Distinguished Alumnus
Class of 2023

Dennis R. "Denny" Thompson

AHS Class of 1968

The story of Denny's life is one of family, achievement and service. It began on August 31, 1950, when he was born the son of Arcola natives Donald and Frances (Sisk) Thompson. He shared his family heritage in Arcola with siblings Trudi, Darrel and Darrin. It continues today in Mahomet, Illinois, where he lives with his wife of fifty-two plus years, Janet (AHS '68). They have two daughters and six grandchildren. That journey includes time earning his bachelor's and master's degrees at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and his doctorate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as his service here in the United States and around the world.

His career achievements revolve around work in three career segments: 1) his service as part of the University of Illinois Extension Service throughout Illinois, 2) non-profit third-party technical service provider for seed/grain industry, and now 3) his “post-retirement" focus on international agricultural development (capacity building). In this last phase, Denny builds upon knowledge and experience gained via the blending of intentional academic preparation and fifty plus years professional activity related to the impact upon US and global value chains by agricultural producers, academic institutions and government agencies. His work has supported those engaged in international agricultural capacity building to impact global food security.

Denny has worked on rural financial crisis issues for individual farmers, farm families, ag lenders, religious communities and social service agencies. He has advised family groups, and assisted the university in providing farm financial management, attorney support, loan write-downs and write-offs facilitation. Denny also provided services involving suicides, run-away teenagers, bankruptcies, farm family support group formation/operations, as well as classroom teaching of coordinated financial statement methodology, ecumenical presentations, expert testimony and engagement with various media publications related to the agricultural sector. His contributions have included work in capacity building related to seed industry development and regulation, soybean value chain development and extension education methodology related to seed industry development. This has taken him around the world to Africa, Ukraine, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Pakistan.

Denny is a published author in the seed industry, as well as the recipient of numerous awards around the world. He has worked extensively in local and county government, international organizations and as a faculty member in the world of higher education.

If we look at the foundation of Denny’s life and career contributions to society, it emanates from his strong parental guidance and support, beginning at age ten, when they allowed him to join 4-H. They provided him his first flock of sheep and feed, with the stipulation he was not to repay them in money, but was to repay them by starting sister Trudi and brother Darrel in similar fashion. Thus, “paying it forward” was used long before it became popular and has shown its importance in his life. His parents were instrumental in building his strong work ethic and financial abilities.

Denny acknowledges four key and highly influential teachers in Arcola schools: 1) Miss Green, who in 5th grade, instilled a desire to learn about and experience the world far beyond home, 2) Dean Sanders, who instilled a desire to learn and understand biology, 3) Miss Helen Harrington, who taught him to communicate via speech and the pen, and most importantly, 4) Nelson P. Roberts, who taught him to appreciate the business aspects of agriculture. These strict and demanding teachers made the greatest impact on his life and for that he is eternally grateful.

In high school, Denny was an accomplished scholar and leader. He was FFA president, a recipient of the FFA State Farmer Degree and other agricultural awards. He served as Junior Class president, Student Council president, National Honor Society president and was a commencement speaker.

Undoubtedly, the best outcome from his years in Arcola is his wife Janet Boyer Thompson. She has been his helpmate and greatest supporter for the entirety of his career. All too often this was done at the expense of her own career and their children. From the time his first international travel and development work commenced in 1981, she has endured and sacrificed much. Many times before cell phones and email, Denny had no contact with home during absences, often as he worked in areas of civil unrest and subsiding conflict. Throughout all, Janet and the family have supported Denny.

Denny Thompson is a role model for excellence, not only to the Arcola High School students who will read of his accomplishments, but to people all over the world. He has excelled in three different agricultural careers: academic, industrial and service. Denny has brought extraordinary honor to the school and his accomplishments are the direct result of having been raised and educated in Arcola. Denny’s record as student, family member, worker and international humanitarian make him highly deserving of this award. His consistent willingness to share himself and his knowledge, often in places where safety is an issue or at great personal sacrifice, makes him an inspiration to all.

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Last Revision September 25, 2023