John Shellenberger: Educator and promoter

by Laurie Gorton
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Would the milling and baking industries be different today without the influence of John Shellenberger? Assuredly, yes. He was a natural leader, an educator who strongly promoted the industries his students entered. Throughout his life, he embodied the vigorous application of scientific methods that transformed American agriculture and the milling and baking industries in particular.

From 1944 to 1966, John A. Shellenberger, PhD (1900-87), served as head of Kansas State University (KSU)’s Department of Flour and Feed Milling (later named the School of Grain Science and Industry). It was an era of tremendous change. During his tenure, he built the world’s leading university program in milling and baking by using his education, administrative ability and extensive industry connections — accomplishments that now lead to his induction into the class of 2016 of the Baking Hall of Fame.

Dr. Shellenberger guided the school through trial and triumph. After the 1957 fire that destroyed its facility, he pushed through construction of a new building, dedicated in 1961 and named in his honor in 1970. He remained active as a distinguished professor emeritus until his death.

In 1963, working with industry and academia, Dr. Shellenberger brought the bakery science and management program to KSU. Florida State University first established the course, but as Theresa Cogswell, principal, BakerCogs, Overland Park, KS, and Baking & Snack contributing editor, noted in nominating him, “That school came to believe it was not a fit for their university, and [university-level bakery science education] may have just gone away without Dr. Shellenberger’s intervention.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Washington, his masters in milling technology from KSU and his doctorate in agriculture biochemistry from the University of Minnesota. He worked at Fisher Flour Mills during college and then became an assistant agricultural chemist at the University of Idaho. After receiving his PhD, he took a position at Mennel Milling Co., where a mutual friend introduced him to his future wife, Annabel. Dr. Shellenberger joined KSU in 1944 as head of its milling school.

According to Paul A. Seib, PhD, KSU emeritus professor of baking science, Dr. Shellenberger often remarked about the high cost of doing engineering and process research on grains via pilot plants vs. the relatively low cost of doing chemical research on grains. He fostered research collaboration with other university departments in the basic sciences and engineering.

Dr. Shellenberger’s academic work as a cereal scientist focused on hard winter wheat’s milling and baking quality, emphasizing protein’s contribution. He received several awards, including the Association of Operative Millers’ Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to milling technology, the Neumann Medal from the Association of Cereal Research, the Outstanding Achievement Gold Medal from the University of Minnesota and the C.H. Bailey Award from the International Association of Cereal Chemists. KSU presented him with two distinguished alumni medals, and he was the first recipient of the Frank Schwain Award from the American Association of Cereal Chemists (now AACC International).

His capable management of the department was recalled by R. Carl Hoseney, PhD, president, R&R Research Services, Manhattan, KS, and KSU emeritus professor of bakery science, which he experienced as an undergraduate during Dr. Shellenberger’s tenure. “He was very authoritative and ran the department well,” Dr. Hoseney recalled.

“The milling and baking industries saw him as a strong influence,” Dr. Hoseney continued, “and his legacy is that he brought recognition to the importance of these industries. The milling and baking industries would be a far different place without him.
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