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Local Editorials

Conversations with Dr. Borlaug

For two years, I was the sports editor of the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press. And while the pay wasn’t the greatest, I had some of the most surreal experiences of my life in that job.

And while I got to cover hometown champions, like Sage Rosenfels and Eric Juergens, I have most of those surreal moments had absolutely nothing to do with sports. You can blame the Sentinel-Press’ publisher emeritus at the time, Bob Melvold, for that.

Bob had a lot of friends who would just “pop in” from time to time. Among them was his best friend from high school, Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Yeah, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal (the two highest civilian honors in the U.S.). The guy who founded the World Food Prize in 1986.

“The man who saved more lives than any other man in history” was a frequent visitor to the Sentinel-Press office. And, every once in a while, I got to talk with him for just a few minutes. One of those conversations was about his work in Mexico, long before anyone had heard of the Green Revolution.

Working with the Rockefeller Foundation, he found a type of wheat that ended a severe famine on the other side of our southern border. He rarely talked about his own work, but rather the people who worked with him and how their contributions made all the difference between failure and success.

Dr. Borlaug was truly doing God’s work, using his talents to feed men, women and children all around the world. That mission spread beyond North America to Africa, Asia and beyond.

It is said, he’s saved the lives of more than a billion people — and counting. But in the half-dozen conversations we had during my two years in Maquoketa, however, he shared some valuable life lessons for me, too.

“Do your best or don’t compete,” he often said. It was a quote he attributed to his high school wrestling coach in Cresco.

“Don’t spend a lifetime looking for the perfect plant,” he once said. “Plant breeding is like poker — if you have a bad hand, throw it in; if you have a good one, don’t be afraid to bet — small differences can be decisive.”

Sure, he was talking about his work in agriculture. But, if you take a half-step back and look at the bigger picture, you can see how that mindset, applied in other areas of your life, could be most beneficial.

Today is the 100th anniversary of Dr. Borlaug’s birth. It also is National Ag Day. This morning, Dr. Borlaug’s contributions to the betterment of mankind got the proper recognition they deserve when a statue of his likeness was unveiled in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

The event was live-streamed on House Speaker John Boehner’s Ustream channel. The bipartisan event had Iowa’s elected representatives heaping praise on the man known simply as “The Hunger Fighter.”

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