Hubert John Gerken Jr., 83, a Virginia Tech alumnus and an internationally known beef cattle specialist, died Oct. 27, 2012, in Burlington, N.C. after a lengthy illness.

As a professor of animal science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Virginia Cooperative Extension animal scientist, his programs in beef cattle nutrition and management helped improve beef production. He developed methods for using growth stimulants in beef cattle, which added millions of dollars to producers’ bottom line. His program also resulted in an increase in the use of poultry litter as a cattle feed.

Gerken also coordinated the Powell River Project, which uses reclaimed mined land for livestock production. That project led to improvements in economic and environmental conditions in Virginia’s coalfields. 

“He was a very loyal man with a high sense of integrity,” said his wife, Shirley Gerken, an alumna and retired associate professor of public service. 

Gerken enrolled in Virginia Tech’s animal husbandry program following a short spell in the military. He earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1954 and got a teaching job outside the university, but soon returned to serve Frederick and Clarke counties as an Extension agent.

He received his master’s degree from Virginia Tech in 1966 and went on to earn a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University in 1971.

“Virginia Tech was so important to him because it provided the pathway for higher education, which enabled him to be of service to Virginia and the country,” said Shirley Gerken.

The Gerkens made a generous gift to support professional development of faculty within Extension on or off campus.

“While working at Virginia Tech, we experienced several budget crises,” she said. “Participation in national meetings and conferences was not a priority in budget negotiations. Recognizing the importance of continued development experiences, we decided to earmark the fund that we have established toward that purpose for Extension faculty at all levels.”

During Gerken’s tenure at the university, he was a consultant to beef cattle producers throughout Virginia and the Southeastern United States, as well as in India and the United Kingdom. He received the Virginia Tech Alumni Association Faculty Excellence Award, the Leadership and Service Award from the Virginia Beef Cattle Association, and 30-year service recognitions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Virginia Tech.

In addition to farming, Gerken enjoyed reading, traveling to historic sites and museums, and watching the Hokies play on Saturday afternoons. He was also an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church and most recently held membership at First Presbyterian Church in Burlington, N.C.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in the May-Foley Chapel at the Twin Lakes Community in Burlington, N.C.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Virginia Tech Foundation for the John and Shirley Gerken Professional Development Fund for Extension. Donations may be mailed to College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Tech, Development Office (0402), Blacksburg, VA, 24061.

Memorial contributions may also be made to the Twin Lakes Auxiliary Scholarship Fund. Donations may be mailed to Laura McDaniel, Twin Lakes Community, 3701 Wade Coble Drive, Burlington, NC, 27215.

Online condolences may be sent through the Rich and Thompson website.


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