John H. Landers, Jr. was born on Jan. 24, 1921, in Cedar County, Mo., to J. Herbert and Ruth (Kirby) Landers. He attended Dadeville and Stockton schools, then the University of Missouri, graduating in 1942, six months early, to support the war effort by being commissioned in the U.S. Army. His primary service was in Europe as a Forward Artillery Observer. Of particular note was an engagement with a German Panzer tank division on Nov. 25, 1944, at Schalbach, Alsace, France. 1stLt Landers was instrumental in directing artillery fire on the massed enemy unit about 75 yards in front of himself. The attack was repulsed, and Lt Landers received the Distinguished Service Cross and the British Military Cross for his valor.
For other combat he also received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is the oldest military decoration in the world currently in use, and the first American award made available to the common soldier. It was initially created as the Badge of Military Merit by General George Washington. It is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who are wounded or killed in action. Postwar, he continued his military service as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves in Corvallis, retiring as a lieutenant colonel after a combined 37 years of active and reserve service.
After the war, John returned to the University of Missouri for a master’s degree and was subsequently hired by Oregon State University’s Department of Animal Science in 1950. Including the year taking coursework for his doctorate at Kansas State University, he served 27 years at OSU, principally as a State Extension Livestock Specialist, traveling across Oregon, helping farmers and ranchers. He also was a livestock judge at numerous county fairs and the Oregon State Fair for many years. John also ran the annual sheep-shearing school at OSU for decades, as well as doing custom shearing in the central Willamette Valley. In many cases, he received the wool as part of his payment, using it as inventory for his and wife Mary’s Old West Wool Company. He concurrently was secretary of the American Romney Breeders Association for 37 years.
He had a lifelong passion for gardening, sharing his expertise as a Master Gardener in Benton and Linn counties. Visitors always could count on receiving berries, cherries or other in-season produce as thanks for stopping by the house. John also was well known for his outstanding salmon bakes using the open pit method. He and Valley Catering were the folks to call to make festive occasions deliciously memorable.
He was proud of his service as a Kiwanian, particularly his long record of continuous attendance, which was sadly interrupted by his stroke in 2010. Within Kiwanis he was a driving force in the annual Christmas greenery sales and pancake breakfasts. He also enjoyed fundraising for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. He received many honors and awards; among them were Kiwanian of the Year (1980), Linn County Master Gardener of the Year (1991), Corvallis Senior First Citizen (1993), the Honorary Future Farmers of America Degree, and Grand Marshal of the Veteran’s Day Parade (Albany, 2007).
In 2008, John established this endowed scholarship fund with BCF to benefit ROTC students. During John’s lifetime, the fund was called the “Order of the Purple Heart Scholarship.” John was commander of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Hearts that year. The Military Order of the Purple Heart was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Composed exclusively of Purple Heart recipients, it is the only veterans’ service organization comprised strictly of combat veterans. Each year, the regional chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart presents an award to students in the ROTC units at Oregon State University and Western Oregon University. By establishing this fund with BCF, John wanted to increase the scholarship awards given to ROTC students in Oregon.
Just before his death on March 7, 2013, John relented to the wishes of his friends and family to rename the fund in his honor.