The University of Arizona this spring will honor Jon Jessen with an honorary doctorate in environmental science from CALES, recognizing a lifetime of achievement in agriculture, job creation, community service, education, and philanthropy.
Jessen has made a profound impact on drylands agriculture in Arizona since founding The Gowan Group in 1962. The Yuma-based enterprise is a global, family-owned enterprise that specializes in developing, marketing, and processing agricultural inputs such as pesticides, seeds, and fertilizers using a science-first approach. Jessen is also an incredibly strong supporter of STEM education in Yuma, working with the Crane School District to establish the Gowan Achievement Program and the Gowan Science Academy.
“Jon is the modern embodiment of the land-grant mission of the University of Arizona,” UArizona Environmental Science Department Head Jon Chorover said. “His career is a study of entrepreneurial spirit and agricultural innovation. Furthermore, he is a pillar of his community and model citizen deserving of the university’s highest honor.”
Jessen was born and raised on a small farm in Dos Palos, California. He earned bachelor’s degrees in entomology and parasitology from UC-Davis, and in 1956 entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. Jessen began his civilian career working for a farmer co-op in Yuma in 1958 before founding his own business that has since grown into a $600 million enterprise in annual sales.
“Jon understands that sustaining the productivity of agricultural lands is not simply a matter of adding fertilizers and pesticides to the land,” Chorover said. “He greatly appreciates the need to resolve the unseen world underfoot—and how these components interact to create a healthy and stable medium for plant growth.”
Jessen and his wife Caroline “Liney” have been recognized for their dedication to the Yuma community in science, education, and art, including both the 2011 Yuma Citizens of the Year award and the 2016 Heart of Yuma award. Jessen is a founding member of the Yuma Center for Excellence in Desert Agriculture (YDECA), a partnership between the UA and the agricultural industry.
The Jessen family have been strong supporters of the University of Arizona, with philanthropy directed toward CALES, Cooperative Extension, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Medicine-Tucson, the Cancer and Arthritis Centers, the Sarver Heart Center, Steele Children’s Research Center, and the Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center.