Robert (Bob) McKercher (BA’54, BSA’54, MSc’56) (front) is pictured with his son, Grant McKercher (MBA'15) on the USask Campus.

Pioneering ag prof grows deep roots on campus

USask becomes a family affair for McKercher family.

By John Grainger

Like many students heading to the University of Saskatchewan (USask) campus, professor emeritus Robert (Bob) McKercher (BA’54, BSA’54, MS’56) came from farming roots.

He may not have realized back then that the roots he was setting down would lead to a long academic career in soil research at USask as well as cultivating family ties with the institution for the next two generation of McKerchers.

His son Grant received his MBA from the Edwards School of Business in 2015 and his daughter, Morag, received her Bachelor of Arts from the College of Arts and Science in 1991. Now, his two granddaughters are enrolled at USask. Ella is a third-year physics student, while Phoebe is finishing her first year at the Edwards School of Business.

However, the long line of McKerchers attending university may not have happened had he decided to stay where he was raised, on a farm near Rosetown, in west-central Saskatchewan. His father died when McKercher was just a boy, leaving his mother with three sons to raise and a farm to run. One of those boys would have to take the reins and run the farm at some point. It was going to have to be one of his brothers as McKercher had other plans.

In 1949, McKercher, who recently turned 90, found his way to the College of Arts and Science, and at the end of his first year, discovered agriculture. “I moved into agriculture and then I got interested in soil science.” Upon graduation, he took a job with the college while continuing on with his academic life to earn his master’s degree.

“Then, after eight years as a lab instructor, soil test guy and everything else, I went to Aberdeen,” he said.

In those days, the Macaulay Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland was world-renowned for its research in soil science, so McKercher went to Scotland to do his PhD.

Not only did McKercher return to a job at USask with his PhD; he also returned with his bride, Norma. The newly married couple built a house not far from the university campus and raised their two children.

In addition to McKercher’s teaching and research career, he also stepped into administrative roles over the years, including the assistant dean (academic) of agriculture and then the associate dean of graduate studies and research.

He also played an integral role in the planning and construction of the new Agriculture Building which opened in 1991. McKercher, along with fellow alumnus Ted Turner, wrote a book, The Sodbusters Vision: An Agriculture Building for the University of Saskatchewan From the Ground Up, which details the steps of the ag building from planning and fundraising through to completion.

Grant’s ties to the university continue to this day as he is an active member of the USask Senate where he sits on two committees—the honorary degrees committee and the senate executive committee.

“Senate and the senate committees are a great way to volunteer time and participate in important decision making. It’s a privilege to be appointed to committees where diverse views and backgrounds are foundational to good process and governance.”

Having spent so many years around the campus, visiting his father at work and in his own professional life as an architect, Grant sees his work as another way to remain close to the institution.

“The university is a complex organization and there is always something going on. I find it really enriching to be involved with the U of S, in addition to my work and personal life.”

Along with his senate work, Grant has also given guest lectures at Edwards as well as at the University of Calgary.

“It’s particularly exciting to take career experience and fold that into points of interest for students in the MBA program, said Grant. “I do feel like I’m giving back to the U of S through volunteering in these ways, and it is very rewarding. I guess it’s a gift of time on my part, but I also get a lot out of it, too. I just really enjoy it.”

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