The Iowa State University Seed Science Center (ISU SSC) is saddened to report the passing of seed industry pioneer and friend, Dr. Owen J. Newlin. Newlin received a B.S. in Agronomy and a M.S. in Crop Production from Iowa State University, where he met and married his wife, Doris Jean. Owen and Doris were married on July 19, 1952. They had four children. He also earned a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1955.
Dr. Newlin dedicated his entire life to his family and helping farmers feed the world. He joined the Pioneer company in 1955 as a research assistant in the production department of the Central Division. He became production manager for the division in 1964 and served as president of the Central Division from 1967 to 1978. Newlin was elected vice president of Pioneer Hi-Bred International in 1978, senior vice president in 1986, and he retired from Pioneer in 1993. He served as a director of the company from 1963 to 1999. To Manjit Misra, Director of the ISU Seed Science Center, he was a mentor and a friend.
“It is difficult to put into words the tremendous impact Dr. Newlin has had, both on the seed industry and on Iowa State University,” Misra said. “He is truly an industry legend, a leader among leaders with unwavering dedication, integrity and forward-thinking leadership over 60 years.”
Newlin served two six-year terms on the Board of Regents, State of Iowa and was president for eight years. From 1978-1983 Newlin was the chair for the Committee in Support of New Agronomy Facilities at Iowa State University. He was president of the ISU Achievement Foundation from 1985-1986, and he chaired the successful ISU Partnership for Prominence campaign from 1988-1993. He was a member of the Iowa State University Foundation Board of Governors. He received the Iowa State University Alumni Recognition Medal, the Floyd Andre Award for Contributions to Agriculture, the Distinguished Achievement Award in 1988 and the Alumni Merit Award for outstanding contributions to human welfare in 1990. He is a Sustaining Lifetime Member of the ISU Alumni Association and Past Member of the ISU Memorial Union Board of Directors. He received the Order of the Knoll Campanile Award in 1993 and the first True and Valiant Award as well as H.A. Wallace Award in 2008. In 2017, he received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement and Service Award from the ISU Seed Science Center.
“He was a tireless advocate for Iowa State University and the Seed Science Center,” Misra said. “This is why the Seed Science Center honored one of the seed industry’s greatest champions, Owen. J. Newlin, with a Distinguished Lifetime Achievement and Service Award to recognize his exemplary leadership and commitment to excellence.”
Newlin was a long-time board member of the American Seed Research Foundation serving as president in 1982-84. He was also chair of the Corn and Sorghum Division of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) in 1975-76, Past Chair of the Subcommittee for ASTA Strategic and Allied Sponsors and served as president of ASTA from 1985-86. He was named an honorary member of ASTA in 1991 and received the first and only Lifetime Industry Achievement Award from ASTA in 2016.
He was a board member of the U.S. Grains Council from 1970 to 2002 and served as its chair in 1978-79. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Grains Council in 2005. In 1975, 1976, and 1977 he raised funds from agribusinesses to support a referendum for a Corn Check-off in Iowa. After two unsuccessful efforts, in 1977 the Iowa Corn Growers Association passed a Corn Checkoff. Over the next few years, he also raised funds to support similar successful referendums in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Ohio. He raised funds to support three unsuccessful referendum efforts in Indiana. In 1987 he was given the Distinguished Award from the Iowa Corn Growers Association. In 1993 Newlin received the President’s Award from the National Corn Growers Association, and in 2011 he received the first Iowa Corn Growers Lifetime Achievement Award.
Newlin was a board member of the Iowa Seed Association from 1967 to 1974 serving as president in 1972-1973. In 1985 he was named an honorary member of the Iowa Seed Association and received an Honorary Life Member Award from the International Seed Federation in 1996. He was named a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Fellow of the Crop Science Society of America, and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2001. In 1981, Newlin served as chair of the National Sponsors Board of the Future Farmers of America Foundation. In 1981 he received that organizations Honorary American Farmer Degree, and in 1988 Newlin received the VIP Citation from the National Future Farmers of America.
He received the Friend of Agriculture Award in 1981 from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Chapter of the National Agricultural Marketing Association (NAMA). In 1983 he received NAMA’s Agri-Marketer of the Year Award. In 1995 he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota.
Due to the pandemic a virtual service via Zoom under the care of the Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting (Quaker) is being planned for the near future and a celebration of Owen’s life is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2021.
In lieu of flowers, the Newlin family asks that contributions may be made to the Iowa State University’s Seed Science Center Research Fund, United Way of Central Iowa General Fund, Unity Point Health Foundation Medical Education and Research Fund, and the Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting General Fund. Information for this article was provided by Isles Funeral Home. His entire obituary can be read here.
The faculty and staff of ISU SSC send the Newlin family our sincere sympathies during this difficult time.