COLUMNISTS

View from the Bull's Eye

John Oncken
Genetics pioneer Bob Walton shares details from his book during a visit at his DeForest farm

Do you know  anyone who changed the world? Or something operating in this world that was improved on?  Your answer will probably be “No, I don’t see many people dealing in world wide affairs.”

But if you lived in Wisconsin, you’d probably be wrong. In fact, just last Saturday my son, John, and I spent two hours with just such a man conversing in his farmhouse just outside DeForest. 

39 years at ABS

His name is Robert E. “Bob” Walton who spent some 30 years as president/CEO of ABS, the internationally known dairy artificial insemination company and since has been active in a myriad of agricultural and public organizations in Wisconsin.  

ABS main building in DeForest, Wisconsin.

The book

For many years Bob Walton has had aspirations of writing a book recording his personal and professional life and now with the assistance of former ABS employee and publisher Ron Eustice the first of two volumes of “From the Bulls Eye,” have been printed. I now have in my possession a copy that Bob promised me.

Bob Walton was not born of a rich or influential family. Instead, he was born in a sod house on a small farm at Shattuck, Oklahoma in 1931 during the beginning of the Great Depression. “We didn’t realize how poor we were,” he writes. “But our parents were able to raise seven children, kept us fed, clothed and got us educated during those terrible times."

From cover to cover, 237 pages of history.

He notes in his book that he and his dad built a concrete block barn in 1946 that was the first Grade A barn in western Oklahoma. Milk was bottled daily which Bob and his sister delivered on their way to school. 

Learned about genes

While in high school, Walton learned through his FFA projects about Gregor Mendel, the Austrian monk who first deciphered and wrote about the basic genetic principles of genes, gene pairs and random segregation that later became known as the Mendelian principles.

The ABS campus is becoming crowded by nearby housing. How long will it remain where it has been for so many years?

“I became fascinated with genetics and set a goal of breeding a Jersey herd homozygous for all the good genes, something I later learned was impossible,” he writes.

During his senior year in high school, the family bought a farm near Siloam Springs, Arkansas where Walton finished school. He was very active in their strong FFA program.

“The understanding of genetics was rather primitive at that time,” he said. “That was before DNA and RNA were identified. Nevertheless, I was hooked from that point on in my life in pursuing a deeper understanding of genetic systems and how we could put that to work in practical livestock improvement.”

On to college

In 1948, Walton enrolled at Oklahoma A&M (it became Oklahoma State in 1957) majoring in Dairy Science. He joined numerous organizations, worked at the dairy milking cows and entered the freshman cow judging contest. 

“I came in last in the contest,” he says. “I was milking most of the cows but could not place a good looking cow that didn’t give much milk very high. A tall, red-headed guy from Wisconsin named Bob Basse won the the contest and I decided I ought to stay close to him and I might learn something. We became lifelong friends, fraternity brothers and he was a great mentor.”

Brother Chuck Walton was a longtime professional guard in the CFL and NFL.

It was during his Oklahoma State tenure that Walton got involved in even more activities: ROTC summer camp and six stops on the boxcar tour of state fairs showing a Guernsey herd managed by friend Bob Basse.

I’ll follow the Walton life further, perhaps next week.

John Oncken can be found at jfodairy2@gmail.com