December 08, 2022

ICGA marks 50 years: Former director reflects on early days

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The Illinois Corn Growers Association celebrated its 50th anniversary Aug. 8 with an open house at its headquarters in the afternoon and reception, dinner and program that evening at the DoubleTree Hotel.

Numerous past and present ICGA board members, staff and others joined in the celebration.

Leading up to the important milestone, John Campen, who served as ICGA executive director from 1977 to 1987, reflected on his time with the organization in an ICGA podcast. Campen, a Roanoke native, is now retired and resides in Phoenix.

Can you describe your early days with Illinois Corn?

Campen: When I started with Illinois Corn I was part-time as executive director. I also had responsibilities for the Illinois Milk Producers Association and both organizations were located in the Illinois Farm Bureau Commodity Division at that time. It was part of Illinois Farm Bureau at the time.

The Corn Growers had a management agreement with the Farm Bureau, and I became aware that there was a position open. I interviewed for it and went to work in 1977. I had spent three years previous to that with the Knox County Farm Bureau at Galesburg as executive secretary.

Several years later when the checkoff had passed, we moved into some private facilities on East Washington Street in Bloomington.

You were involved in the eventual passage of the corn checkoff.

Campen: A year or so after I started with Corn Growers, we got legislation approved by the Illinois Legislature and from that point we started working with the Illinois Department of Agriculture to establish a referendum to see if the corn producers in the state wanted the program or not.

Our first attempt at passage of the corn checkoff was in March of 1980. Just prior to that the grain embargo with the Soviet Union happened and, of course, farmers were in general not in a good mood as far as approving anything. So, that first referendum was not successful, but we came back in late 1981 and we were successful getting it passed at that point.

Did you still work part-time for Illinois Corn when the checkoff was passed?

Campen: Yes, until the Illinois Corn Marketing Board was established and elected and then I became full time for Illinois Corn.

What were some of the priorities during your time at Illinois Corn?

Campen: It was a challenge back then at Illinois Corn Growers because of very limited resources. So, we did what we could. We were very much involved in promoting ethanol and corn sweeteners at that time. But obviously more resources were needed, there was a lot that could be accomplished and we were grateful producers voted in favor of putting the corn checkoff in place.

What are you proudest of accomplishing while at Illinois Corn?

Campen: I’m most proud of — obviously, the board members were very much involved in it — the passage of the corn checkoff referendum. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but we had somewhere around 70,000 total votes in the referendum and we had about a 60% majority to pass the checkoff. That’s got to be the best accomplishment as far as my involvement with the Corn Growers.

What did you most enjoy while working at Illinois Corn?

Campen: Working with the corn farmers. I grew up on a farm and the opportunity to farm was not there when I got out of the service. So, the next best thing was to work for a group like Illinois Corn Growers and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. I spent 10 years with the Illinois Corn Growers and Illinois Corn Marketing Board and ended up going to the National Corn Growers Association.

What was your role at NCGA?

Campen: I was director of market development for the NCGA from 1987 to 1995. I then spent five years in Texas with the USA Rice Federation and then there was a position that became available back in St. Louis with the United Soybean Board and I spent my last 20 years of my work career with the soybean organization. I retired in 2018 and I’m enjoying retirement.

Is there any memory that sticks out for you or story that you could share from your time at Illinois Corn?

Campen: My proudest moment, if you will, with Illinois Corn is when John Block was appointed agriculture secretary by President Reagan. John, we called him Jack, was one of the co-founders of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, so obviously very proud that that would all take place with one of our leaders moving to such a high level.

I would add is from what I can see on your website, Illinois Corn has progressed greatly since the early days and my congratulations to the organization and to farmers. You’ve done well.

Tom Doran

Tom Doran

Field Editor