Bob Thaler, extension swine specialist at South Dakota State University, has been named the Kansas State University Department of Animal Sciences and Industry Distinguished Alumnus Award winner for 2014. He will be honored at activities on K-State’s Manhattan campus Feb. 9, 2015.

A long-time SDSU professor, Thaler earned a Ph.D. in animal sciences at K-State in 1988 after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at SDSU. He is a native of Wagner, South Dakota.

Through his career and in the spirit of land-grant university and extension work, Thaler has provided practical solutions for swine producers, while also mentoring SDSU undergraduate students, said Joel DeRouchey, livestock specialist with K-State Research and Extension and one of the K-State faculty members who co-wrote Thaler’s nomination. Thaler has served as the assistant experiment station director, as well as director and agriculture and natural resources program leader for extension, and as SDSU’s animal and range sciences department head.

He also has served in national roles, including past chairman of the Extension Committee for the American Society of Animal Science, plus multiple terms on the National Pork Board’s Swine Educators Executive Committee.

For his outreach efforts, Thaler was named “Master of the Pork Industry 2013” by the National Hog Farmer magazine. Other awards include the National Pork Board Innovation Award for Teaching and Extension; SDSU’s President’s Medal of Honor; Gamma Sigma Delta Award for Extension; South Dakota Master Pork Producer Award; and twice earned the Dedicated and Distinguished Service Award from the South Dakota Pork Producers organization.

“Along with Bob’s extension role, he has taken his passion for education to the classroom,” DeRouchey said. He serves as an academic advisor for 30 undergraduate students, and is faculty advisor for Block and Bridle and the SDSU Swine Club. He has served as the faculty advisor for undergraduate student trips to China and has taught nine different undergraduate classes.

In 2005, one of his advisees was suffering from kidney failure and required three hours of dialysis three times a week. Unknown to the student, Thaler went through testing to determine if he was a match for her transplant. He was, and a few months later a successful kidney transplant allowed the student to resume a normal life.

“This is one example of the generosity and unselfishness that Bob has and continues to exhibit in his daily life,” DeRouchey said.

“Due to the quality of (Thaler’s) instruction, he has been awarded the SDSU College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences Teacher of the Year award twice,” DeRouchey said.

During his Feb. 9 visit to K-State, Thaler will teach two classes, give a departmental seminar, and visit informally with undergraduate and graduate students, plus faculty and industry stakeholders.

His passion for helping people is not limited to South Dakota or the United States, DeRouchey said. He regularly travels to Asia to provide assistance to swine producers to improve their way of life and to help provide a more abundant food supply to those suffering from malnutrition.

Over the past four years, Thaler has taken the lead on securing funding for a new swine research and teaching unit at SDSU. That fundraising is now complete, design plans are being finalized and building should start this spring.