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MILWAUKEE—John W. Pendleton, Ph.D. of Milwaukee, formerly of Madison, age 96, died peacefully in Milwaukee on May 15, 2018, surrounded by family. Born on a small “two-mule farm” in Tennessee, John went on to become one of the world’s leading agronomists.

After graduating from high school, John enrolled at the University of Tennessee. When World War II broke out, John volunteered for the U.S. Navy, and was commissioned as a lieutenant. John went on to serve as a naval aviator (pilot) in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. He left active service in ‘46, but served in the Naval Reserve until ‘54.

After the war, John returned to Utah, where he received his B.S. in Agriculture. There, he met the love of his life, Eleanor Spahr, and they were married in ‘48. John went on to receive a Ph.D. in Agronomy from the University of Illinois. Upon graduation he accepted a faculty position with the U of I Dept. of Agronomy, where his research focused mostly on increasing corn and soybean yields in the U.S., but his discoveries also contributed to the green revolution globally. In the ‘60s, his research played a key role in improving soybean production around the world. In ‘71, he became Chair of the Agronomy Dept. at UW-Madison, a position he held until ‘82. Thereafter, he served as a leading scientist and deputy director at the Ford/Rockefeller funded research institutes, IRRI in the Philippines and IITA in Nigeria.

His life’s mission was “feed the world,” and his efforts were recognized by the numerous awards and honors he received, including being named a Fellow of the Amer. Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, and being elected President of the Amer. Society of Agronomy. South Korea awarded him the Korean Agriculture Medallion for increasing rice production worldwide. In 2011, the U of I College of Agriculture awarded him its Award of Merit. He took great pride in the accomplishments of the 33 graduate students he sponsored from many countries, and to whom he and Eleanor opened their home. Leading agronomists and farmers the world over benefited from his research, and millions of people who otherwise would have known the pain of hunger did not, because of his work and ideas.

John and his beloved wife, Eleanor, enjoyed 66 years together and raised five children on a farm in Urbana. Eleanor and their dear daughter, Betsy Pendleton Wong, predeceased him. He was also predeceased by his parents, William and Joe Pendleton, and his sister, Betty. He is survived by his cherished children, Don (Juliene) of Marshall, Ill., Pam (Bob) Thickens of Mequon, Wis., Kip (Anne) of Woodbury, Minn., Sandie (Terese) of Shorewood Wis., and his son-in-law, Kam (Tracy) of Champaign, Ill. He was blessed with 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

John had a lifelong love of learning, and always emphasized the importance of education and hard work to all. He loved and served his country, and had great faith in the ability of Americans, and educated people the world over, to address and solve the many challenges our world faces.

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Visitation to take place on Saturday, June 9, 2018, from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., at IMMANUEL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Milwaukee, with memorial service and celebration of John’s life to follow at 2 p.m.

As a grateful recipient of G.I. Bill tuition benefits, and because supporting educational opportunities for future agronomists and ag leaders was an important issue for John, several years ago John established a scholarship fund through the University of Illinois Foundation, for students seeking to obtain advanced degrees in crop sciences. For those desiring to assist the fund’s work or make a gift honoring John, donations may be directed to the UIF Johnny W. Pendleton Fellowship in Crop Sciences Fund (#11338472) either online at (by selecting the “other” category and specifying the above fund), or by mailing a check to the U of I Foundation, 1305 W. Green St., MC-386, Urbana, IL 61801 (UIF asks that donors mailing donations include a note specifying the fund name).

the life of: Pendleton, John W., Ph.D.
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