For Antigo Times
The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Hall of Fame honors lifetime achievement in the development of the state’s potato industry. It is the intention of the WPVGA to continue to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the potato industry in Wisconsin by making annual Hall of Fame inductions.
The following is a brief biographical sketch of this year’s WPVGA Hall of Fame inductees. Awards were presented at the WPVGA’s annual awards banquet held February 3, 2016 in Stevens Point.
Charles A. (Charlie) Cofer was born in Bruceville, Indiana in 1917, to John and Mary Cofer. He graduated from Bruceville High School in 1936. After graduation he joined the Navy, serving during World War II. When he returned from the navy he married Ann Cline on November 12, 1947 in Columbia, Tennessee.
His life in the potato business began in Knox County, Indiana. He would drive trucks to Wisconsin, buy loads of potatoes, and return to Indiana to sell them. Charlie was offered a job selling potatoes for Arrowhead Potato Company in Antigo, Wisconsin in 1953. He accepted this position and moved there with his wife, Ann, and children. He was employed at Arrowhead Potato for several years.
He founded Pack Right Foods under the Alamo brand, and later established Antigo Auction Sales. He was past president of the Wisconsin Short Horn Association, and Belgian Horse Association of America. In 1968 and 1969 Charlie worked seasonally for Kerr&Rebel, brokering potatoes out of Florida. During this time he also farmed with Circle P Farms, and started contracting with Old Dutch Foods. He continued to rent land farming potatoes privately. In 1975 he began purchasing land in Adams County around the Coloma area and became an early innovator in growing chip potatoes.
Charlie, along with his son, Dan, farmed 600 acres. Another son, Bill, helped out when needed. In 1965 he founded Farmers Potato Exchange in Antigo, Wisconsin, acting as a broker for farmers throughout Wisconsin and other areas of the country. His son, Dave, joined the brokerage division of the business in 1979. Farmers Potato Exchange continued to operate successfully with sons Dave and Dan for many years. The Adams County farm was sold in 2006 ending the farming portion of the business. The Farmers Potato Exchange is still in full operation today, owned and operated by Dave Cofer. Charlie passed away on July 27, 1993 at the age of 75.
He is survived by his two sons Dave (Dee) Cofer Antigo, Wisconsin and Dan (Lisa) Cofer, Ekalaka, Montana; two daughters: Debbie (Jim) Mattek Deerbrook, Wisconsin and Dianne (Bill) Zelinski, Plover, Wisconsin; Daughter-in-law Betty Cofer, Rochester, Minnesota; and many grandchildren. His wife, Ann, passed away in 1995, followed by his son Bill in 2012.
Cofer is thought of often and greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.
Robert J. Guenther
Robert J. Guenthner was the first child born to Joseph F. Guenthner and Carol Dawley in Antigo, Wisconsin. Joe and Carol owned and operated a potato farm in Antigo. The farm was founded in 1926 by Bob’s grandfather Joseph S. Guenthner. Bob and his wife, Cheri own and operate the farm today. Guenthner Potato Company, Inc. currently grows certified seed potatoes, along with oats, rye grass and red clover on 800 acres of land.
Bob graduated Magna Cum Laude from UWO in 1972 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Physics. He graduated from Antigo High School in 1968.
Bob was elected and served two terms as a board member of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA). He was elected President of the WPVGA in 1979 and again in 1980. He received the WPVGA Young Grower of the Year award in 1983. He served for many years as a member of the WPVGA Research committee.
He was elected to the board of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association (WSPIA) and served two terms as a board member. Bob was also elected President of the WSPIA. Bob created the present WSPIA board structure of standing committees. He served as Chairman of the 7th Annual North American Seed Potato Seminar, which was hosted by Wisconsin in December of 1988. Along with a grower from Montana, Bob developed the Universal Seed Potato Contract.
Bob was the first potato grower in the US to demonstrate and use the Norwegian built Underhaug cup potato planter. This planter soon became very popular in Wisconsin and throughout the US.
Bob had the great pleasure of growing certified seed potatoes while the following individuals were among the Directors of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program: Henry Darling, Steve Slack, Bob Slattery, Tom German and Amy Charkowski. This list is a who’s who of outstanding potato researchers. Bob was also the grower chairman of the committee that recommended hiring Wisconsin’s current plant breeder Dr. Jeffery Endelman.
In his spare time these days, Bob is very active in serving as a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. He has qualified and is certified in both Wisconsin and Florida as a Coxswain, a telecommunications operator, a watch stander, an Aids To Navigation Verifier and a vessel examiner. Bob has taken part in sixteen search and rescue operations.
Bob’s mother Carol, his sisters Margy and Carolyn and brother Jack live in and around Antigo. Bob’s brother Joe is a University of Idaho Professor Emeritus and lives in Idaho. Bob’s pride and his joy are his wife Cheri, daughter Bobbi, her husband Mike and children Sam, Mallory and Max, along with daughter Jackie, husband Chad and their children Kaylen, Chase and a sixth grandchild to be born in March or April.
Bob is deeply moved and feels the great honor of being included as one of the members of the WPVGA Hall of Fame.