It was an Elvis moment for meat scientist Diana Clark. The chance to meet a legend in her field.

The University of Illinois-Champaign graduate shared an elevator with Dr. Bobby VanStavern.

“He pushed for the focus on quality,” Clark says. “In the 1970s, the industry focus was on lean beef, and he knew what good quality beef was.”

Affectionately known as Dr. Bob, the professor at The Ohio State University Extension linked cattle production to quality on the plate. He taught students and professionals, mentored both and wrote instructional guides. His focus always on making beef better for each link in the value chain.

Dr. Bob shared what he knew, though uniting all their needs raised immeasurable challenges.

Dr. Bob advised the Angus Beef Certification Committee starting in 1977. Committee members were:(front left) Mick Colvin and Harold Etling; (back left) VanStavern, Elliot Frank, Ed Elliott and Fred Johnson, and Charles Cannon (not pictured).

Opportunity knocks
Mick Colvin entered Dr. Bob’s office in August 1977. The cattleman was leading a group of Angus ranchers seeking criteria to consistently deliver higher quality beef for consumers.

Dr. Bob knew meat science and consumer taste panels held the clues. Modest or higher marbling. Limits for maturity, yield, marbling texture and lean color. The details from research were already in his desk drawer.

Dr. Bob VanStavern defined the brand’s quality standards in 1978, and led the push for quality as a consultant to the brand and its partners for 25 years.

 He helped Colvin put the pieces into place, guiding the group’s Certified Angus Beef ® brand retail launch within a year. It sparked a consumer-driven, cattlemen-led movement.

“Back then, when the industry was on the path for leaner beef, Dr. Bob had other ideas,” John Stika, meat scientist and Certified Angus Beef ® president says. “He saw the science pointed toward more marbling.”

Dr. Bob guided the first premium branded beef program for 25 years as a consultant. He stood beside Colvin, meat packers, processors, distributors, retailers and chefs. He nurtured and encouraged. He visited their businesses and crafted the “Science Behind the Sizzle™” training, a version of which Clark presents today.

More than 19,000 partners market the Certified Angus Beef ® brand in 52 countries around the world. Together, they deliver roughly 6.3 billion beef servings to consumers annually.

“Things he advocated for seem commonplace today, because 40 years later, other programs and breeds are touting quality in the marketplace,” Stika added. “Because of his solid opinion and willingness to defend it, there’s an entire industry today that gets it.”

 

A treasured mentor
In meat science, and life, Dr. Bob was a champion of others and a listening ear. An unwavering rock with a warm presence.

In February, he passed away at age 90.

To honor his friendship and leadership, Certified Angus Beef ® colleagues started a mentorship recognition through the American Meat Science Association (AMSA) Development Council. One student, following in his footsteps, will be selected annually for the scholarship from those presenting beef quality research at the  AMSA Reciprocal Meat Conference. The first student recognition will be in 2021.

“I think it’s fitting to honor Dr. Bob in this way,” Stika says. “Dr. Bob believed the data he collected and in the power of a better eating experience, and that’s why research is such a rock-solid part of our specifications still today. He helped so many people—students, colleagues and producers to consumers—be more successful.”

John Grimes was one of the students and colleagues Dr. Bob touched.

An Ohio State student, starting in 1979, Grimes went on to work alongside Dr. Bob in Ohio State Extension.

 

The “father of the specifications,” Dr. Bob VanStavern had been consulting with packers, foodservice distributors, retailers and chefs for years to define their quality needs. The Certified Angus Beef ® brand culminated his life’s work.

“Bobby was always a students’ professor, like a players’ coach,” Grimes says. “He really cared about his students, wanted you to learn, and was passionate about meat science and what he did for Certified Angus Beef ®.”

Grimes recently served as chairman of the brand’s board of directors. Retired from extension, he still raises Angus cattle with his wife, Joanie, in Hillsboro, Ohio.

Today, Dr. Bob’s meat quality mantra has grown bigger than one individual.

“The continued success of the Certified Angus Beef ® brand documents the need for farmers and ranchers to pay attention to carcass traits,” Grimes adds. “As demand grows, it’s our obligation to continue growing beef cattle to meet consumer needs.”

And Clark? She, along with her husband, Daniel, are meat scientists for the brand. They spend their days in the meat lab, on Zoom, researching and at seminars talking with partners, compounding the success Dr. Bob left behind.

“He set the foundation and pointed us in the best direction,” Clark says. “We have the best beef out there. We continue honoring him by challenging ourselves to always make it better.”

Stika’s advice for students. “Believe the data, be persistent, and then share your beliefs with conviction. Dr. Bob always did.”

A West Virginia native, VanStavern earned his bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from West Virginia University, and master’s in animal science from The Ohio State University. He served two years in the Air Force, earning the rank of Captain, before returning to Ohio State to earn his Ph.D. in 1960. He was a beloved family man, noted researcher, speaker and leader in AMSA and other organizations.

Contributions to the mentorship program can be made through AMSA.

For more information, watch the MeatSpeak podcast about Dr. Bob.