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Don and Jody Athen recently provided Northwest with gifts to support its Agricultural Learning Center and establish the Don and Jody Athen Scholarship. (Submitted photo)

Don and Jody Athen recently provided Northwest with gifts to support its Agricultural Learning Center and establish the Don and Jody Athen Scholarship. (Submitted photo)

May 11, 2021

Iowa couple provides support of Ag Learning Center, establishes scholarship for ag majors from rural high schools

Don and Jody Athen did not earn their college degrees at Northwest Missouri State University, but their bond with the institution is inspiring them to support the University’s focus on student success and help advance the careers of graduates interested in agriculture-related fields.

The couple has given $100,000 to help fund Northwest’s Agricultural Learning Center in addition to a $25,000 gift to establish the Don and Jody Athen Scholarship. Their gift to the Agricultural Learning Center designates the Don & Jody Athen Family Lobby, and the Athens join the Homesteader Society, a group of more than 50 public and private donors providing gifts of $25,000 or greater toward the project.

“Don and Jody have a true desire to support students from rural areas who wish to pursue an education in agriculture, and their support of Northwest’s Ag Learning Center as well as their named scholarship is such a generous way to ensure their wishes become reality,” said Mitzi Marchant, Northwest’s vice president of university advancement and executive director of the Northwest Foundation. “Together they have experienced firsthand the benefits of fulfilling careers in the ag sector, and it’s inspiring to see them help the next generation to pursue their dreams, and we can’t thank them enough for their generosity.”

Don Athen earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa, while Jody is an alumna of the University of Montana. Yet, the Hamburg, Iowa, couple has built a connection with Northwest through AgriVision Equipment Group, the agriculture supply company they formed in 2014 with four other family-owned dealerships. Athen Implement had been supporting farmers in southwest Iowa since 1941.

In addition to recruiting Northwest students for internships and graduates for employment, AgriVision Equipment Group partners with the University to provide equipment loans. The company also sponsors a precision agriculture summer academy at Northwest, where high school students and agricultural educators learn about and gain hands-on experience with precision agriculture technologies.

Having observed changes in the agriculture industry and the ways that Northwest’s brand of profession-based learning helps prepare students for successful careers, the Athens are pleased to invest in the University.

“I’ve spent my whole life in the farm equipment business and working with farmers from Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas, and we feel that the Ag Learning Center – as technology has changed so drastically and it’s going to continue to grow exponentially over the next few years – is a good return on investment for our family staying in the business, and I think it’s mutually beneficial to us and the college,” Don said. “We’ve been really impressed with everybody at Northwest Missouri State, and they’re such great people. We feel a connection to them.”

When finished in July, the 29,000-square-foot, $11.4 million Agricultural Learning Center will be a linchpin addition to the University’s R.T. Wright Farm and enhance the School of Agricultural Sciences by providing laboratory, kitchen and exposition space as well as classrooms and offices while helping the School meet the needs of enrollment and program growth.

The facility also will allow for research and scholarly activities centered on crop, soil and livestock resources as well as space for processing agricultural products. It will include space for public and private functions such as producer and agricultural industry meetings, workshops, shows and career development events. It will serve as a resource that enables innovation and partnerships while addressing best practices for the Northwest campus and agricultural sciences.

Additionally, the Don and Jody Athen Scholarship, which is capable of receiving funds at any time, is available to full-time Northwest students who are majoring in an agriculture field and hail from counties in southwest Iowa or northwest Missouri. Priority will be awarded to students who exhibit academic excellence and financial need in addition to education at a rural high school.

In recognition of Northwest’s mission of focusing on student success – every student, every day – and support systems in place at the University, as well as its high-quality faculty, the Athens hope their scholarship assists students whose rural education may have limited access to resources but who demonstrate deep interest in agriculture.

“Students receiving the scholarship will have more opportunities to succeed than some of the other places that don’t have that support structure,” Jody said. “Most students coming out of rural schools do not have the access to a lot of the facilities and class structures that they do in larger schools.”

Added Don, “It’s important that rural students don’t get left behind. We want them to remain on the farm and support farmers in various businesses. We also want to recruit high-quality students from the area that want to stay in rural areas because those counties are where we do the majority of our business. We want opportunities for kids from smaller schools and rural schools to advance.”

For more information about giving to Northwest or to make a gift in support of the Agricultural Learning Center or the Don and Jody Athen Scholarship, call 660.562.1248 or email


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