The Al Rippen Story

On Nov. 6, 2017, Al Rippen was honored for his many contributions to the dairy industry, Michigan State University and the greater Lansing community.

Al Rippen

History will note that on November 6, 1917 women in the state of New York were granted the right to vote in state elections, and the Bolshevik Revolution began; but also on that day a baby boy named Alvin Leonard Rippen was born on a farm near Campbell, Nebraska— the first of three boys born to Edward and Lydia Rippen.  

November 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of that child’s birth and a time when friends and family members acknowledged his many contributions to the dairy industry, Michigan State University and the greater Lansing community. A family hosted reception honoring him and his wife, Leona, was held at the Marriott Hotel in East Lansing on November 5; the following night his life was the featured program at the dinner meeting of the Lansing Area Agriculture and Natural Resources Club. 

The outlook for farming in 1935, when he graduated from high school, was very bleak thanks to the many dust storms and the depression; so he — like many other young people of that time — began to look at other career options than farming. He enrolled in the Agronomy Department at the University of Nebraska, where he worked full time three days a week in the school’s dairy plant. That meant he could take classes only on Tuesday and Thursday. He graduated in 1940. His original goal had been to become a livestock buyer for a large processing plant. In 1941 he earned a graduate degree at The Ohio State University.   While at Nebraska, he was elected into Alpha Zeta, the national agricultural honorary. Later in his career, he was offered a position at OSU, who also gave him a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1973.  

Alvin started his career in Sales Engineering for a Creamery Packaging Manufacturing Company in Chicago in 1941; but World War II intervened and led him to spend three years as a navy pilot, flying both dive bombers and Hellcat fighter planes. A big plus during the war  years was his October 29, 1943 marriage to Leona Munch in Jacksonville, Florida at a large Presbyterian Church with only five people present: the bride, groom, pastor and the church’s custodian and secretary as witnesses.  The couple had three children (Arletta, Jean and Thomas) and now have six grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.   

In 1950 the family moved to Michigan when Rippen became the Plant Superintendent of the Kegle Dairy Company — later the Lansing Dairy Company. In 1957 when the dairy industry was in transition, he was invited to join the Department of Agricultural Engineering as an Extension Specialist in marketing. Three years later, when the Department of Food Science was being formed, he and two others made the transfer to that new department.  In 1964 he was promoted to Associate Professor and became a full Professor in 1969.  He retired from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition on January 1, 1980. 

During his long career at MSU, Al published numerous articles for magazines and professional journals as well as being the co-author of the “Food Engineering Encyclopedia.” Through the years, he served as a consultant to both the OSU and Purdue University Dairy Departments, where his expertise concerning ice cream freezers and other equipment was needed; a special  project with Purdue was a a study of energy utilization in food processing funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. He also spent three months in Brazil in 1978  where he taught a graduate course in the dehydration of food.  

In 1972 he was presented the prestigious $1,000 De Laval Award by the American Dairy Science Association in  recognition of his outstanding extension work. Earlier, in 1968 he received the MSU’s Outstanding Extension Award. In reflecting on his long meaningful career, a number of projects deserve mention: installation of ice cream freezers for dairy operations in multiple  companies in several states  such as Dean Foods, design of controlled atmospheric storage facilities for potatoes during the winter months and helping graduate students   successfully complete their degrees, especially those from foreign countries.  Also worthy of mention was  his 1968 innovative TV series of lectures for the food processing industry state-wide.  

He also had a positive experience coaching the Spartan Dairy Judging Team. On one occasion, the team consisting of four bright young women, were in competition in early November in Chicago. After discovering them gone from the hotel, his worry and concern turned to surprise and delight when they returned carrying a beautiful birthday cake for him. 

Through the years, he was a member and officer of numerous local, regional and national professional organizations including: the American Dairy Association, Dairy Technology Society, Institute of Food Technologies and Epsilon Sigma Phi. 

The Rippens enjoyed traveling to China and Europe on tours conducted by another Extension Specialist, the late John Doneth. The family are members of the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Lansing.  Since retiring, Al has provided 25 years (over 100,000 miles) of service to the Red Cross as an emergency driver.  “Hats off” to this special member of the Spartan Nation!   Yes, “Spartans Will!”

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