One day, (no pressure, nephew), my parents will be able to say that all of their grandchildren graduated from Morristown High School. Half of them were in 4-H and FFA. All of them were in small graduating classes. Not even considering Ben Davis, Hamilton Southeastern or Bloomington North; they are a fraction of the size of Shelby Central. My daughter graduated with roughly 40 versus my approximately 200 in Shelbyville thirty years prior.

Small schools and large schools certainly have their advantages. By many metrics, most things in Shelby County could be considered “small.” Working with teens, you’ll run into the “nothing big comes out of Shelby County” or “I could never do that” statements and attitudes. When the opportunity presents itself, this is what I remind them.

That is until you take a deeper dive. There are very few counties in the nation with both a large corn and soybean processor. We’ve had a few national authors and columnists, generals and even a vice president live amongst us. While certainly embellished, the Golden Bear is more than plausible (even likely though history fades to legend then lore).

Once upon a time in the heyday of canning factories that were sprinkled over all of Shelby County, there was a boy growing up in Morristown.

This boy came to be a giant in the food industry. If you ever hear the Purdue College of Agriculture’s sales pitch they almost always mention the World Food Prize, the “Nobel Prize of Agriculture,” Purdue has three of them. One of them is from Morristown.

Phil Nelson, from the outskirts of Morristown, won a 4-H Award at the Indiana State Fair at the age of 15 for his 24 perfect tomatoes where he was dubbed the “Tomato King.” So yes, Shelby County is home to both the “Corn King” and the “Tomato King.”

When the vegetable industry moved to California in the fifties and sixties, Mr. Nelson went back to Purdue to pursue his doctorate after the family shut down the Blue River Packing Company. In it heyday, it employed up to three hundred people in the area. This forced change forged our 2007 World Food Prize Laureate.

Fast forward to the present with a brief glance back, Purdue University announced an endowed chair position honoring Dr. Nelson in 2022. An endowed chair is where people or entities fund a position on campus for a specific research area. He has a building on campus with his name on it.

Not bad for a kid from Morristown and Shelby County: World Food Prize Laureate, constantly held up as a point of pride by his alma mater with a building named after him and an endowed chair further pushing his research accomplishments forward long after retirement. This is not to mention the food processing method he perfected that has impacted millions, if not billions, of people in receiving safe, nutritious food on a mass scale. So, consider this as a tip of the hat to Dr. Nelson and reminder that we just might be walking among giants.