JOE LYON (BS.’51 dairy science) is a state and national leader in the dairy industry, an internationally recognized dairy cattle judge, and the husband of Norma “Duffy” Lyon (BS ’51 dairy science), who sculpted the butter cow at the Iowa State Fair for nearly 50 years.
Except for his four years at Iowa State and six months with the extension service in Greene County, Gaylord Joe Lyon made his home on a three-generation Jersey dairy farm in Tama County near Toledo, Iowa. Lyon Jerseys began in 1921 when brothers Earl and Robert formed a partnership. Earl’s sons, Joe and Howard (BS ‘45 engineering), started out showing registered Jerseys in 4-H. Joe and Howard developed a dairy operation, as did Robert’s sons.
“Dairying demands discipline in our lives, and the dairy farm kept us pretty close to home,” Lyon said in 2016. “But our family was active in church, school and 4-H. Those early years in 4-H and my later years in college contributed to my life-long love of agriculture. I have remained close with the university and its programs to stay current in my field.”
Lyon played a critical role in creation of several Iowa and Midwest dairy industry associations. He served as founding director of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and past president of the American Jersey Cattle Association and the National All-Jersey Association. He was a pioneer in implementing a system of payment for dairy farmers based on milk’s cheese yield.
Lyon also has been named an Iowa Master Farmer and recognized as a Guest of Honor by the National Dairy Shrine. The World Dairy Expo honored him as Dairyman of the Year in 1982, and his wife Duffy was named Dairy Woman of the Year in 1990. The Lyon Jerseys partners — Joe, his son Eric (BS ’76 dairy science) and Howard’s son Stuart (BS ’75 dairy science) — received the American Jersey Cattle Association’s prestigious Master Breeders Award.
All have contributed to Joe being part of the ISU Animal Science Hall of Fame. In fact, many family members support the Iowa State dairy science program by offering scholarships, serving on advisory boards and hosting students on their farm for dairy judging practice.
The Lyons raised nine children. Duffy, who met Joe while at Iowa State, died in 2011. Joe passed away in January of 2021.
“I’m grateful to my parents for their strong belief in a good education,” he said in 2016. “They taught my brothers and me that honesty and work, along with other virtues, were expected of us throughout our lives.”
Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Wendy Wintersteen (2016): In this portrait, I see Joe Lyon’s hard work, dedication and leadership for the Iowa dairy industry. He’s an alumnus, an internationally recognized dairy cattle judge and part of the distinguished Lyon family, which includes his late wife, Norma “Duffy” Lyon, the famous butter cow sculptor of the Iowa State Fair.