John Bonner Retires from CAST

February 1, 2013

John Bonner looks to the future by pulling from the past. “For forty years CAST has been inspired by visionary thinkers such as Charles Black, Norman Borlaug, and Gale Buchanan,” he said. “CAST’s mission came as a charge from the National Academy of Science, and I feel confident that the organization, led by incoming EVP Linda Chimenti, will continue to inform the public and policymakers.”

Those who have worked with Dr. Bonner know this is a typical tone from the man who has been CAST’s EVP/CEO for the past seven and a half years. Even as he shifts into a life that will offer more time for family, hobbies, and whatever else he decides to take on, Bonner is still focused on how best to communicate science-based information about agriculture. In the photo at right, Bonner joins the respected ag communicator Orion Samuelson (left) to present an award to an FFA essay contest winner.

His departure has been carefully planned to enable a smooth transition. He announced the move several months ago, and this has given him time to work with Ms. Chimenti so that the change would be effective and efficient. Bonner considers communication, quality publications, and student programs as his key areas of focus, and he feels confident these will continue to be strengths at CAST.

His approach with the organization’s board is best explained with his 3 I’s philosophy: Input, Impact, and Investment. Bonner has a “we want you to be involved” frame of mind, and it fits his take-charge leadership style. By implementing the 3 I’s, he knows CAST can actively generate scientific information that serves as a basis for solid decision making. He has made sure CAST supports research of all types–public, private, university, corporate–and he values the classic principles of in-depth probing, thoughtful consensus building, and scientific peer review.

However, Bonner also realizes that changes are not only a reality, they can be beneficial. With the help of student employees from Iowa State University (ISU) and other staff members, he has helped CAST become a successful digital communicator. The organization produces Friday Notes, a weekly online newsletter that has expanded to universities and high schools under Bonner’s education program; the CAST website gets thousands of visitors downloading information; and CAST is actively involved with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked-in, and a weekly blog.

Before coming to CAST, Bonner worked his way through ISU, where he not only earned several degrees, he joined organizations, published papers, and even became a certified hot air balloonist. He experienced ISU from every angle before gaining employment with several successful agriculture companies. “All these experiences gave me a firm foundation,” he says. “I learned important team-building skills along the way.”

Those techniques paid off as he developed an efficient, productive staff at the CAST office. When he wasn’t mentoring others, he was promoting CAST publications at conferences and universities, as well as in the halls of Congress. His ag-science road warrior mentality meant hours in airports, convention halls, and research stations, but he has always believed that agriculture groups need to work together–they need to communicate so they can convey their message to the public. As Bonner says, “Ag groups need to work as a team, not in their own narrow silos.”

At a January 23 retirement reception, friends, family, and colleagues gathered to reminisce about the “Bonner years” and to wish him well.  The CAST Board presented Bonner with two original oil paintings by noted artist Jerry Palen.

By January 31, Dr. Bonner’s office no longer contained files of agricultural information, framed family photos, and walls covered with his numerous awards. As he would probably say, extrinsic rewards are fine, but it’s the intrinsic sense of accomplishment that means the most. His office colleagues know that John put the “Gung” in Gung Ho, and the many he influenced in the world of agriculture know that he dedicated himself to communicating unbiased, science-based information. Bonner’s next chapter will include entries about his family, his Harley Davidson, his involvement in historical reenactments, and–we feel safe to assume–a continued interest in the vibrant world of agriculture.

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