The World Food Prize Foundation

Gov. Branstad to award Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn the Iowa Award


Highest citizen award from the State of Iowa to be presented by the governor to Quinn May 30th at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn
The World Food Prize


From the Office of the Governor of Iowa
May 8, 2014

Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad today announced he will present Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn the Iowa Award on May 30, 2014, at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines, Iowa. Quinn currently serves as the President of The World Food Prize.  A biography of Quinn can be found below.

The Iowa Award represents the state’s highest citizen award. The Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation, established in 1948 by Governor Robert D. Blue and the Iowa Legislature, created the award. The foundation wished “to encourage and recognize the outstanding service of Iowans in the fields of science, medicine, law, religion, social welfare, education, agriculture, industry, government, and other public service” and to recognize the “merit of their accomplishments in Iowa and throughout the United States.”

“I’m pleased today to announce that Ambassador Kenneth Quinn will become the twenty-third recipient of the Iowa Award,” said Branstad. “Ken personifies the characteristics and qualities that we Iowans strive to embody: integrity, philanthropy and service. Whether it be his humanitarian work on behalf of refugees from Southeast Asia while serving with Governor Robert D. Ray, his passion to continue the legacy of feeding the world started by Iowan Dr. Norman Borlaug, or his diplomatic career which included negotiating for American entry into Vietnamese prisons to search for prisoners of war, Ken has consistently put his state and country above self.”

Branstad formally notified Ambassador Quinn of the honor on Monday, May 5, 2014.

“I was humbled beyond anything I could put into words when Governor Branstad informed me that I was to be the recipient of this singular honor,” said Ambassador Quinn. “Throughout my career, whether at home or abroad, I have been guided and sustained by the core values that were instilled in me growing up in Iowa, and by our state’s great agricultural and humanitarian heritage. I am so proud to be an American, and I am so proud to be an Iowan.”

Previous Iowa Award recipients are as follows:

1951- President Herbert Hoover (engineer, humanitarian, author, and U.S. president)
1955- Jay N. Darling (cartoonist, conservationist, Pulitzer Prize winner)
1961- Frank Spedding (educator, chemist, worked on the first atomic bomb)
1961- James Van Allen (educator, physicist, rocket space exploration)
1966- Henry A. Wallace (U.S. secretary of agriculture, vice president of United States)
1970- Mamie Eisenhower (first lady, wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower)
1975- Karl King (composer, bandmaster)
1978- Norman Borlaug (crop geneticist, worked to end hunger, won Nobel Peace Prize)
1980- Monsignor Luigi Liguitti (director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference)
1984- George Gallup (founder of the Gallup Poll)
1988- Meredith Willson (composer, musician)
1992- Carrie Lane Chapman Catt (leader in suffrage movement and for world peace)
1996- Simon Estes (international opera singer)
1999- Maurice Lasansky (artist, educator)
1999- John Atanasoff (physicist, mathematician, educator, inventor, 1st electronic digital computer)
2001- John Ruan (innovative entrepreneur, philanthropist, World Food Prize sponsor)
2002- George Washington Carver (internationally renowned scientist and humanitarian)
2005- Robert D. Ray (governor, statesman, mayor, university president, lawyer, insurance executive)
2006- Harry Hopkins (founder of WPA under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman)
2009 – Grant Wood (Artist)
2011 – William C. “Bill” Knapp (philanthropist, business and community leader)
2012 – Richard “Dick” Jacobson (transportation pioneer, entrepreneur, philanthropist)

The following event is open to credentialed members of the media:

Friday, May 30, 2014
4 p.m. Gov. Terry E. Branstad presents the Iowa Award to Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn
World Food Prize – Hall of Laureates
100 Locust Street
Des Moines, IA

Ambassador Quinn’s biography:

Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, assumed the leadership of the World Food Prize Foundation on January 1, 2000, following his retirement from the State Department after a 32 year career in the Foreign Service.

Inspired by the vision of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the founder of the World Food Prize, Ambassador Quinn has endeavored to build this annual $250,000 award into “the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.” Held each October in Des Moines on or around World Food Day (October 16), the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony, “Borlaug Dialogue” international symposium and Global Youth Institute have grown in size and stature under his direction.

With the support of the John Ruan family, Dr. Quinn has led the campaign which successfully raised $29.8 million to restore the historic Des Moines Public Library and transform it into the World Food Prize Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates.  He provided the personal leadership to have the building designed to achieve LEED Platinum certification, the highest possible level of energy efficiency and resource conservation.

During his diplomatic career, Ken Quinn served: for six years in Vietnam during the war, including as a Rural Development advisor in the Mekong Delta; on the National Security Council staff at the White House; as Narcotics Counselor at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Vienna; for four years as Chairman of the U.S. Inter-agency Task Force on POW/MIAs; and as Director of Iowa SHARES, the humanitarian campaign that sent Iowa doctors, nurses, medical supplies and food to starving Cambodian refugees.  Dr. Quinn emerged from these experiences as one of the US government’s foremost experts on Indochina. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the origins of the radical Pol Pot regime and is widely acknowledged as the first person anywhere to report, in 1974, on the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge. Twenty years later, while serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, his plan of agricultural enhancements and rural roads led to the final eradication of the Khmer Rouge.

A fluent speaker of Vietnamese, Dr. Quinn acted as interpreter for President Gerald Ford at the White House and personally negotiated the first ever entry by U.S. personnel into a Vietnamese prison to search for U.S. POW/MIAs. He was also a member of the first U.S. team to gain entry to a former Soviet prison in Russia.

Ambassador Quinn rose to become one of the most decorated Foreign Service officers of his generation, recognized for the important role he played in humanitarian endeavors, as well as for his actions in dangerous and violent situations, including:

  • The Secretary of State’s Award for Heroism and Valor for his efforts to protect American citizens exposed to danger in Cambodia, as well as the four lifesaving rescues in which he participated in Vietnam;
  • Being the only civilian to ever receive the U.S. Army Air Medal for his participation in helicopter combat operations in Vietnam;
  • Being the only Foreign Service officer ever to have three times received the American Foreign Service Association Rivkin and Herter Awards for intellectual courage in challenging policy.

Ambassador Quinn, a graduate of Wahlert High School and Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, has a M.A. in Political Science from Marquette University and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Maryland. He and his wife Le Son have three adult children: two sons Davin and Shandon and a daughter Kelly.

A photo of Quinn can be found here. A higher resolution photo is available upon request.


© 2022 The World Food Prize Foundation. All Rights Reserved.