Agricultural alumni group honors five for contributions

2017 Hall of Honor and Pioneer

Five individuals are recognized for their contributions to Alabama agriculture. From left, Pioneer Award honorees Loren Aldridge and James Helms; Hall of Honor inductees Edgar Aldridge, L.O. Bishop and Ben Hajek.

The Auburn University Agricultural Alumni Association will honor five men who have had a major impact on Alabama agriculture when it hosts the 2017 Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor banquet Feb. 9 at the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel and Conference Center.

The five include three Hall of Honor inductees and two recipients of the Agricultural Pioneer Award, which is presented posthumously.

The 2017 Hall of Honor inductees are Edgar “Eddie” Aldridge of Hoover, honoree in the agribusiness sector; L.O. Bishop of Cherokee, production sector honoree; and education/government inductee Benjamin Hajek of Auburn. Pioneer Awards will be presented to the families of the late Loren Aldridge of Hoover and James Helms of Montgomery.

Eddie Aldridge, an avid plant breeder, developed many new cultivars of ornamental plants and shrubs throughout his career, including the Snowflake hydrangea, or Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’, an oakleaf hydrangea mutation he and his father, the late Loren Aldridge, discovered, propagated, patented and introduced. On his retirement from the industry he loved in 1995, the younger Aldridge and his wife conveyed their 30-acre estate to the City of Hoover, with the stipulation that the newly named Aldridge Gardens forever remain a public garden.

Bishop began farming at the age of 15 and in the 65 years since has become known as one of Alabama’s leading pork producers. He is also known for his mouth-watering Bishop’s Barbecue, which has gained him notoriety outside of agricultural circles. For his leadership in and contributions to Alabama agriculture, Bishop has received both the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Agricultural Leadership Award and the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Service to Agriculture Award.

Hajek was an Auburn College of Agriculture faculty member for almost three decades, during which time he distinguished himself as an outstanding researcher and teacher. His research resulted in greater accuracy in defining the characteristics of soils, a contribution that guided improved management practices of farmers throughout Alabama and the nation. As state cooperator in the National Cooperative Soil Survey, he led the way to improved soil mapping quality through soil characterization analysis and soil map unit analysis. In addition, he led Auburn’s soil judging team to four national championships in the National Collegiate Soil Judging Competition.

Agricultural Pioneer Awards will be presented to the families of the late Loren Aldridge and Helms.

Loren Aldridge, a 1926 Alabama Polytechnic Institute graduate in agricultural education, began his career as a vegetable farmer. The farm evolved into a greenhouse and, later, a nursery business. Founder of both the Bessemer Floral Company and Aldridge Garden Center and Nursery in Birmingham, he became well known in the nursery and floral industry and served as president of the Alabama Florist Association, predecessor to the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association. As noted earlier, he and son Eddie are perhaps best known for patenting the Snowflake hydrangea.

Helms, an API agricultural engineering graduate, helped establish—and, for 13 years, led—Alabama Polytechnic’s teaching farm. He then began what would be a 40-year career in farm equipment sales. Helms and Sons Tractor Company in Montgomery flourished under his leadership and, later, his son’s for three decades. During this time, Helms was recognized by the Montgomery County Farmers Service and Welfare Association with the group’s Community and Economic Development Award. He also served as president of the Agribusiness Advisory Committee.

Tickets to the 2017 Hall of Honor banquet are $50 per person; opportunities for corporate sponsorships are also available. Ticket and sponsorship reservation forms are online. For more information, contact Luke Knight at 334-844-2393 or

The Agricultural Alumni Association established the Hall of Honor in 1984 and the Pioneer Award 11 years later. The awards banquet is held each year in conjunction with the association’s annual meeting. Learn more about the Hall of Honor and Pioneer Awards here.

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