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Obituary: Dr. Donald Paarlberg
Dr. Donald Paarlberg

Dr. Don Paarlberg, an economist and agricultural policy advisor to three presidents, died Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, in West Lafayette, Ind., at age 94.

Paarlberg lived his life as a farmer, a teacher, a senior government official, an author, and a poet. He was born in Oak Glen, (now Lansing) Ill. in 1911. After his graduation from high school he remained at home to farm for eight years in Indiana during the Great Depression, but then went on to earn an undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University and a Ph.D. from Cornell.

He married Eva Robertson, of West Lafayette, in 1940; they made West Lafayette their home, where they were lifelong members of the First United Methodist Church. Between periods teaching agricultural economics at Purdue, where he was named Hillenbrand Distinguished Professor, Paarlberg held federal government appointments from Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford. He served at various times as Assistant to the President, as the first coordinator of the Food for Peace Program, as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, and as Director of Agricultural Economics at the USDA. He also served as economic advisor to four USDA Secretaries: Benson, Hardin, Butz and Knebel.

Late into his life, Dr. Paarlberg remained a prolific writer, authoring or co-authoring nine books on a range of subjects in agriculture and economic policy. Privately for most of his life he also wrote poetry, and decided at age 90 to publish a volume of his verses, most of which were written to his wife Eva, who died in 1997.

Paarlberg received many honors over his lifetime, including an honorary doctorate at Purdue, an award as one of Purdue’s Great Teachers, and an award for Distinguished and Meritorious Service from the American Farm Bureau Federation. In February 2002, Purdue University presented Dr. Paarlberg with its highest honor, the Order of the Griffin, in recognition of his strength, vision, commitment, and service to the university. He was also a member of the MCL Koffee Klatch.

Paarlberg is survived by Don Jr. and Heeja Paarlberg of Fairfax Va., Robert Paarlberg and Marianne Perlak of Watertown Mass., and one grandson, Michael. Two of his three brothers, Russell of Alabama and Horace of West Lafayette, survive him as well.

A memorial service was held on Feb. 20 at First United Methodist Church in West Lafayette, the Rev. John Wortinger officiating. Private interment followed at Grandview Cemetery.

Indiana Lt. Governor Skillman had the following to say about the passing of Dr. Don Paarlberg:

“Dr. Don Paarlberg was an expert in American agricultural policy. He served for three U.S. Presidents and advised four Secretaries of Agriculture.

“Over the course of his lifetime, Dr. Paarlberg made tremendous contributions to agriculture both in Indiana and across the United States as a Purdue University professor, an economist, and a public servant. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

This farm news was published in the February 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.