The Quiet Fighter

Published online: Aug 10, 2020 Articles Tyrell Marchant with contributions from the Henninger family and Ag World Support Systems
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This article appears in the August 2020 issue of Potato Grower

When you live and work in an industry like this one, you meet a lot of people who are truly dedicated to potatoes. Warren Henninger was one of those people. And while anyone who ever met the founder and chairman of Ag World Support Systems understood that there was something deeper, something ineffably more about Henninger than most, it’s safe to say he would want to be remembered as “one of those people,” because to him, there was no higher compliment to be paid than to be counted among the potato folk.

Henninger passed away on May 23 from an injury sustained in an accident.

Henninger was born and raised on a potato farm in eastern Pennsylvania, and almost from the cradle he absolutely adored working with potatoes. From a young age he helped his father plant, harvest, grade and sell potatoes. After high school, he earned an agronomy degree from Penn State, fully intending to return to the farm. However, his father advised Warren that the “future of potatoes is in the West” and encouraged him to leave the family farm. Warren heeded his dad’s advice and pursued a graduate degree from Oregon State University

It was while at Oregon State the Henninger met his wife Judy, whom he married in 1970 after a two-year courtship. The couple moved to Ontario, Ore., where he worked as an Extension agent for Malheur County. Over the next 25 years, Warren was employed across the Northwest by Simplot, Carnation and Nestlé in various leadership roles. Warren and Judy welcomed three children, Bryan, Craig and Melanie, and settled in Moses Lake, Wash.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.

— 2 Timothy 4:7

Though content with the path Warren’s career had taken to that point, Warren and Judy took a leap of faith in 1997 in an attempt to meet a need they saw in the industry. They founded Ag World Support Systems, a private, third-party inspection service focused on commodity inspection, sampling and analysis. Like seemingly everything else in his life, Henninger’s company has served the potato industry well, providing unbiased inspection for a variety of products and helping growers and processors manage their products and relationships. Today, Ag World Support Systems services potato facilities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Maine and Manitoba, and provides consulting services in China.

In 2014, Henninger began what would prove to be one of the biggest building blocks of his legacy, organizing the Ag World Golf Classic. The annual event raises money for Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest, which provides temporary lodging and support for families with critically ill or injured children accessing medical services in Spokane. To date, the Classic has raised over $425,000 for those families in need.

Above everything else, Henninger was a loyal and dedicated husband, father, friend and Christian. Every press release or communiqué sent from Ag World concluded with the salute “To God be the glory!”—a message that, to anyone who knows anything about the Henninger family, never feels the least bit cheesy or insincere. Warren never seemed to call attention to himself, but the quiet, confident joy he internalized and the simple warm smile he always wore were enough to draw people to him wherever he went.

True to form, Henninger’s memorial service was held at a potato cellar just outside Warden, Wash. The setting was a fittingly simple yet beautiful sendoff for a man whose entire life was dedicated to God, family and, yes, potatoes.

Godspeed, Warren.