Wayne and Peggy Thiessen
Since 1970 Wayne ’62 ’65 and Peggy ’65 Thiessen of Boise have either donated or committed a total $950,000 to the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, including $75,000 to UI Extension 4-H Youth Development, an organization that impacted both of their lives.
The two Idaho farm kids first met as high-schoolers at a regional 4-H event in Portland. Four years later they began a lifelong romance as students at a University of Idaho nickel-a-dance mixer.
“I remember you,” Peggy Roper told Wayne after he paid his nickel to dance with her as young men cycled through women’s living groups in the university’s 1950s style get- acquainted ritual. “You were the guy with the cutest lamb at the Pacific International Livestock Exposition in Portland,” she remembered. Within three years they had married.
At that exposition, Wayne’s “cutest” lamb, the offspring of a ewe from a UI sheep herd, became the reserve grand champion. “The UI raised good sheep,” recalls Thiessen. Its sale contributed to Wayne’s college fund.
“We had a lot in common because of our 4-H and farming backgrounds,” says Peggy. But their farming experiences also reflect huge style differences within Idaho agriculture. Wayne grew up on his family’s wheat ranch, which they still own near Lewiston. It was homesteaded by his grandfather before Idaho became a state. Peggy’s experience was more labor intensive. One of six children of a Canyon County sharecropper, she recalls spending summers hoeing corn and beans and detasseling corn. “I can’t say I miss that hard work,” she said in a telephone interview.
One of their three children got a UI degree—Karen got a law degree. All three are translating MBA degrees into impressive careers: Michael, a consultant in Chicago for new sports facilities; Todd, a New York-based dot.com consultant; and Karen, practicing law in Dallas.
Ore-Ida leadership role & UI research
Shortly after H.J. Heinz bought Ore-Ida Foods in 1965, the company hired Wayne, who became general manager in both agriculture and procurement. During his 22-year career, the company’s frozen potato products dominated the market. Thiessen worked “extensively” with the University of Idaho’s potato and potato storage researchers, whom he considers “among the best in the nation.”
Since retiring in 1995, Thiessen served as chairman of the Idaho Food Quality Assurance Institute and as a respected member of Food Producers of Idaho.
Thiessen helped found the CALS Alumni & Friends Association and supports many college and university efforts. In 2002 he was inducted to the Idaho 4-H Hall of Fame, after leading the 4-H Endowment Board and helping run a $1 million endowment campaign.
Why support the UI?
Both Wayne and Peggy see their University of Idaho support as “paying forward” benefits they’ve enjoyed. “I think paying it forward is an important part of being a good citizen,” Peggy said. “I was fortunate to go to college, the first in my family. I attribute that to my 4-H activity and mentors who guided me.” Wayne agrees. “Others helped pay for our educations. As state and federal funding to the UI decline, it is incumbent on alums as beneficiaries of the university to step up and fill that gap.”
Gifts to UI CALS and 4-H
- Wayne L. Thiessen Soil Science Scholarship Endowment: $25,000 funds scholarships for UI soil science majors.
- Wayne & Peggy Thiessen Idaho State 4-H Endowment: $75,000, including matching funds from the H.J. Heinz Foundation, honors Peggy’s mother Doris Roper and Wayne’s father John Thiessen for their 4-H leadership roles.
- Niccolls building renovation: $46,000-plus for renovating CALS’ School of Family and Consumer Sciences building.
- Wayne L. and Peggy J. Thiessen Endowment: $750,000 will be funded by a life-insurance policy.
—from the Summer 2009 issue of CALS' Programs and People magazine