Ag economics professor, department head marks retirement by establishing scholarship

Tobie Blanchard, Cramer, Gail L.

Gail Cramer (LSU AgCenter photo)

News Release Distributed 07/09/15

BATON ROUGE, La – With the help of a teacher who recognized his potential and scholarships that allowed him to attend college, Gail Cramer was able to escape a poverty-stricken childhood in rural Washington to become an accomplished professor in agricultural economics.

On July 10, Cramer will step down as head of the LSU AgCenter and College of Agriculture Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness with plans to retire in the fall. But before leaving campus, Cramer and his wife, Marilyn, have established a scholarship in their names that they hope will help students who may not be able to afford college.

“The primary reason we are doing this is I because I came up the hard way in rural America and received help along the way,” Cramer said.

Cramer recounted his youth in the small town of Donald, Washington, which had about 50 residents at the time and is on the edge of the Yakama Indian Reservation. He was one of 10 children and said more than 90 percent of the families in the area lived in poverty.

“Starting at the age of eight, I worked full time during the summers,” he said.

He attended Wapato High School where his vocational agriculture teacher was impressed with his grades and work ethic. Cramer said the teacher allowed him to apply for scholarships and work on college applications during class.

“I applied for 15 scholarships, got 14 of them,” Cramer said. “This helped me out dramatically. With the scholarships and working part-time during college, I knew I would be able to afford it.”

Cramer received his bachelor’s degree from Washington State University in 1963. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Michigan State University in 1964 and a doctorate from Oregon State University in 1968.

His academic career goes back nearly 50 years to when he started as an assistant professor at Montana State University. He spent 20 years in Montana, then 13 years at the University of Arkansas. He came to LSU in 2000 to serve as head of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness.

He also has spent time as a visiting scholar at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkley.

“There were times I had to pinch myself. I’d wonder how did I make it to Harvard,” Cramer said.

Cramer’s career also has taken him to 60 countries. He visited China in the 1970s and recently returned, marveling at how much the country changed in a few decades.

Cramer said his life has been like a dream, unbelievable considering his roots. He said he hopes his scholarship affords a student the same opportunities.

“We’re giving back because we understand economic conditions out there, the need,” he said.

He added that both of his children, Karilee Durham and Bruce Cramer, benefited from scholarships.

Cramer already has a scholarship in his and his wife’s name at Washington State University. Their son established that scholarship. His daughter established a scholarship at Michigan State University.

“We taught them to give back, so it was our turn to do it,” Cramer said.

The Cramers’ scholarship at LSU will benefit a student studying agricultural business who has a 3.0 GPA or higher and demonstrates a financial need.

Tobie Blanchard
7/9/2015 8:13:30 PM
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