50 for 50: Keith & Helen Masser

Published online: Apr 05, 2021 50 for 50, Articles, Grower of the Month
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Keith and Helen Masser both grew up on Pennsylvania potato farms before meeting and marrying while studying at Penn State University. But if you ask them how they felt when they got married about going back the farm full-time, they will answer quickly and decisively in the negative.

“Never,” says Keith.

“No,” says Helen, laughing. “I married him under false pretenses!”

But becoming parents has a way of changing people’s perspective. When the Massers welcomed their son David into the world, they came to a realization that would eventually help shape the lives not only of them and their family, but hundreds of people across the potato industry.

“We started doing some soul-searching,” Keith recalls. “We asked each other, ‘How do we want to raise our kids?’ And we decided the best way to raise a family was on a farm.”

So the young family moved back to the Masser farm near Sacramento, Pa., in 1976, joining Keith’s father, Sterman Masser. The family was already well-established, having grown potatoes in central Pennsylvania since 1800, but over the ensuing decades, Keith and Helen would expand the farm and packing and shipping facility beyond what even they anticipated.

“We were pretty much doubling our growth every five years in the ’70s and ’80s,” Keith recalls. “In 1976 we grew about 100 acres of potatoes and had shipped around 300 truckloads with 10 employees. Today Sterman Masser, Inc. ships 8,000 truckloads with 400 employees and farms 6,000 acres — about 1,000 acres of potatoes.”

The Massers have been deeply involved in the potato industry beyond their own successful business. Keith and Helen each served for several years on the U.S. Potato Board (now Potatoes USA), and each served for a year as chair of that organization. They have been involved with the National Potato Council, with Keith serving as president in 2004. They remain actively engaged in Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Penn State, where Keith served as chairman of the board of trustees and is the current chairman of the Penn State Health Board. The Massers also give out scholarships to Penn State ag and medical students. In 2018, the Massers made a commitment to create the Masser Family Faculty Chair in Potato Research, which will support a faculty member in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences whose research and teaching focuses on advancing the state’s potato industry.

While their children, David and Julie, now head up the operation of Sterman Masser, Inc., Keith and Helen Masser continue to be relied upon to help guide the family company, and to offer advice and expertise earned through a lifetime of dedication to their family and the potato industry.