Totusek family’s gift honors animal science leader
By Mallory Vaughn
Dr. Bob Totusek’s selfless legacy began some 80 years ago during the Great Depression. He was a first-generation American whose parents moved to Oklahoma from Czechoslovakia. They kept a well-tended garden and some livestock during the Dust Bowl and would deliver extra produce to their neighbors in Garber, Oklahoma, on the weekends. These experiences would help him to become one of the most influential men to come through Oklahoma State University.
He graduated from Oklahoma A&M in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. He then earned a master’s degree and doctorate in animal nutrition in 1952 from Purdue University before beginning a storied career of teaching, research, public service and administration that lasted for 38 years.
Even four years after his passing, Dr. Totusek continues to influence students, faculty and OSU’s department of animal and food sciences through a lecture series named in his honor.
The Dr. Robert Totusek Lecture Series celebrated its 25th anniversary in November, bringing people to Stillwater from across the country. In July, Totusek’s three children, Darla Flanagan, Don Totusek and Diane Stearman, endowed the lecture series with a gift of $125,000. Along with the department of animal and food sciences, the family is hopeful that others will be encouraged to help the fund grow to $200,000 and preserve Dr. Totusek’s legacy at OSU.
Dr. Totusek’s 14-year tenure as head of animal science included several changes. Undergraduate enrollment increased in his field by more than 60 percent, and funding for research nearly doubled. He was instrumental in the construction of the animal science building and arena. Later, he helped lay the groundwork for the OSU Food and Agricultural Products Center, the Beef Cattle Research Center and the Swine Research and Education Center.
“Dr. Totusek was instrumental in the constructing of the animal science building, but even more so he was passionate about livestock judging and giving students extracurricular opportunities,” said Kelsey Bruno, coordinator of the Totusek Lecture series.
The OSU Livestock Judging Team won 10 national and international livestock judging competitions while Dr. Totusek was coaching. In fact, livestock judging was one of his favorite things to do.
Dr. Totusek retired in 1990. During his retirement, he could be spotted mentoring students, connecting people in the industry and helping OSU wherever he could. He died June 6, 2014.
The Totusek Lectureship was created by a group of graduate students to celebrate and honor Dr. Totusek. Many alumni would come to the event to reconnect with their former professor.
The way he was remembered by OSU after his death made a lasting impact on the Totusek family, daughter Darla Flanagan said.
“Through hearing the testimony of the speakers, my siblings and I realized just how much of an impact he had on others and how others at OSU impacted him.” she said.
The student-run lecture series was originally funded by corporate sponsors and friends of Dr. Totusek. The Totusek family decided to endow the lectureship this past year, as a way of honoring both their father and mother, Nellie Totusek, who died a few months after her husband in 2014.
“The combination of educational value and industry networking provided by the lecture series is a nice representation of what Dad wanted to provide to students and grad students,” Flanagan said.
Friend and former colleague Dr. Dennis White remembered well how strongly Totusek advocated for his students. In one instance, he called on behalf of a student applying for a job at a local feed yard. When the young man arrived for an interview, he was given a job offer instead.
The lecture series is a way the beloved professor’s legacy continues to champion students by providing practical experience as they manage the event.
“The thing about Dr. Totusek was that he had a feel for a student’s capabilities. He was always able to nudge them into the right role,” White said.
The students did a great job at the November event, which featured Ann Burkholder. The Nebraska native is an expert in animal science and ethics and is known as “Feedyard Foodie” to her blog followers because of her background as boss of a feed yard.
Bruno said Burkholder created a draw for the 25th annual event, calling her a passionate advocate for animal science.
“She has great insight about the future of the beef industry and understands the changes,” Bruno said. “She has something to say to all audiences, young and old.”
In the past, the event has attracted animal science experts from across the country. Speakers come with experience from university classrooms to the American Breeders Service.
The Totusek children, Bruno and White all hope that increasing the lecture series’ endowment will ensure the event continues to evolve and inspire others.