Jerry Apps recalls UW campus riots, extension work in autobiography

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Jerry Apps revisits UW campus days in new autobiography.

Raised from humble beginnings on a small farm in Waushara County, Jerry Apps would never have imagined he would become a college professor.

In fact, the only professor he ever knew was a slow-talking old man from Ohio who spent his summers on the Apps family farm near Wild Rose.

"To me he seemed a little strange—and a lot boring," admits farm-boy-turned UW Professor Emeritus in his newest release Once a Professor: A Memoir of Teaching in Turbulent Times.

The first in his family to graduate from college, Apps fancied that he might enjoy teaching in a one-room school house one day. But while serving time in the U.S. Army Reserves following graduation from UW-Madison with a teaching certificate, Apps felt a high school classroom might be "too confining and caught up in rules and regulations".

Still undecided, Apps followed the advice of his undergraduate advisor and stayed in college to acquire his Masters Degree. While there, Apps enrolled in the Introduction to Extension course and the idea of becoming a county extension agent and working with farm people appealed to him.

Beginning his career

Apps found himself as the newly hired 4-H agent in Green Lake County in 1957. With his office tucked in the basement of the court house and a travel trailer parked in a nearby trailer park his home, Apps was happy in his new job working with youth and volunteer 4-H leaders.

Jerry Apps often met individually with volunteer 4-H leaders. Here he is meeting with Bill Hock to discuss Brown County's tractor maintenance 4-H project.

As time passed, Apps would meet future wife, Ruth, head to Green Bay to become the 4-H and livestock agent and head to Madison to take on the role of publications editor for the state 4-H office. A series of unexpected events and unplanned experiences put Apps on a path that led him to a long career at UW-Madison that included earning his PhD.

In this continuation of the Apps life story begun in his childhood memoir “Limping through Life,” the former agriculture professor shares stories from his UW years, from 1957 to 1995. Stories include his experiences during the turmoil of the 1960’s protests—when he was tear gassed twice in one day.

Turbulent times

While on leave to earn his PhD, Apps and his little family were out of the epicenter of turmoil that had been brewing on campus as the Vietnam War escalated. After returning to the classroom a year later, Apps recalls walking between his two office buildings in the fall of 1967 during the Dow riots.

Protestors react to tear gas on the UW campus, May 1970.

“I heard yelling and screaming and saw students coming out of the Commerce building with blood streaming down their faces, the pungent smell of tear gas filled the air. I felt helpless to do anything.”

Following the bombing of Sterling Hall which left one researcher dead and others injured, Apps says his staff was on edge and copies of records and inventories of books were made in case Agriculture Hall was next. He wondered if the students had gone too far and feared for the future of the university.

“While we didn’t feel the radicals would close the university, backlash from the conservative taxpayers as represented by the legislators and Regents will.”

Past lessons

In his book, Apps also details the struggles of tenure and faculty governance and the pressures to secure funding for academic research and programs. After two years of serving as a department head—a time consuming role that required countless hours of paperwork, reports, budgets and more—he told university officials he wanted to concentrate on what he loved and knew best; teaching, research and writing.

Jerry Apps used a variety of approaches to help his students learn critical and creative thinking skills.

While wearing many hats during his career, Apps says the lessons learned back on the farm were invaluable in helping him to work with others.

“Just as I remembered from my days managing a cucumber salting station in little Wild Rose, WI, in the early 1950's—some employees need hand-holding and encouragement, and others needed a kick in the pants to get them back on track.”

Despite all of the titles, degrees and honors he has accumulated in his career, Apps never forgot his roots nor foundation of his success. Upon earning his PhD, Apps has never forgotten his father’s frank advice—“Just because you have a lot of education doesn’t mean you know anything.”

“My parents were obviously proud of my accomplishment, but they also valued being humble,” he wrote. “I came from a family of farmers, and most of the young people of my father and mother’s generation had not graduated from elementary school. And when they were big enough to work, they went to work on the farm. The tuition scholarship I received when I graduated from high school, my father’s permission and my mother’s unending support made all the difference.”

Apps is a professor emeritus of agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Wisconsin Academy Fellow. The former UW-Extension agent has written more than 40 fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books, many of them on rural history and country life.

Book Launch events

  • April 25 – 6 p.m. Patterson Memorial Library, Wild Rose, WI
  • May 2 – 10 a.m. Oakwood Village auditorium, Madison. Co-hosted by Oakwood Village Retirement Hoe and the retired UW-Madison Faculty Association.

Books are $22.95 each and can be ordered by contacting the Chicago Distribution Center at 800-621-2736 or