Iowa Public Television


Remembering Mark Pearson

posted on June 8, 2012

Hello, I'm Dean Borg.  America suffered a setback this week, when Mark Pearson -- the very heart and soul of this program -- passed away.      
Hosting Market to Market for more than 20 years, Mark was a tireless advocate for agriculture; and he never passed up an opportunity to educate others on its importance.
Mark loved farming almost as much as he loved people. He was a tenacious worker, who somehow always found time to make others feel special. He was gregarious and kind-hearted, yet he took the business of agriculture very seriously.

While most people recognize Mark Pearson as the host of Market to Market, he originally appeared on Iowa Public Television -- not as a reporter but as the subject of a report -- assessing the state's future through the eyes of new and returning Iowans.

Though only in his twenties, Mark already was on a mission to educate America on the importance of agriculture.

Mark Peason:  “It’s hard to explain but its more real back here.  A lot of people I think want to leave the Frost Belt or the midwest or something.  I think a lot of them leave because they lack an understanding of where it is that they live.  It amazes me the number of people in Des Moines, Iowa, which for all intents and purposes is the capital of the Corn Belt, who don’t know anything about farming.”     

Born in Lafayette, Indiana in 1957, Mark was raised on a family farm, where he quickly learned the value of hard work.  He earned a degree in Journalism -- and met the woman he would marry -- at the University of Arizona.   

Mark Peason:  “And upon graduation I wanted to get back to the Midwest because that was where all the action was.  Agriculture was going.  All through the 70’s you could see it.   High grain prices and good global demand for corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle, hogs, things just looked really strong and I wanted to get back as soon as I graduated to get involved in some way shape or form.”

After graduation, Mark and his bride, Eden, moved to Des Moines, Iowa where he worked in the Farm Department at WHO Radio.-- a 50,000 watt station broadcasting "coast to coast, border to border and then some."       

Narrator:  “For Mark Pearson, a native of Illinois but a sunbelt graduate, it was a promise of a career boost that lured him away from Arizona…”

Mark Pearson:  “So I came back and went to work for WHO which you know, once you go out around the country that’s the largest farm station, the largest farmer listened to station in the world.” 

 In 1980, Mark won the DeKalb Oscar -- the most-coveted award in agricultural  broadcasting.  His  command of rural issues and easygoing personality made him a natural as a farm broadcaster.  But he also worked as the Markets Editor for Successful Farming Magazine and even served as Iowa's Assistant Secretary of Agriculture.  And, after a stint at Minnesota Public Radio, Mark returned to Iowa.

Mark Pearson:  “Now why come back to Iowa?  Well we missed it.  Our friends are here and we like the state.  And if you don’t know why you haven’t lived elsewhere.  The major reason?  People in Iowa are nice.  Why a farm?  Well sentimental and practical reasons.  The sentimental reasons are here on my lap, one is fading fast.   But I wanted to expose these two to the joys and experiences that I knew on the farm as a youngster.  I want them to understand hard work.  I don’t want them to wander aimlessly around shopping malls in their teens.  They can just as easily wander aimlessly around the farm.”     

In 1986, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve as a Military Intelligence Officer, eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander. 

But the microphone beckoned and Mark's career in media hit a new high in 1991 when he was named host of Market to Market.        

(Mark Pearson: “Hello.  I’m Mark Pearson…”

Over the next two decades, Mark hosted more than 1,000 episodes of the nationally syndicated program.  And longtime viewers might be surprised to learn that Pearson actually anchored more installments of Market to Market than his iconic predecessor, Chet Randolph.

Chet Randolph:  "Until then…Thanks for watching and have a good week."

Mark Pearson:  Until then… Thanks for watching and have a good week.

Mark was the ultimate "Jack of All Trades."  He had an unrivaled work ethic and in a sense, he never really quit jobs -- he just took on more.  

Known nationally for his agribusiness expertise, he spoke at thousands of meetings and conventions across the nation.  

In 1993, he added the title of stockbroker to his resume, by opening an Edward Jones office in Winterset, Iowa.  Three years later, Mark and others from WHO Radio organized "The Great Iowa Tractor Ride." 

In 2003, Iowa Public Television rode along with Mark -- whose tractor -- of course -- broke down.

 Somehow on top of all of his commitments, Mark still found time -- often in the wee hours of the morning -- to run a diversified grain and livestock operation.

Despite burning the candle at both ends -- and frequently in the middle -- Mark still managed to prioritize the big things in life.  And anyone who knew him well will tell you Mark's family was the most important thing in his life.  He cherished the accomplishments of his wife and four children and they were foremost in his heart. 

While viewers beyond Iowa's borders probably know him best as the host of Market to Market, those inside the Hawkeye State know Mark wore many hats for Iowa Public Television. 

Mark Pearson:  "Ladies and gentleman it is about five degrees below zero with the wind chill.  There are 3,000 frozen media members in downtown Des Moines.  And there are enough satellite dishes in this town to dial up mars.  It can only mean one thing… It’s Iowa caucus night.  Let’s party.  Whoooo…. Mark Russell.”

Mark loved people.  He was blessed with an innate ability to make them feel special. 

And regardless of any pressures he faced, he always found time to visit with them.  Even if he was just making their acquaintance, Mark made everyone feel like a lifelong friend.

Traversing the State Fairgrounds with Mark was like travelling with Elvis.  It was as if everybody knew him and Mark did his best to visit with each and every one of them.   

Rarely, could you be in his presence and not smile.  Humor was his weapon of choice and most of the time Mark rendered his "victims" defenseless.

One of his favorite sources of humor came to fruition last year, when he was immortalized as a bobblehead. 

Mark Pearson:  “And again one of the fun things we came up with, and they’ve been hugely popular… And it’s almost embarrassing for me to say it… No its not.  These have been hugely popular, the Mark Pearson bobble head.  Whoops, ohhh, I’m showing you the good side.  Ha Ha Ha!”  

The ceramic mini-Mark actually proved to be quite popular and holds special meaning for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. 

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture:  “It’s a reminder, and now an even more poignant reminder, of uncertainty of life.  Every day is a gift, and you’ve got to make the most of it. I don’t think… Obviously Mark didn’t live long enough.  But if he were here today, I’m pretty sure he would come back and say, ‘I didn’t waste a day.’  It’s also a reminder of the importance of making sure that I do my job in a way the ordinary folks will understand what’s happening at USDA and have a growing and better appreciation of for what we do here and the people we serve. “

While humor was a major part of Mark's persona, he took the business of agriculture very seriously. He proudly stood up for the American farmer, but always as an advocate -- not an apologist.    

Mark Pearson:  “What we need to have on an ongoing basis is an ability to compete in the world.  If you give the American farmer a chance to compete in the world, he’ll take on everybody.” 

Mark recognized that despite producing the most abundant and affordable food supply in the world, U.S. producers often face significant challenges.   

 This fall, Market to Market begins its 38th season on public television, making it the longest-running program of its kind.  Like his predecessor, Mark Pearson had a lot to do with the show's success.  And the next host of Market to Market will always be known as “Mark’s successor,” because Mark Pearson can never be replaced.  

Tags: agriculture Mark Pearson


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