Larry Alsum (top) and Dick Okray ( Photos and logo courtesy WPVGA; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

Larry Alsum, president and CEO of Alsum Farms & Produce Inc., and Dick Okray, president of Okray Family Farms, are the newest members of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Association Hall of Fame.

Their accomplishments in state and national potato industries were recognized during the association’s annual awards banquet Feb. 5 in Stevens Point, Wis.

Alsum became the general manager of the family company, then named Alsum Produce Inc., Friesland, Wis., when his cousin died in a plane crash. He is celebrating his 39th year as president and CEO, according to a news release.

Under his leadership, the company has grown into an integrated group of companies that grow, pack, ship and market potatoes and onions, and the wholesale of a full line of fruits and vegetables, according to the release. The company has about 2,700 acres of potatoes.

Larry Alsum has had leadership roles in the Wisconsin association, the National Potato Council and Potatoes USA, as well as numerous local organizations, from volunteer fireman to school board, according to the release.

Okray has been employed since 1982 at the Plover-based Okray Family Farms, which grows 7,750 acres of potatoes and row crops. He has been on the executive committee of the U.S. Potato Board (now known as Potatoes USA), and has served as an ambassador of the U.S. potato industry, attending World Potato Congress events across the globe.

Okray's other affiliations include the Wisconsin Migrant Labor Council, United Potato Growers of Wisconsin, the United Potato Growers Association of America and the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board, currently as vice president, according to the release.


Annual WPVGA awards

The association recognized other members of the Wisconsin vegetable industry at the Feb. 5 event.

Cliff and Carole Gagas, of Gagas Farms Inc., Stevens Point, were named the association’s Volunteers of the Year. Cliff has been involved with the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board and United Potato Growers of Wisconsin. Carole Gagas was president of the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary board for six years, and has helped served baked potatoes at the Wisconsin State Fair since the mid-1980s, according to a release.

They have run the baked potato booth at the WPS Farm Show since 2008, and have been involved in serving the potatoes at the annual Spud Bowl in Stevens Point.

Jeff Fassbender is the WPVGA Young Grower of the Year. He graduated high school in 2008 and is the vice president and fourth-generation grower at Siedl Farms in Antigo. Fassbender’s father died of cancer in 2015, and he took his father’s role at the farm, according to the release.

He is president of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association, a group he’s been active in for years, according to the release.

The WPVGA Researcher of the Year is Paul Bethke, associate professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Horticulture.


WPVGA board members

The association’s board of directors on Feb. 6 elected Rod Gumz of Gumz Muck Farms, Endeavor, as president for 2020. He succeeds Wes Meddaugh of Heartland Farms, Hancock.

Other executive board appointments are Bill Guenthner, Guenthner Farms, vice president; and Mike Carter, Bushman’s Inc., treasurer.

Remaining Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association members are:

  • John Bustamente, Wysocki Family of Cos., Bancroft;
  • Dan Kakes, Kakes Farms Inc., Antigo;
  • Charlie Mattek, J.W. Mattek & Sons Inc., Deerbrook;
  • Alex Okray, Okray Family Farms, Plover; and
  • Eric Wallendal, Wallendal Supply Inc., Grand Marsh.

Related story:

Alsum Farms & Produce celebrates 45 years