Nebo woman, Fowler man named distinguished alumni from WIU School of Agriculture

WIU ag awards

Mary Barnes, left, and Mark Dempsey | Photos courtesy of Western Illinois University

MACOMB, Ill. – Four graduates from Western Illinois University’s School of Agriculture recently were named Distinguished Alumni. The honor is a tradition that started in 2020 during the school’s 100th anniversary.

This year’s honorees are 1985 alumnus Mary (Turnbull) Barnes of Nebo, 1983 alumnus Marsha Webster of Allerton, Iowa, 1987 alumnus Kurt Rahe of Bluffs and 1987 alumnus Mark Dempsey of Fowler.

Barnes was the first female WIU graduate to secure a secondary agriculture teacher position in Illinois and one of four who taught in the state in 1985. She also has served on the section, district and Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers and the Illinois FFA Board of Directors. Barnes has taught at Barry Community School in Pike County; Western High School in Barry and Pleasant Hill High School.

Barnes received the 2008 National Association of Agricultural Education Teacher Mentor Award winner in Illinois. She was named the Outstanding NVA (NAAE) outstanding Region IV teacher in 1995. She received the District III Excellence in Teaching Award in 1996 and 2019, along with her FFA American Farmer Degree in 1983 and the Honorary American FFA Degree in 1999.

Barnes completed her master’s degree in agriculture education and mechanization at Southern Illinois University. She retired in 2019 after 35 years of teaching.

“Through the years, I have seen many changes in agriculture and education, but the students still need and want to have someone believe in them,” she said in a press release. “All teachers have that ability to make a positive difference in their students’ lives. Making the difference has led me to enjoy a simple life, raising my children, teaching God’s children and caring for the land. I credit my success to doing things I have a passion for and being adaptable to life’s change.”

Barnes has served as an advisor to four FFA chapters and taught more than 4,000 students about agriculture and FFA. She and her husband, Jerry, have two children.

Dempsey owns Bigneck Outfitters, a hunting business, and RKBA Gun Range. After graduation, he returned to his family farm near Quincy and now is in his 35th year operating the farm, first with his father and now with his son.

During his farming career, Dempsey won second place in the National Corn Growers yield contest in 2004 and took first place in 2008 with a 348-bu. yield per acre. He enjoys focusing on the marketing side of agriculture.

While at WIU, Dempsey was a member of AGR, the Hoof n’ Horn club and the 1987 livestock judging team. He is still active on campus, serving six years on the School of Agriculture’s advisory board and many years as the president of the AGR Alumni Association.

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