Students honor alumni’s legacy in the dairy industry

October 12, 2018

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s School of Agriculture’s 100-plus year history is steeped in traditions like the Pioneer Dairy Club’s annual Pioneer Dairy Classic. For 36 years, the event has provided an opportunity for students to organize and run a consignment sale. Amidst the hundreds of hours students put into it – from selecting and registering the cattle months in advance to the 24-hour care they give the cattle at the fairgrounds the week of the event – they haven’t lost sight of this year’s special meaning. To honor the legacy of two alumni who recently passed away, students elected to use part of this year’s proceeds to set up memorial scholarships.

Proceeds from this year’s Pioneer Dairy Classic, to be held on Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Grant County Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Wisconsin, will establish the Jeff Dornink and Kayla (Dolan) Sonnenburg Memorial Scholarships. The alumni, who both passed away over the summer, had a tremendous influence on the agriculture and dairy industries in Southwest Wisconsin and beyond.

Jeff Dornink was a 1985 graduate of UW-Platteville’s agriculture program. He managed the dairy enterprise at Pioneer Farm for many years before becoming an agriculture instructor at Southwest Tech.

Sonnenburg graduated from UW-Platteville in 2011. She was a former president of the Pioneer Dairy Club and also met her husband, Ryan, through the club. Post graduation she worked as a sponsorship manager for the World Dairy Expo.

Sonnenburg and Dornink had such a strong impact on the local dairy industry that – despite having graduated years ago – they were still known by many of the current students.

“They were really important to the industry,” said Dr. Tera Montgomery, associate professor of dairy and animal science and advisor of the Pioneer Dairy Club. “I knew we had to do something to honor them. I mentioned the idea to the students, and said ‘I know you probably didn’t know them,’ and there turned out to be an amazing number of our students who actually knew them directly. A lot of students told me how much they impacted them.”

Emma Buss, a freshman dairy science and agribusiness major, is one of those students. The Belmont native knew Dornink and his wife, Lynette, as dairy judging coaches in 4-H. They had such an impact on her that she made the decision to donate a heifer she raised to the Pioneer Dairy Classic sale with the full proceeds going to Dornink’s memorial scholarship.

“The heifer I am donating goes back to his [Dornink’s] cow family, and that’s when I knew I had to donate her back to the sale in memory of him,” said Buss.

In addition to the memorial scholarships, the club also plans to provide support to the family of Julie (Meinnert) Mentink, another alumna in the dairy industry who recently passed away.

“It floors me every year that our students are willing to put so much time and effort into this sale and everything that goes into it and in addition to that, choose something to support,” said Montgomery. “Part of it is the nature of being in the agriculture industry. Those in agriculture tend to take care of each other and our students tend to be kind and giving people anyway. To see them step up like this is pretty cool.”

The Pioneer Dairy Classic will begin at 11 a.m. In addition to the cattle sale, the event will include a food stand and silent auction. For more information about the Pioneer Dairy Classic or donating to the memorial scholarships, contact Montgomery at


Written by: Alison Parkins, associate director of Public Relations,, 608-342-1526.


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