By Hunter Gibson
Stillwater, OK – Bill Petermann, a 1960 OSU graduate with a degree in agricultural engineering, was surprised this past spring when a group of OSU students from the student chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers arrived on his front lawn.
The small army of students got to work cleaning gutters, raking leaves, mowing, weeding the garden, clearing honeysuckle off the fence, organizing equipment and more. The students were taking part in Into the Streets, a day when OSU student organizations assist Stillwater community members with household or yard chores.
Petermann was elated to find out the student group sent to work on his projects were pursuing a career path similar to the one he enjoyed for 38 years as an agricultural engineer working primarily on watershed and irrigation projects. He spent nearly the entirety of his career at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, serving Oklahoma farmers and ranchers.
The longer the students were there, the more Petermann got to know them.
“It reminded me of when I was in school,” Petermann said. “They just seemed like a family.”
Collin Bellmer, ASABE president and a student in the OSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, was just as surprised as everyone else when he learned about Petermann’s background.
“It was a crazy coincidence,” Bellmer said. “My first thought was, ‘What are the odds of this happening?’”
Mattie Wood, ASABE historian and biosystems engineering student, said that while everyone had been excited to help Petermann out, the fact that he was a fellow engineer motivated the volunteers even further.
“We recognized we were giving back to the engineers that came before us,” Wood said. “It was fulfilling to do something tangible to help him.”
Petermann felt a camaraderie with the group.
“I was so surprised when I found out they were in an organization I had been in and enjoyed (as a student),” Petermann said. “It brought back so many memories.”
Memories like trips to the dance hall on the fourth floor of the student union where students could socialize, having a soda and dancing to the latest songs from Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash, carpooling to campus everyday with four of his buddies and working on the School of Engineering’s publication.
It also reminded him of his financial need during his time at OSU.
Petermann was the first in his family to attend college in 1955. Although his parents didn’t have traditional opportunities for education, they understood the importance of a quality education and encouraged Petermann to pursue a degree.
But funding was a problem.
“My vocational agriculture teacher gave me a scholarship application to fill out from Sears and Roebuck,” Petermann said. “They awarded it to me.”
The scholarship paid his full tuition his freshman year, and after his first year in ag engineering, he “caught the bug.”
Engineering A Legacy
Once the grass was cut, the weeds were pulled and the gutters were cleared, Petermann wrote thank you notes to each of the volunteers to express his gratitude.
“A thank you seems so little after you have given me so much,” Petermann wrote in a letter to Wood following the event.
A year later, the first Bill and Ladonna Petermann Endowed Scholarship was awarded at the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department Scholarship Banquet in March 2022.
Petermann said he had considered initiating a scholarship for the department for some time, but Into the Streets was the ultimate catalyst for him. He recognized the importance of quality engineers in the future of the agricultural industry, saying he was excited by the innovations he’s seen since he left the field. Petermann also said he wanted to help alleviate financial pressures for students so they can enjoy their time in college without the stress of a tuition bill looming.
“I wanted to encourage someone to be involved in campus activities while they’re in school in hopes they stay involved,” Petermann said.
Taos McIntyre, a junior biosystems engineering student, was the first to receive the Bill and Ladonna Petermann Endowed Scholarship.
“I think it’s really interesting how something like Into the Streets can result in such a deep connection between current students and alumni,” McIntyre said.
Petermann and McIntyre got to meet each other at the banquet.
“I could tell the banquet was very emotional for the Petermann family because there were a lot of important reasons behind the scholarship and why they decided to make their donation,” McIntyre said. “Seeing that meaning and seeing how important it was to them made me feel very fortunate that I got to meet them.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Jami Mattox | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-7063 | firstname.lastname@example.org