By Scott A. Yates
It’s interesting to speculate whether Orville Vogel would have ever become the renowned wheat breeder, plot equipment designer/fabricator and general all-around great guy were it not for a slip of the tongue as a 12 year old.
An oral history Vogel recorded in 1984 refers only to his parents separating when he was in the seventh grade. That’s about as much as Richard Vogel, Orville’s son, knew most of his life. Then, in the 1980s, on a drive to Spokane from Pullman for a medical visit, the elder Vogel explained what happened and why his son never had relatives on his father’s side of the family.
Around 1919, young Vogel, who lived with his parents and four siblings on a farm outside Pilger, Neb., accompanied his father, William, to Omaha to sell cattle. When he returned, Vogel told his mother he had gone with his father to a house of ill repute. It’s not hard to imagine a 12 year old failing to understand the significance of that comment, but his mother, Emelia did not. With that, she sent her husband on his way, never to be seen again.
The man who became the father of semidwarf wheats—without which Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” would not have been possible—didn’t go to the seventh grade much on account of his being the oldest son and it falling on him to look after the farm. After a year, however, his mother made the decision to sell and move the family to town.
In Pilger, Vogel got a job from his uncle for a $1 a day and room and board and entered eighth grade. He had already made the decision he wasn’t going to high school “because I felt pretty dumb,” but a friend asked for his help tutoring math. When Vogel found out the boy had passed his algebra and beginning Latin classes, he says on the oral history, “I thought of all the dumb guys— here I helped him and he made it, so I’m going to go to high school.” He never missed a day in four years.
Read more in Wheatlife.