Innovator led area turkey industry to national prominence

Tom Cherveny
Forum News Service

WILLMAR, Minn. — Willmar and Kandiyohi County have lost an innovator who helped build the turkey industry in west central Minnesota and lead it to national prominence.

Ted Huisinga, 95, died peacefully on Wednesday, June 17.

He joined Willmar Poultry in 1951, and along with Ray Norling, is credited with building the company into an industry leader. Huisinga also enjoyed a longtime partnership with Earl B. Olson, founder of Jennie-O.

The three were instrumental in developing the turkey industry as we know it today. Huisinga and Norling focused on the aspects of raising turkeys and poultry production, while Olson focused on processing.

“He was always thinking about the future,” said Huisinga’s grandson, Jonathan Huisinga, of his grandfather. “For him, it was always: How can we improve things? How can we do things better? He was never satisfied with the status quo.”

Ted Huisinga remained active with the company until the final days of his life, coming to the office frequently and remaining engaged in activities until just a couple of weeks ago, according to his grandson.

One of the popular stories about Huisinga is how after returning from service in World War II, he borrowed his wife’s life savings to invest in turkeys. She had intended to purchase a piano. Ted and Audrey have enjoyed 71 years together, and have always been an adventurous pair, according to family members.

His family, church, and work have always meant everything to his grandfather, said Jonathan.

Ted Huisinga is credited with 70 years of dedication to the turkey industry, and helping make possible some 1,600 jobs in the industry. Under Huisinga and Norling’s leadership, Willmar Poultry started PALS to supply equipment to the industry and growers and the Farm Service Elevator to provide feed and supplies.

Huisinga’s drive for innovation and his partnership with Marc Gorans, founder of Nova-Tech Engineering, made possible many technological advances in the turkey industry. Their partnership also played a big role in creating what is today the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar.

Huisinga had watched a documentary on how automation and robotics were transforming the automobile industry, and wanted to bring the same technology to poultry production. Jonathan said his grandfather turned to Gorans in the early 1980s. The two forged a partnership that continued for more than 40 years.

Ted Huisinga was responsible for a number of innovative companies providing new technology to the turkey industry.

A team had been put together looking at locations for these new ventures. The team returned with a variety of possible locations where tax advantages, schools of technology and other assets were available.

They were all explained at a meeting at which Jonathan Huisinga said his grandfather leaned back in his chair and said: “Well guys, we can move these companies wherever you want as long as it’s in Kandiyohi County.”

Not too long afterward, he became involved in the negotiations for the former state hospital grounds to make it the MinnWest Technology Campus. It was not an easy process, and there was no doubt that Huisinga was frustrated with the bureaucracy involved in it all, said Dean Johnson, a friend of Huisinga and state senator from Willmar at the time.

Johnson said Huisinga folded his arms at one point and said to him in the hallway: “Dean, we’ve got to get this done.” Johnson said he got then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty to directly intervene and make the transfer possible.

Johnson, a Lutheran minister, said he remembers Huisinga for his integrity, his love of God and church — the Assembly of God in Willmar — and family.

He said Huisinga should also be remembered as a true entrepreneur, willing to take risks no matter the challenge. “He lived in the moment but always thought about the future,’’ Johnson said.

Jonathan Huisinga said his grandfather found his enjoyment away from work in an apple orchard he had planted, hosting bonfires and marshmallow roasts, and spending time with Audrey and family.

“Well done, good and faithful servant,” said Johnson, turning to scripture to remember his friend. “Now rest in peace.”

Ted Huisinga.