Colorado Potato Veteran Dies

Verlin Rockey remembered as pioneer in soil science, variety development

Published online: Apr 07, 2017 Kathleen Thomas Gaspar
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Colorado potato seed grower Verlin Rockey, principal in Milk Ranch Specialty Potatoes and Potato Garden in Austin, Colo., died March 21 of cancer at Horizons Care Center in Eckert, Colo. He was 72.

Rockey is survived by his wife, Diane, of Austin; son, Craig (Dawna) of Austin; daughter, Petrina (Robert) Steward of Meridian, Idaho; one sister, Loraine Campbell of Newburg, Ore.; 13 grandchildren; three nephews and one niece. He was preceded in death by his parents and by one brother, Warren Rockey, another Colorado potato who died in January 2015

Born April 21, 1944, in Monte Vista, Colo., to Floyd and Vera Rockey, Verlin grew up in nearby Center, graduating from high school there in 1962. He went on to graduate in 1967 from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics.

In 1965 he married Diane DeLozier in Thomas, Okla., and the couple made their home in Colorado, where Rockey maintained a quiet profile while contributing enormously to the potato industry.

According to his nephew, Sheldon, of Center, Colo., “Uncle Verlin was very instrumental in bringing the Yukon Gold and fingerlings to the San Luis Valley, and he also helped in the development of the Purple Majesty.”

Sheldon’s brother, Brendon, lauded Verlin Rockey in June 2013 with a piece he wrote for The High Country News. Brendon and Sheldon are owners of Rockey Farm in Center, growing dozens of fingerling varieties. In his story, Brendon related how a rocket scientist—Verlin, who in addition to breeding potatoes also designed missiles at White Sands, N.M.—taught him about balance as it pertains to soil health. His uncle wanted to generate more life in the soil rather than “killing things off,” Brendon wrote.

Not one to seek fame, Rockey still caught the attention of Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs. In 2006 Rowe spent day with Rockey on his farm on Colorado’s Western Slope. In a tribute written days after Rockey’s death, Rowe described the farmer and scientist as having a “relentless work ethic,” saying the Colorado man embodied not only a “willingness to get dirty” but also a “burning curiosity about the world.”

Memorial contributions can be made in Verlin Rockey’s name to the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, a work ethic scholarship program for job training. Information is available here and here.


Source: The Produce News