Jerry Radke of Nevada, Iowa was a conservationist known for his hard work and a “yes I can” attitude with a passion for improving soil and water quality. At Jerry’s request, after his passing last fall, Prairie Rivers of Iowa received many generous donations in his memory, helping us and the citizens of Story County continue his legacy and the important work involved.

His love for the outdoors and the environment started on the family farm where at a young age Jerry helped work dairy and beef cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks, and geese. Jerry would tell the story about how at the age of three his father put him on a tractor where he had to stand and brace his head against the seat so his feet could reach the pedals.

Jerry attended a one-room school through the eight-grade, went on to graduate high school, earn a bachelor of science in soils from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master’s in soil physics from Iowa State followed by a return to Wisconsin to earn a Ph.D. in soil physics.

Jerry Radke
Jerry Radke volunteering during a Story County Arbor Day event.

Jerry Radke (left foreground) volunteering at a Story County Soil and Water Conservation District Arbor Day event.

During his professional career as a soil physicist, Jerry worked at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Minnesota then retired from the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research at the National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames. His work took him around the world while he continued to study soil structure, soil temperature, and instrumentation. His published articles included research related to freezing and thawing soils, plus the effects of water and nutrient movement within soil profiles.

Here at Prairie Rivers, we primarily got to know Jerry through his service as a Story County Soil and Water District (SWCD) Commissioner. When asked about what was the most important legacy that Jerry left for the citizens of Story County, his daughter Katrina Radke had a hard time pointing to just one thing. He was deeply involved with the SWCD and Story County conservation projects, the Lions Club, and the church.  “He always wanted to do what was best for the soil, conservation, nature, and recycling,” Katrina shared. “He always had a compost pile and was into reusing everything as much as possible rather than wasting it.”

“Some of our most cherished family memories were hiking and camping in Minnesota state parks and national parks throughout the country,“ Katrina fondly remembers, “Obviously, his value for the environment was big. Something else I view as a legacy from him was the good old-fashioned values of discipline, hard work, pursuing what you love to do, and immersing yourself in it. He was a very honest working good man with integrity and high expectations. Being of service to humanity and the land was important to him.”

Katrina concludes with, “I loved my dad very dearly. He was very much a part of my life in terms of a creative voice and teacher.”

If you’d like to reach out to Jerry’s family with a note, please email his wife Susan at or his daughter Katrina at

Here at Prairie Rivers of Iowa, we are grateful for the memorials given in honor of Jerry Radke and his family. If you or a loved one have questions about establishing a memorial to assist Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s work, please contact our Director Penny Brown Huber.

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