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The 2016 Hall of Distinction Induction Ceremony was held on March 16, 2016 at L'auberge Casino & Hotel in Baton Rouge.
Pineville resident Willie Cooper has spent most of his life in service – for the U.S. Army, more than half a century with the Louisiana Farm Service Agency and his ongoing volunteerism with the Louisiana Lions League for Crippled Children.
Today, we honor Willie as one of the most dedicated members of our state’s farming community. Willie served as state executive director for LSFA an unprecedented 42 years, developing an incredible depth of understanding for agricultural program policy and the needs of the industry and producers. During that time, he and his staff provided invaluable counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, members of Congress, producers and numerous producer groups.
Under Willie’s guidance, LSFA played a major role during the mid-1990s in securing billions in USDA farm loan programs that offered direct capital investment to producers. Among his many accomplishments is Willie’s involvement with disaster recovery programs that provide critical relief after hurricanes. With his staff, he helped establish the Sugar Cane Disaster Program and the Hurricane Assistance Program. In 2007, Willie earned the USDA’s Secretary’s Award for his steadfast commitment to disaster programs that brought relief to producers devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In fact, Willie has been honored at nearly every level for his outstanding work. He was The Progressive Farmer magazine’s Man of the Year in 2000. He’s also the winner of multiple Service to Agriculture awards from the Farm Service Agency and earned the Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Distinguished Service Award in 2014. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Louisiana Farm Bureau in recognition of his contributions.
His legacy of service extends well beyond agriculture. A lifetime member of the Louisiana Lions League for Crippled Children, Willie received the Melvin Jones Fellowship, the highest honor given by Lions Club International.
A certified master farmer, Ruben is owner and operator of Wayside Farms in Avoyelles Parish and operator and manager of O&V Lands as a beef cattle producer. Named Outstanding Louisiana Master Farmer of the Year in 2014, he has dedicated much of his career to soil and water conservation, and on-farm environmental stewardship.
Raised on his family’s farm in Marksville, Ruben earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from LSU. He went on to serve as a research associate at LSU, studying the use of foam in protecting strawberry crops from frost damage. He also worked with the LSU AgCenter, growing research test plots for the LSU Agricultural Experiment Station and contributing important research to agricultural economic development.
Even though he’s not a sweet potato grower, Ruben was a major promoter of Louisiana’s sweet potato weevil eradication program. As a cotton grower, he also played an instrumental role in the state’s boll weevil eradication program, helping cotton producers save millions of dollars in crop losses. He has implemented numerous conservation and best-practices policies on his farms, including crop rotation, sheet and rill erosion prevention, and strip and rotational grazing.
Ruben serves as president of the Louisiana Association of Conservation Districts and as a board member for the Southeast Council of Conservation and National Association of Conservation Districts. He played a pivotal role in bringing the National Association of Conservation Districts’ 2015 conference to New Orleans, which brought a nationwide audience to Louisiana’s agriculture community.
A Louisiana Cattleman’s Association member and past president, Ruben was also named Outstanding Louisiana Master Farmer of the Year in 2014. In addition, he has a rich history in support of the LSU College of Agriculture Alumni Association and is a member of the LSU College of Agriculture Dean’s Council and Grassroots Network. He is a strong supporter of Louisiana 4-H and was instrumental in gathering legislative and financial support for building the Louisiana 4-H Museum in Avoyelles Parish.
Raymond was born in the 1930s to a farming family in Crowley. By the time he was a teenager, Raymond was pitching in with cotton, rice and cattle during the day then pitching for the local baseball team at night.
His work with the Crowley Millers was good enough for an offer to play for Tampa Bay. Raymond turned down the opportunity, however, to the great fortune of Louisiana’s agriculture community.
Instead, he accepted an offer to work as a rough-rice buyer with Dore Rice Mill, where he spent the next 27 years. Raymond also sold seed rice and soybean seed on the side, a venture that blossomed into G&H Seed Co. Established in 1968, G&H became one of southwest Louisiana’s leading agricultural suppliers.
Raymond’s passion for entrepreneurship led him to open a host of companies – Hensgens Grain Elevator Inc., Hensgens Fertilizer Co. and Quality Equipment Co., which now has six locations. He introduced Acadia Parish to soybeans and was the first to offer fertilizer in a bulk auger truck, both major innovations at the time.
Though he passed away in 2013, Raymond’s contributions to Louisiana’s farm community will be felt for generations to come. He worked closely with the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture to write and implement laws that directly affect farmers. His work earned him the Louisiana Agricultural Industries Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
Throughout his success, Raymond gave his time to numerous farming and civic organizations. In addition to serving as president of the Louisiana Seed Association, he was a member of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture State Seed Commission and the state Weights and Measures Commission. He was a supporter of the LSU Rice Research Station in the development of new higher yielding, higher quality rice varieties.
Raymond contributed to Germanfest and the German Cove Museum honoring and preserving Acadiana’s German heritage. He was also an honoree of the International Rice Festival.
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