110-year-old Corn-judging Trophy Returns Home to Odebolt

June 17th, 2014

AMES, Iowa — A 110-year-old corn-judging trophy at Iowa State University has returned home to Odebolt for the town’s annual celebration, June 20 and 21.

The A.E. Cook Corn Trophy was delivered this week to Odebolt to be displayed in conjunction with the Odebolt Creek Days festival. For the last two years, the trophy has been displayed in the Dean’s Gallery in Agriculture and Life Sciences in Curtiss Hall.

The trophy has followed an interesting journey over the past 110 years.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Brookmont Farm, locally known as the Cook Ranch, near Odebolt in Sac County, covered 12 square miles. It was the largest contiguous single farm in the state’s history. Albert E. Cook, the second-generation owner and manager, routinely made his land, livestock and facilities available to the Iowa Agriculture College in Ames to support large cattle feeding tests, alternative crop tests and corn research.

In 1903, Cook paid Gorham Manufacturing Co. $1,500 (close to $40,000 today) to commission a bronze trophy standing 36 inches high to hold the winning ears of corn from the annual collegiate corn-judging contests held in Chicago. The trophy was inspired by Cook’s deceased father, Charles W. Cook, the man who in 1873 purchased and developed the 7,880 acres land that made up Brookmont Farm.

In 1904, the A. E. Cook Corn Trophy was created and spent its first year in Manhattan, Kansas. It travelled annually to Chicago for the intercollegiate competitions, but it remained at Iowa Agricultural College in Ames for the least three years of the contest. It was only in use for four years because of the declining popularity in intercollegiate corn judging.

The trophy then went into “hiding” on campus for several years. Iowa Agricultural College became Iowa State University in 1959.

For eight decades, the Cook Corn Trophy was lost in the depths of Curtiss Hall. In the late 1980s, construction workers discovered the trophy in an empty space behind a wall.

After its reappearance, the trophy was restored and moved to Agronomy Hall to be put on display. At the request of Wendy Wintersteen, dean of ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cook Corn Trophy was moved to Curtiss Hall as part of the renovation of the building and has been prominently featured along with other agricultural artwork as a part of the Dean’s Gallery on the first floor of the building.

The trophy’s history and current location was made known to the Odebolt community when it was featured in the University’s Museums’ newsletter written as a research essay and report by John Pesek, emeritus professor and long-time University Museums member and donor (http://www.museums.iastate.edu/Sept2012Newsletter.pdf). A member of the community read the article and realized its significance to the Sac County town.

Don Etler of Algona and a native of Odebolt said there are no living descendants with the last name of Cook. Etler said he believes there are some direct descendants (great-great-grandchildren, etc.) in the Chicago area. Today, there are roughly 50 long-time family owners of pieces of what used to be the former Brookmont Farm.

The trophy showcases three winning ears of corn in glass cylinders. The ears of corn now in the trophy are believed to be the three originals from the 1907 contest. The trophy also includes the statues of C. W. Cook and a Native American dressed in full war regalia on either side of the prize-winning ears of corn. On top of the three winning ears, three eagles support the earth with the state of Iowa raised within the globe, representing the Corn Belt.

The plaque on the left side of the trophy reads: “The Cook Trophy Presented to Iowa State Agricultural College by A. E. Cook, Odebolt, Iowa, for Excellence in Corn Judging To Be Awarded in State or National Contests as the College May Direct — the Cylinders To Hold the Sweepstake Ears.”

On the opposite side, the trophy is engraved with the winning colleges, and team member names, from the years the trophy was used. After Kansas Agricultural School won the first year of competition in 1904, Iowa State took home the trophy for the next three years.

Lynette Pohlman, director and chief curator for University Museums, said that museums usually only loan objects to other museums, so this is a special circumstance for Odebolt. She said the loan reflects ISU’s service to communities and outreach education of joint cultural heritage.

The Corn Trophy will call the First State Bank of Odebolt home from June 16 to July 25, with a special presentation held on June 21. Don Etler said the bank was built by owners of the nearby Adams Ranch, which included 10 square miles and was founded at the same time as the Cook Ranch. The ornate bank lobby has been fully restored to look the way it did a century ago. In the center of that lobby stands a large marble pedestal that will hold the trophy during its six-week visit.

Etler also mentioned that one of the reasons that trophy will be returning to Odebolt is for a chance to educate the community about its unique history and to kindle support for the production of a book about the history of the Cook Ranch.

“The trophy is a source of pride, an artifact of something very special,” Etler said. The town hopes that the trophy’s visit will inspire the community to help the Odebolt Museum recover, preserve and display information about the area’s historic big farm heritage.

When the trophy returns to campus in late July, it will again be displayed in the Dean’s Gallery in Agriculture and Life Sciences in Curtiss Hall. The gallery is open to the public with summer hours of 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Contacts: 

Lynette Pohlman, University Museums, (515) 294-6966, lpohlman@iastate.edu
Don Etler, (515) 320-5444, donetler@netamumail.com
Ed Adcock, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Service, (515) 294-2314, edadcock@iastate.edu