U holds memorial service for Norman Borlaug

The University paid tribute to Norman Borlaug, a U alumnus, who is credited with saving a billion lives through his work on wheat.

Jeanie Laube, daughter of Norman Borlaug, speaks at her father's memorial service at McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday.

Jeanie Laube, daughter of Norman Borlaug, speaks at her father’s memorial service at McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday.

Jill Jensen

Norman Borlaug was dismayed when he had to go to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize . The world-renowned agronomist, who was credited with saving nearly a billion lives, didnâÄôt want to leave behind his wheat fields. That anecdote, told by Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin , was one of many at the memorial hosted by the University of Minnesota for one of its best-known alumni. The timing was apt. Thursday was declared âÄúDr. Norman E. Borlaug DayâÄù in Minnesota by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the same day the service was held at McNamara Alumni Center. Borlaug, who died on Sept. 12 at the age of 95, was one of only five people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, National Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, along with Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel. Hailed as the âÄúfather of the Green Revolution,âÄù Borlaug spent years developing a hardy, disease-resistant strain of wheat that drastically reduced world hunger. âÄúIt led to the single greatest period of food production and hunger reduction in all human history,âÄù said Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Prize Foundation , one of BorlaugâÄôs many legacies. Speakers shared stories and reflected on BorlaugâÄôs drive and tenacity during the service. University Head Wrestling Coach J Robinson referred to it as âÄúthat Borlaug determination.âÄù Robinson recalled his first meeting with Borlaug, an avid wrestling fan and former University wrestler, in 1986. âÄúThis guy wanders into my office âÄî I have no idea who he is âÄî introduces himself as an alumni [sic], tells me he wrestled for three years, and wants to talk about wrestling and the program and what I should do to get it on track,âÄù he said. Other attendees of the service included University President Bob Bruininks, Regents Professor Ron Phillips , and Margaret Carlson , CEO of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. The memorial has been a year and a half in the making, said Lori Engstrom , one of the memorialâÄôs coordinators. Well before his death a planning committee was organized, when it was clear BorlaugâÄôs health was failing. While a far cry from the 1,000 attendees at the memorial service held Tuesday at Texas A&M, where Borlaug was a professor, about 350 people turned out for ThursdayâÄôs memorial service. Attendees included BorlaugâÄôs daughter, Jeanie Laube , and granddaughter Jennifer Marsh , who will take BorlaugâÄôs place in this yearâÄôs Homecoming parade. Borlaug was going to serve as grand marshal in the parade. Marsh said Borlaug was looking forward to the parade and seeing the new TCF Bank Stadium. âÄúHe was so excited to come,âÄù she said. A musical tribute to Borlaug, co-written by College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences Dean Allen Levine, was performed by a brass quintet consisting of graduate students from the School of Music and spoken word performed by Shirley Venard Diercks , a teaching specialist in theatre arts and dance. Titled âÄúAll Growing Borlaug Wheat,âÄù the song chronicles the story of BorlaugâÄôs career. With trumpets blasting an amalgamation of the Iowa Corn Song, the Hymn of the University of Minnesota, and a Mexican harvest song, its lyrics may sum up BorlaugâÄôs life philosophy best: âÄúYou can have lectures or you can have wheat.âÄù