New inductees and Pioneer Award recipients are honored.
Three men who made their marks in plant breeding, pork production and soil are the newest inductees in the Auburn University Agriculture Hall of Honor.
Edgar A. "Eddie" Aldridge, L.O. Bishop and Benjamin F. Hajek were honored on Feb. 9, 2017, during a ceremony held at the hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.
Also honored during the event were Loren L. Aldridge, Eddie’s late father, and James O. Helms Jr. They received Alabama Agriculture Pioneer Awards.
HALL OF HONOR
Hard work never intimidated Eddie, whose family included older brother Mac. Their operation included a greenhouse and nursery business in Bessemer.
In 1952, Eddie followed in his dad’s and sibling’s footsteps by enrolling at Auburn University (then known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute).
During his freshman year, tragedy struck the Aldridge family when Mac died of a brain tumor. Eddie decided to put college on hold for a while when he joined the Army.
In 1954, after completing military service, Eddie joined his family’s garden shop and nursery business that had become one of America’s first full-scale retail garden centers.
During subsequent years, father and son built their business into a highly successful operation. After Loren’s death, Eddie increased the family business in size and scope to the extent that he was recognized as a pioneer in Alabama’s green industry.
An avid plant breeder, he developed many new cultivars of ornamental plants and shrubs with one emerging as a nationally known oak leaf hydrangea mutation. Patented and known as "Snowflake," it graces gardens and landscapes around the world.
Bishop began farming at the age of 15, after the death of his father, and produced his first full crop in 1954. Since that time, he has had an extensive farming career including no-tilling corn, soybeans and wheat.
Although he now farms over 700 acres of timber and row crops, he is best known as one of Alabama’s leading pork producers.
Bishop began raising hogs about eight years into his farming career and, during the operation’s most successful period, he maintained 200 sows and sold over 4,000 market hogs annually.
In addition to those accomplishments, he is also known for his mouthwatering Bishop’s Barbecue, gaining him praise outside agriculture circles.
In 1966, Bishop and his wife Grace were among the first selected by the Alabama Farm Bureau as Alabama’s Young Farm Family of the Year.
In the five decades since, he has worked tirelessly as a well-known and respected ambassador of agriculture.
In 2013, the Alabama Farmers Federation recognized Bishop with its Service to Agriculture Award – the highest award bestowed by that organization.
The Bishops still live on the farm where he spent his childhood and began his agriculture career. They have three children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
For someone born and raised in Texas, Benjamin Hajek has made quite a name for himself in Alabama, thanks to his amazing career at Auburn University.
Hajek’s early years were spent on a farm in southeast Texas before joining the Army in 1950. He returned to his native state after his stint in the military and earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science at Texas A&M University.
Master’s and doctoral degrees followed at Auburn University, where he was an assistant professor of agronomy and soils specializing in soil classification and clay mineralogy.
During that time, he developed a reputation as an outstanding researcher and teacher, not to mention direction of soil judging teams who won unprecedented national championships in Intercollegiate Soils Judging competitions.
Hajek and his wife Rosalie have continued to live in Auburn. They have four sons, who established an endowed scholarship in their dad’s name at the AU College of Agriculture.
A native of Boaz and agricultural graduate of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Loren lettered in football and was described as the most popular student on the campus.
After graduating, he began his career as a vegetable farmer, evolving into a greenhouse and, later, a nursery business.
He founded the Bessemer Floral Company and subsequently became well-known in the nursery and floral industry. At one point, he served as president of the Alabama Florist Association.
In 1971, he and his son, Eddie, were awarded a patent for Hydrangea quercifolia "Snowflake" that ultimately became a popular garden plant around the world.
The plant can be found thriving in New York’s Central Park, the grounds of the White House and in gardens throughout Europe, Japan and New Zealand.
Aldridge died in 1978.
James Helms Jr.
Helms was so patriotic during World War II that he drove the family’s tractor to the U.S. Navy’s recruiting office and signed up to serve his country.
After a tour in the South Pacific, he completed Officer Candidate School. When the war ended, he returned to Auburn to complete his degree in agricultural engineering in 1948.
The Enterprise native taught vocational agriculture to Coffee County veterans before accepting a position at API’s north teaching farm.
In 1962, Helms began what would be a 40-year career in farm equipment sales and, later, joined Ford Motor Company’s Tractor Division near Atlanta.
From there he bought the Montgomery Ford Tractor Co. and, under the business that bore the family’s name, it flourished for the next three decades.
Helms died in 2007.
The Hall of Honor awards program was established in 1984 when the AU Agricultural Alumni Association approved a resolution to recognize living Alabamians who have made significant contributions to the state’s agricultural industry.
In 1995, the Agricultural Pioneer Award was established to posthumously recognize individuals whose lives and work impacted the industry.
The AU College of Agriculture is currently developing plans for a permanent installation in Comer Hall to honor inductees in the Hall of Honor as well as the Pioneer Award.