MADISON—Truman Frederick Graf, a well-known Madisonian and internationally known Agricultural Economist, passed away on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at Attic Angel. He was born to Herbert and Rose Sell Graf on Sept. 18, 1922, in New Holstein, Wis., and grew up on a small dairy farm. Truman’s mother, Rose, died from injuries in a traffic accident when Truman was four, resulting in Truman being raised by his father and aunts.
Electrification grids had not reached that part of Wisconsin when he was a child. The electricity came from running a generator, which could only power a few light bulbs. Education was attending a one room country school for his first eight grades. Getting to school in the 1920’s often involved joining classmates walking barefoot, sometimes through thistle fields and over gravel roads over the two miles. He graduated with high honors and again with honors from New Holstein High School. That led to receiving two scholarships, which allowed him to enroll at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
While an undergraduate, World War II resulted in him leaving his studies and enlisting in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, proudly earning his “Wings of Gold” and becoming commissioned a Navy Ensign. He flew a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver Dive Bomber, the largest single engine airplane flying at the time. He continued flying in the Navy Reserve for a couple of years after the War ended, then transferred into Naval Intelligence, after obtaining top secret clearance. He continued serving in the Reserves, in Naval Intelligence, throughout his professional career, retiring from the Navy as a Full Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve after 30 years of service.
After leaving full time Navy service when the War ended, Truman returned to studies at the University of Wisconsin, earning a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics. While completing his studies he met Sylvia Thompson and invited her to a date for Homecoming to the Student Union where Tommy Dorsey was playing. They were married less than a year later. Their happiness continued with the birth of Eric, Siri (Bill) Fraser, Peter (Barb) and their children Sara and Christopher, and great-grandchildren Maren and Viggo.
Following graduation, he worked in Madison for several years for the U.S. Department of Agriculture doing research. He then was offered, and accepted, a position on the faculty as a Professor of Agricultural Economics with responsibilities for teaching, research, and U.W. Extension.
His areas of expertise were: dairy policy; dairy marketing; federal milk orders; dairy promotion; transportation; international trade; and dairy pricing such as butterfat, nonfat solids, components, protein and whey. Over the course of his career as a faculty member, Truman taught many classes and authored several hundred publications. He also worked extensively with local, state and national farm and dairy industry groups. His counsel was sought by various Governors, U.S. Senators and Members of Congress, and other government officials on programs to increase dairy and agricultural profitability. Among many professional awards he received were: “Best Published Research Paper” from the American Agricultural Economics Association; first educator to be named World Dairy Expo Man of the Year; Wisconsin Cooperative Leader Award; the National Dairy Shrine Award; UWEX Distinguished Service Award; Wisconsin Federation of Coops Cooperative Builder Award; and the Uhlman award from the Chicago Board of Trade, among other honors.
Following a 35 year career as a Professor at the UW, Truman stepped back from active duties and was awarded Emeritus Professor Status. Throughout his professional career at the UW, he never accepted outside consulting fees for his extension and research findings as he believed his opinions were not for sale while he was serving the people of Wisconsin as a faculty member. Shortly before retirement, the Department of Agricultural Economics moved into a new building on the Madison Campus. A fund raising effort was launched to make some improvements to the building. A measure of respect for Truman within the dairy industry was evidenced when dairy firms and cooperatives he had worked with donated sums in excess of six figures in Truman’s name for the renovation, honoring his service.
The years following retirement as an active faculty member led into a new career of sorts, working overseas in many countries, suggesting to governments what could be done to improve agricultural income for producers. Truman was asked to visit the following countries to study the dairy industry and recommend new initiatives: Finland; Ukraine; U.S.S.R.; Poland; Hungary; Romania; Bulgaria; Kazakhstan; Armenia; Zimbabwe; and Honduras. These studies were funded by the U.W., State of Wisconsin, Congress, as well as by grants from the Fulbright Program and Ford Foundation.
Domestically Truman served as an expert witness in over 100 lawsuits involving damages to agricultural producers from stray voltage, or other economic matters involving agriculture. This involved assessing the facts and preparing data and projections offered as expert evidence and on the stand testifying.
Truman did volunteer work as a board member at Oakwood Senior Housing for eight years, Wisconsin Retired Educators Association, Kiwanis, advisor to Land O’ Lakes Board, National AARP Board and other groups. He enjoyed bowling, golfing, bridge, sheepshead, and playing gin rummy. He and Sylvia had season tickets for Badger football and basketball for over 60 years.
“My goal in life has been to make a contribution to society which will long outlast my stay on earth. I have attempted to do this through teaching, research, and public service work in my professional field, agricultural economics, and also as a “good citizen” in non-professional related volunteer work. My philosophy of life is that we all owe society far more than it owes us, and I hope to make at least a partial payment on my share of the debt.”—Truman Graf, 1985
Truman is survived by Sylvia, his wife of 70 years; their children, Eric, Siri (Bill) and Peter (Barb); grandchildren, Sara and Christopher; and great-grandchildren, Maren and Viggo Masters. In addition he is survived by many dear relatives, especially Bjorn Thompson and his family. Truman is also survived by his sister-in-law, Kay Graf, in Maryland, and her sons. Truman’s brother, Lloyd, predeceased him. A private family service will be held.
Memorials may be sent to the Truman and Sylvia Graf Agricultural Scholarship Fund at the UW Foundation, 1848 University Ave., Madison, WI 53726, or Attic Angel Resident Aid Fund, 8301 Old Sauk Road, Middleton, WI 53562.