Pfeiffer University mourns the loss of Gene Pickler, economics professor, 1961-2014

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Eugene Burns (Gene) Pickler ’71 (Hon.), who taught economics at Pfeiffer University for more than 50 years, died Feb. 3, 2017.

A lifelong resident of Stanly County, Gene was born June 14, 1934, in New London, where his family had established Springdale Farms, a poultry operation. In 1961, after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from North Carolina State University and Michigan State University, respectively, and declining a doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, he was recruited by Dr. Cameron West, academic dean for Pfeiffer College (who eventually became president), to teach economics. Interested primarily in contributing to the growth of Springdale Farms, Gene agreed to a part-time teaching position with an understanding that he’d continue the following year only if he enjoyed it.

For his entire tenure, Gene, who was awarded honorary alumnus status in 1971 by Pfeiffer’s Alumni Association, taught part time while remaining involved in his family’s business. Taking his poultry industry expertise across America and around the globe, Gene shared his knowledge with farmers in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, who applied what he’d taught them to raising better chickens to feed themselves and their neighbors.

From the international friendships that emerged from his travels, 13 students from Poland and Ukraine studied at Pfeiffer during the 1990s and early 2000s, made possible through a university discount and financial support from Gene and several Stanly County supporters. In 2005, at a reunion of former students in Poland, Gene was presented with a bound collection of the students’ thoughts, memories, photographs and updates about their lives. The book was dedicated to “the man who cares for a wonderful world, who breathed the American dream into our lives.”

In 2007, Gene and his late wife, Janet, who taught speech at Pfeiffer from 1960 until her retirement in 1996, established the Gene and Janet Pickler International Endowed Scholarship to support international students’ study at Pfeiffer. Upon Janet’s death in 2013, Gene made an additional gift to the endowed scholarship through a mature IRA to become a member of the Emily Prudden Heritage Society, Pfeiffer’s planned giving association.

A member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, he shared his time and expertise with his community in many ways, including as a longtime contributor to the Stanly News and Press with a regular column on economics. In addition, he served as a member of the Stanly County Board of Education, president of both the Stanly County Chamber of Commerce and Stanly County Farm Bureau, trustee for Stanly Technical College (now Stanly Community College), president of United Egg Producers and vice president of the North Carolina Poultry Federation. He was also a member of the American Agricultural Economics Association.               

Survivors include daughters Audrey Barringer, New London; Sara Pickler, Albemarle; and Eva Pickler, Johnson City, Tenn.; and grandchildren Rachel Barringer, Garrett Barringer and Christina Barringer.

The Pickler family will receive visitors Mon., Feb. 6, 6-8 p.m., Stanly Funeral and Cremation Care, 1835 Badin Road, Albemarle. A memorial service will be held Tues., Feb. 7, 11 a.m., Kendalls Baptist Church, 32157 Kendalls Church Road, New London. Memorials can be made to the Gene and Janet Pickler International Endowed Scholarship, Pfeiffer University.