Roger W. Huibregtse
Volunteer, ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance)
(Retired) CEO, The Larson Company, VP, Dean Foods
Green Bay, WI
As a chemical engineering (BS ’50) and business executive, Roger Huibregtse had a long, distinguished career in the food processing industry. He rose to the position of CEO of the Larsen Food Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dean Foods Company. But perhaps more telling about how he achieved his success are examples of Huibregtse’s hard work and dedication as a volunteer in retirement. This 50-year veteran of industry went from the board-room to hand-processing sweet corn in Poland in less than a year.
In 1993, Huibregtse offered his services to ACDI/VOCA, the Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance. This private, nonprofit organization promotes broad-based economic growth and development of civil society in emerging democracies and developing countries.
One of the very first questions he was asked upon visiting the organization’s headquarters was, “Do you have a passport?” One week later he was in Warsaw. He was asked to help Polish farmer Alex Bohenski process sweet corn for an international fast food company. “I asked Alex to have 25 women at the small plant he had rented. It had a cooking kettle, a freezing room, a steam generator and that was it,” he says. With no husker and 8,000 cobs of corn, the team held an old-fashioned husking and processing bee. Bohenski’s customer wanted one variety of corn, but the farmer had planted four varieties together in one field. Huibregtse went to work separating the desired variety from the pile of mixed corn.
Huibregtse continued to work with Bohenski over the next 12 years. He showed him how to find growers, worked with Polish machinists to fabricate processing equipment, and arranged for used equipment to be shipped from the United States. He also helped install all equipment for the new corn line in Wloclawek, Poland.
Today, Bohenski processes about 15 tons of corn per hour and employs more than 400 people at a plant operating on a 24/7 basis. He supplies corn on the cob to more than 50 fast food restaurants in Poland and exports products to Russia and countries in Europe. Bohenski now owns the formerly state-owned processing plant and produces a variety of other food products in addition to corn.
ACDI/VOCA asked Huibregtse to visit Bulgaria next, where, with his help, a Bulgarian farmer processed and shipped 40,000 cans of cobbed corn to Russian in the first year.
His Eastern European friends have asked Huibregtse, “What do you get paid for this work?” He says “Nothing.” And they say, “Well that is a poor way of making money.” But for Huibregtse, having enjoyed his own success, the reward is in being able to give something back.