Ralph Heine retired in 1993 after 43 years as the owner of Gobblers’ Retreat, his family’s Whitley County turkey and dairy farm. He graduated from Purdue University in 1950 with a B.S. degree in Agriculture.
A native of Auburn, Indiana, Heine moved with his family to Whitley County, when he was ten years old. After graduating from Purdue, Heine returned to the family farm in and worked with his father for a year before being inducted into the Army. He served for 21 months in the Army Transportation Corps in the Korean Conflict. He was discharged as a 1st Lt. and went back to the family farm where he would spend the rest of his noteworthy career. He started farming 50 head of dairy cows and continued to develop the turkey raising and processing operation. The Heine’s were early adopters of new production practices, one being strip pasturing of the turkey flock on Ladino clover. In 1966, Heine took over the operation of the farm from his father, and sold the dairy cows to allow his sole focus on the turkey operation. Under Heine’s leadership, Gobblers’ Retreat grew to 135 employees and processed between 10,000 and 11,000 birds per day, five days a week. Heine’s operation was one of the first innovators of further processed turkey parts, developing 35 different turkey products which were distributed regionally throughout Indiana and surrounding states. When Heine retired, Gobblers’ Retreat was the third largest operation in Indiana.
Heine was active in many community activities, often in support of agricultural enterprises or Purdue University. He was one of the early organizers of the Whitley County Soil and Water Conservation District, working with B. V. Widney, the Whitley County Purdue Extension educator. He also helped, in 1965, to organize the Whitley County Chapter of the Purdue Ag Alumni Association, which remained active until the mid-1990’s. Heine was also active in Indiana Farm Bureau, serving as the president of the Whitley County Farm Bureau for three years and as the Rural Youth Chairman for three years. He served for four years on the Whitley County 4-H Board.
Heine also established himself as a local political leader. He was chairman of the Whitley County Young Republicans for two years and chairman of the Whitley County Republican Party for three years. In 1967 he was elected as a State Representative in the Indiana General Assembly, where he served until 1975. From 1973-75 he served as the Majority Caucus Chairman, a position that allowed him to work on behalf of agricultural and education issues, including those important to Purdue.
Heine’s service to the poultry industry included serving two years as president of the Indiana State Poultry Association and two years as president of the Indiana State Turkey Association. He was a member of Purdue Dean of Agriculture Richard Kohls’ advisory committee for two years. Heine is a lifetime member of the Lutheran Church and served in numerous leadership positions at the Zion Lutheran Church in Columbia City, including 18 years as a Sunday School teacher.
Heine has been honored by being selected to the Purdue ROTC Hall of Fame. Both Governor Otis Bowen and Governor Frank O’Bannon named Heine a Sagamore of the Wabash.