The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) was saddened by the passing of its Board Secretary Larry Lee Johnson on July 19, 2020. While the time since his passing has been one of grief for AURI, we wish to share this memorial with you, the valued Ag Innovation News reader.
Larry was a committed board member and advocate for the AURI and Minnesota’s agricultural community. He began his volunteer service with AURI in January 2017 and had just started his second three-year term in 2020. Larry’s contributions to Minnesota’s value-added agriculture extended for decades beyond his service for AURI. The positive impact Larry had on his fellow directors, AURI staff and the industry will be long-lasting.
Larry had an exceptional life grounded in his deep roots within Minnesota’s agricultural community. Born in St. Peter, Minnesota in 1944, Larry was a life-long resident of San Francisco Township where he ran a cash grain farm and turkey hatching egg operation for three decades.
Many of us at AURI remember Larry for his persistent curiosity, larger-than-life presence and iconic mustache. He was known for always being ready with a question no matter the topic or AURI project. Larry became involved in many facets of the organization, from providing guidance on new technology development and acting as a public face of the organization to engaging with staff on their project work and check-in calls. He was committed to his board responsibilities and was always quick to volunteer his time and support to new initiatives.
He was a positive influence on new board members who said he made them feel welcomed and comfortable in their first meetings to the board, calling him an instant friend. His curiosity was a notable value as he was not afraid to ask any question (what, why and how) during meetings, which contributed to a positive environment for others to jump into discussions and ask questions or engage with insight. That humbleness of showing he did not have all the answers but knew how to ask the right question was an admired trait. The combination of those characteristics will be one of the most missed elements to AURI.
To those outside of AURI, Larry was often known as the “Ethanol Answer Man” for his efforts in correcting the many misperceptions about the use of ethanol blends in a variety of engines. Larry provided consulting services to many facets of the U.S. ethanol industry as well as policy support for fuel ethanol interests. He was one of the founders of the public/private partnership in Minnesota that has come to be known as the “Minnesota Ethanol Model.”
Larry was active in the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, serving as President in 1985. He also served on many other boards and task forces including the National Corn Growers Board and the Metro Association of SWCDs. He was elected as supervisor to the Carver Soil and Water Conservation District from 1978 to 1990.
It was Larry’s curiosity and personal approach that made the biggest impression on people. He had a special way of interacting with AURI team members that made them feel valued and heard. According to AURI Board Chair Ron Obermoller, “Larry never quit trying to improve his world, whether it was helping strangers or advancing research to build rural Minnesota. While we will eventually fill Larry’s seat on the Board, we will never be able to replace him.”
Larry took his commitments seriously, while also being serious about making it fun in the process. He was consistent in his approach and those that met him often cited his good-natured personality, openness and approachable demeanor.
To summarize Larry’s mark on AURI, the following were all mentioned by board directors and staff: larger-than-life, curious, open, warm, enthusiastic, engaged, personable, impressionable, authentic, respectful, genuine, kind, caring, approachable, dedicated, knowledgeable, good-natured, appreciated, humble, intellectual, welcoming and wonderful.
Larry is survived by his loving family and will be remembered by multiple generations of Johnsons.
His impact and contributions to AURI and the state’s agricultural economy is cause for celebration and remembrance for years to come.