Outstanding Young Member.

Hicken explained, “After seven and a half years of teaching I transitioned to the Department of Public Instruction where I served as consultant for the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource program. I’ve served on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators, the State FFA Executive Board and am a Lifetime FFA Alumni member.”

Over his 11 years at the DPI, his initiatives have included: Perkins IV legislative implementation; ag/science equivalent credit process; Wisconsin’s Vision for Entrepreneurship Education Task Force; State Superintendent’s liaison for Rural Schools; Libraries and Communities Advisory Council; and also has served on the National Council for Agricultural Education, National Association of State Supervisors of Agriculture Education NASAE Board of Directors and National FFA Board of Directors.

Hicken and his wife, Sheri, reside in Waupun with their two sons, Cole, 13, and Drew, 9.

Alpha Gamma Rho is a professional fraternity, with 71 chapters nation-wide, of college men, pursuing careers in agriculture and related fields. UW-Madison chapter has 60 members and maintains a cooperative living facility for 36 men. With over 1,700 alumni members, AGR strives to develop leadership and associations with professionals in all walks of agricultural life.