Approximately 200 people, including students and community members, gathered in Lakeland College’s auditorium in Vermilion, Alberta, for a major funding announcement Tuesday afternoon.
Armin and Rita Mueller have donated $4 million, the single largest gift the college has ever received. That money will be used to buy land and establish a bison herd to complement the college’s existing animal science technology program. The herd will also be part of the college’s unique student-managed farm, giving students a chance to manage a bison operation. The funding will also bolster the college’s training in range and forage management. Lakeland plans to launch its bison production course by September 2021.
The mood in the auditorium was enthusiastic, with the entire crowd standing to applaud at one point during the presentation.
“For us in the school of agriculture, this is more than a $4 million gift,” said Josie Van Lent, dean of agricultural sciences at Lakeland College. It exemplifies qualities the college values, such as strong business management skills, risk assessment ability, hard work and passion, she added, which are also values shared by the Muellers.
The Muellers both originally hail from Switzerland, but have lived near Bentley, Alberta for 40 years. They ran a dairy for 20 years before transitioning to bison in 2000. The couple also owns Canadian Rangeland and Elk, a meat processor and marketer based at Lacombe, Alberta.
Speaking to reporters, Armin Mueller said that he sees Lakeland College as a leading agricultural institution, especially with the student-managed farm.
“It is a natural fit for us,” he said.
Rita Mueller said the bison programming would provide hands-on learning for students, something that wasn’t available to her and Armin when they started their own bison herd.
“We just kind of learned from a book and through experience,” she said. The bison programming should help Lakeland students have an easier time and save money in the long run, she added.
Dr. Alice Wainwright-Stewart, Lakeland College’s president and CEO, told reporters that the donation was “humbling.” The Muellers first visited the college last spring to discuss the gift and their vision, she said.
“We dreamed a lot about a student-managed ranch,” said Wainwright-Stewart. Having individuals such as Armin and Rita Mueller with the vision to make that dream a reality for Lakeland College is beyond comprehensible, she added.
Armin told reporters that he hopes their gift will be a good thing for the land, for Alberta and Canada. He also hopes to see the bison industry grow in Canada.
“In 2000, the slogan was: Bison are back. And my slogan now would be: Bison are here to stay.”