Reflecting On 50 Years Of AWA

The Association of Women in Agriculture is celebrating 50 years of developing women leaders in agriculture and beyond. No one knows this better than its 10 founding members. Two of them join us in-studio: Phyllis Gerner Agnew and Patty Prust Heckart, both hailing from Jefferson County.

In the spring of 1973, AWA’s founding members majoring in agriculture formed the Ag Women’s Cooperative. Soon after, they learned they couldn’t use the word “cooperative”. In the fall of 1974, the name was then changed to the Association of Women in Agriculture. Bylaws were also drafted that fall. Dues were set at $1.

One year later, 12 members shared rent for $375 a semester at 308 N Prospect Street. The home was referred to as “the AWA house”. Meetings were held there and membership quickly soared to 47 members.

Agnew and Heckart are happy to see, 50 years later, that the social elements are a key pillar of the association. They’re amazed at the professional opportunities that members have today.

The founding members established an organization of women passionate about agriculture, who created memories, lifelong friendships, a network of support, and professional development to become leaders in every way possible.

Agnew and Heckart said it doesn’t matter who started the organization or how long ago it was, but that it’s still serving its purpose today. 

Agnew is a dairy farmer in Mapleton. Heckart had a long career in meat grading for USDA.

The music at the beginning? That is a tape recording of the Association of Women in Agriculture’s first barbershop quartet rehearsing for the winter ball competition at UW-Madison 50 years ago. They called themselves Tootsie Rose, the first female group. Agnew says they won first place much to the dismay of the male fraternities on campus.