Summer 2014


Robert R. Spitzer in his home in Burlington. Books and essays he authored, along with notes, awards and memorabilia from his business and service travels around the world, are being given to the Wisconsin Historical Society, which a few years ago honored him with the Charles Van Hise Award for Distinction in Education. Photo by Andrea Engebretson BS'96 MS'99

Robert R. Spitzer BS’44 MS’45 PhD’47 has held such positions as president and CEO of the agribusiness firm Murphy Products, president of the Milwaukee School of Engineering and head of the U.S. State Department’s Food for Peace program.

But as the son of hardworking tenant farmers in rural Wisconsin, he understands the value of financial support. When Spitzer went off to study at UW-Madison in 1940 he received a $100 scholarship from Sears, Roebuck & Co.

“That $100 was a big number back when tuition was very modest,” says Spitzer. “I felt from day one that I owed a lot of people.”

During his time at CALS, where he eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in biochemisty and animal nutrition, Spitzer learned from some of the college’s most illustrious figures. “I worked in a lab next to Harry Steenbock,” he says. “Conrad Elvehjem was one of my teachers.” Other early influences included E.B. Hart, Henry Ahlgren and Mike Foster.

“All these men happened to be not only good scientists but people of breadth and vision,” recalls Spitzer. “The teaching was not only about dairy chemistry or organic chemistry—it was teaching about culture, and about obligation and opportunity.”

The importance of good teaching stayed with him. “When I got out in industry I saw research recognized and I got the feeling that the teaching end of things needed more light on it,” he says. “And so in 1968 we established an outstanding teacher award at my company.”

When the company was sold, Spitzer stepped up to personally ensure that the award continued by establishing a fund at the UW Foundation and designating a portion of his estate to benefit future generations. The Spitzer Excellence in Teaching Award each year provides recognition and $1,000 to a worthy CALS educator.

“It’s motivational,” says this year’s winner Ronald L. Russell, a senior lecturer in animal sciences. “It drives me to want to do an even better job on the teaching front.”

Spitzer continues to serve in various civic organizations and on corporate boards—for example, he’s a director and senior mentor with Kikkoman Foods, Inc.—and, with his wife, Delores, advocate for the things he cares about.

Ensuring an adequate food supply for all—the subject of his book, No Need for Hunger—is one of his most abiding passions.

“To me the true avenue to peace in the world is agriculture training and agricultural independence so that people have enough to eat—and the pride that goes with that kind of life,” he says.

For information about establishing funds, designating a portion of your estate, or making a gift to CALS now, please contact Sara Anderson at the UW Foundation, tel. (608) 263-9537, e-mail

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