Karen Geldmacher Named 2023 Dean Merrell Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
By Angela Askey, Executive Director Public Relations and Marketing
Karen Geldmacher has been named the 2023 Dean Merrell Lifetime Achievement Award recipient by the South Central District of the Arizona Association Future Farmers of America (FFA).
Geldmacher was raised in Mesa, Arizona with her siblings, Kurt Geldmacher & Kris Johnson during the 1970’s when alfalfa fields surrounded Fiesta Mall. Her dad was a dentist and mother, a homemaker.
In 1964 the family purchased The Holy Joe Ranch in Aravaipa Canyon, north of Tucson. Geldmacher recalls spending weekends and summers at the ranch, where they raised cross-bred Brangus cattle. They built a ranch house and developed a sustainable operation that included working corrals and fenced range pastures, along with irrigated pastures for rotational grazing. The ranch included an extensive rangeland water drinking system for cattle and wildlife, and citrus and pecan orchards for diversity.
It was Geldmacher’s love of natural resources, animals, and plants that inspired her passion for agriculture. While in high school she was a member of the Westwood FFA Chapter. She continued her education in the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona and graduated in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture.
Following her college graduation, Geldmacher was employed with the Natural Resources & Conservation Service in Coolidge, AZ where she was responsible for designing irrigation systems for farmers. She states, “This position anchored a lifetime of friendships in the Arizona agricultural industry.”
For 25 years, Geldmacher was a partner in Tierra Verde and Bar U7 Farms in Pinal County where upland and Pima cotton, durum wheat, alfalfa, pecans, pistachios and watermelons were grown.
In 2018, after 21 years as a Professor of Agriculture in soil science, plant science and natural resources, Geldmacher retired from Central Arizona College. While at CAC she served on the college curriculum committee, the Arizona Agricultural Task force and as a Faculty Advisor. She indicated that some of her favorite memories included hosting The South Central District Dean Merrell Memorial Field Day, mentoring outstanding students, graduation ceremonies and following the successful careers of CAC graduates.
Currently, Geldmacher is a Research Biologist in cotton for the USDA Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, AZ. Her work includes identifying cotton varieties with germplasm that will be successful for growers during times of heat stress and water shortages.
Upon receiving the award, Geldmacher explained, “For nearly 25 years, Dean’s leadership and excellence in education made the CAC Ag Program the largest in Arizona. Dean had a passion for teaching and learning and a drive to make the world a better place. In 1982, I was his student in the Agricultural Pesticide course where I earned my Professional Crop Advisors license. He was an agricultural legend, a great friend, and a wonderful mentor to me in my life and throughout my education career.” She added, “I would like to thank Dean’s family, especially his wife Connie, the South Central District of the Arizona FFA and Central Arizona College for the honor of receiving The Dean Merrell Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Geldmacher resides in Casa Grande, AZ with her husband, Mitch Laudal.
About the Dean Merrell Award and Field Day
Dean Merrell is considered to be the founding father of agricultural education at CAC, serving as the first Professor of Agriculture in 1969. He farmed for over two decades. Additionally, he was a pest control adviser, owner and operator of Hacienda Ag Labs, and served as president of the Farm Bureau, the Pinal County Fair Board and the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association. Dean also was an adviser of the CAC Rodeo Club, an academic adviser and livestock committee chairman.
Each year, CAC’s Dean Merrell FFA Field Day brings together students from the south central Arizona region to compete in events such as agricultural issues, agricultural mechanics, agronomy, dairy management, entomology, horse evaluation, job interview, livestock evaluation, meats evaluation, nursery operations, range management, and soil and wildlife management.