DeKALB – On Tuesday, for the first time in 20 years, former CEO of DeKalb Genetics Corp. Bruce Bickner walked through the doors of his former headquarters.
Bickner attended DeKalb Alumni Association’s 40th annual reunion at the building, 3100 Sycamore Road, now Northern Illinois University’s Health, Wellness and Literacy Center. During the reunion, an Illinois State Historical Marker honoring DeKalb Ag was unveiled.
The marker is the ninth in a series of DeKalb County historical markers sponsored by DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association Inc. and the Illinois State Historical Society commemorating local agricultural innovation.
“What they did changed agriculture around the world. It made farmers and their fields more productive and successful,” said Larry Mix, head of the DAAHA’s historical marker committee.
Other local markers are dedicated to DeKalb Ag’s winged ear logo, DeKalb Poultry Research Inc., DeKalb Swine Breeders, the Marsh Harvester, DeKalb County Farm Bureau, the first hybrid seed corn testing plot, Jacob Haish, and William George Eckhardt.
“These markers recognize contributions made in agriculture around DeKalb County,” Mix said. “DAAHA’s board approved the DeKalb Ag marker in March. DeKalb Ag is an important, vital part of our community’s history. The company successfully commercialized various agricultural innovations in seed, swine, poultry [and other endeavors.]”
According to the historical marker, DeKalb’s roots date back to 1912, when a group of farmers and bankers formed the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association. In 1917, the DeKalb County Agricultural Association was formed.
DeKalb’s original headquarters was located on Fifth Street in DeKalb. The headquarters moved to the Sycamore Road location in 1966.
In 1970, the company went public on NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange. In 1998, Monstano Company purchased DeKalb for a total company valuation of $3.7 billion. Bayer Ag purchased Monsanto in 2018.
Through the years, DeKalb has been known as DeKalb Agricultural Association, DeKalb AgResearch and DeKalb Genetics Corp.
DeKalb’s hybrid corn research began in 1924, and by 1940, DeKalb led the nation in hybrid corn sales. The company was also involved in oil and gas exploration and other agriculture and oil-related businesses.
DeKalb is recognized as the first company to patent transgenic corn, later introducing genes that provide farmers with herbicide, pest and disease resistance. DeKalb applied hybridization principles to sorghum, sunflowers, egg-laying poultry and swine breeding stock and later varietal alfalfa and soybean seed.
DAAHA Board President Norm Larson, who was also a DeKalb seed dealer for 10 years, said that the marker was a way to “honor and commemorate the large group of talented individuals that were a part of DeKalb Ag through the years.”
“It’s such a wonderful opportunity to be back in the old [headquarters] building with many of the people that made this company great,” Larson said. “Even though some of those people are no longer with us, this marker is a way to remember them and their achievements through the years.”
Doug Roberts, whose great-grandfather Fred Townsend was one of the original founders of the DeKalb County
Soil Improvement Association, was
one of the many guest speakers at the marker’s unveiling. Other speakers included Bickner, Larson, Northern Illinois University’s acting President
Lisa Freeman, Illinois State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith, Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang and DeKalb Brand Lead of Bayer Crop Science Pete Uitenbroek.
“Growing up with DeKalb, the Ag was family and the family was Ag,” Roberts said. “I’m just thankful for all of the dedicated, hard-working people from all walks of life that made DeKalb Ag what it was.”
Mix said that DAAHA is working on creating additional markers in DeKalb County.
“DAAHA has several other markers we want to do in the future,” he said. “We are currently working on markers that capture the great stories of innovation in the area. The markers are a way to remember those stories and DeKalb County’s history for future generations.”
“The Historical Markers of DeKalb County,” a free self-guided tour booklet can be picked up at DAAHA, 111 S. Second St., Suite 204. For information about DAAHA and the nine historical markers, visit www.daaha.org.