Month September 2014

A Hunger-Fighter You Should Know: Dr. June Henton

Not many people intimidate me, except scholars. Whenever I get around people with Ph.D.’s, I try to keep my mouth shut. My Dad used to quote Mark Twain, “Keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re a fool, or open it and remove all doubt.”

The reason this website, this organization of Universities Fighting World Hunger and this blog exists is because of the founder, Dr. June Henton. Dr. Henton is the Dean of the College of Sciences at Auburn University and, in 2004, was approached by the World Food Programme- the food-aid arm of the United Nations- to gather universities to fight world hunger. Thus began UFWH.

June is a combination of the consummate scholar and a genteel Southern lady. Her elegance and charm are sweetened by genuine humility and deference. One leaves a meeting with her with vigorous doses of inspiration.  June is a rare person whose very nature exudes hospitality and brilliance.  I find myself in a meeting with her concentrating more on diction, articulation and posture simply because she stimulates excellence.

I had the good fortune to meet and spend some time in Raleigh, North Carolina with June and two other key players in the formation of UFWH- Dr. Harriet Giles and Douglass Cassion Coutts.  Dr. Giles is an excellent orator on the topic of hunger and has provided key support for the development of UFWH. Professor Coutts, a senior field advisor for WFP, was on loan to Auburn to start a hunger minor- the first one of it’s kind to integrate multi-curricular approaches to hunger.

With the three of them together, I peppered them with a variety of novice questions about hunger.  At that time, meal-packaging was still a dream for me.  I felt like a little kid that keeps raising his hand up asking one annoying question after another. However, they were patient and gracious.

Furthermore, they were stuck with me and I wouldn’t quit asking questions. Little did they know how much they were shaping the ideology of my fight against hunger.  I was with experts in the hunger space and their input formulated much of my philosophy.  June said, “I hope I never have to write a set of bylaws or a constitution.  I want to start a movement, not build an organization.”

She invited to me attend the UFWH Summit on Auburn’s campus so my wife and I flew to Atlanta, then drove to Auburn.  The first day, the tornado siren went off in our hotel. The next day, we drove in a blizzard to get back to Atlanta. Apparently, Toto, Alabama is a lot like Kansas!

In 2010, I flew to Auburn to discuss with June and Harriet what I could do on Kansas’s campuses around the issue of hunger. Out of that conversation came the idea for the Kansas Hunger Dialogue. We would gather the top administrators, faculty, and students of Kansas’ post-secondary institutions of higher learning to engage in, “A conversation that matters.”

“Go to the top as soon as you can.”

I didn’t know where to begin, but June told me,  “Go to the top as soon as you can.” She knew the new provost at K-State University, Dr. April Mason, and suggested I visit her.  I ran the idea by Dr. Mason and told her my staff would do the work, but we needed her endorsement. She quickly agreed. Had she not agreed, the Kansas Hunger Dialogue would have died on the vine.

Next I visited with Dr. Jackie Vietti, President of  Butler County Community College. Jackie has done a magnificent job with community colleges and she quickly agreed to give her support for “a conversation that matters.”

Then, Dr. Debora Ballard-Reisch of Wichita State University arranged a meeting with Dr. Don Beggs, President of WSU.  Those three university leaders arranged a meeting with the Kansas Board of Regents and we quickly got the KBOR endorsement.

To complete the circle, I met with Dr. Doug Penner, of the Kansas Independent Colleges Association and he quickly agreed to give support.

Our first KHD was a smashing success!  20 colleges sent a total of 84 people from top level administration, faculty, and students to the Dialogue, for, as Dr. Vietti called it, “A conversation that matters.”

A movement begins

There was a question during the end of the Hunger Dialogue about next steps.  I quoted June and said I wasn’t interested in starting an organization, but a movement.  If they wanted to do it the next year, then it was up to them.

The 2nd Annual KHD was even more successful than the first! Matt Lindsey of the Kansas Campus Compact drove the wagon with great accomplishment. 145 people arrived representing 21 colleges. The four-year public, the four-year private, and the two-year colleges each had their own break out sessions and strategy meetings to integrate the topic and activities on campus.

Replication a key

June taught me to build replicable models, so the following year Stop Hunger Now, N.C. State, and Elon University hosted North Carolina Against Hunger. Other states are now using iterations of the model as a framework for their own Hunger Dialogues.

Running 500 miles for hunger

I went to the UFWH Summit in 2011 at the University of Guelph in Canada. A beautiful snow fell on the pristine campus as a cheering crowd welcomed Joe Henry, a Master’s Degree student at University of Alabama at Birmingham, who ran 500 miles to get there!  Inspired by June, he ran the equivalent of a marathon plus a 10K every day for 17 days to get from Washington, D.C. to Guelph, Canada. June just naturally motivates people with her vision.

Hope is not a plan

The next year, I flew to Honduras with my son, Caleb, to UNA- the Universidad National Agricultura.  Hundreds of participants flew into the most dangerous airport for landing in the world- Tegucigalpa. From there we flew back out again to Catacamas where the Summit was held.  The President of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, delivered the opening remarks then turned the podium over to June who gave one of the best speeches on hunger I’ve ever heard. One of the most memorable statements was, “Hope is not a plan. We need to gather together and make a plan.”

She was issuing a challenge to institutions of higher learning to convene and collaborate to solve global hunger.

UFWH Summit in Kansas

The 2012 Kansas Hunger Dialogue participants chose to host the 8th Annual UFWH Summit in Kansas in March of 2013. It’s the first time in three years the UFWH Summit was on American soil.  Unique to this summit is the collaboration of a statewide coalition of universities, colleges, and community colleges, which will host the summit.

White House Champion of Change

In 2012, President Obama and the White House gave June the White House Champion of Change award for her efforts in the hunger space. She wrote about this in an article, One More Mountain To Climb.

Hunger Solutions Institute

Always the visionary, June has cast the direction for the newly formed Hunger Solutions Institute. From her brief: “The Hunger Solution Institute will galvanize the higher education community worldwide in the fight against hunger and engage a multi-sector stakeholder group from both the public and private sectors in the creation of dynamic 21st century solutions to secure lasting food security.”

When the story is finally written and when global hunger is eliminated, June will be prominently featured as the leader who managed to turn all hopes into a plan.

She started a movement.  I am proud to be a part of it.


By Rick McNary

This excerpt was taken from my book, Hunger Bites: Bite Size Stories of Inspiration that is available both in Kindle and in print.

Originally posted 05/28/2013.