Devoted CALS Philanthropist William Prestage Passes Away

Bill Prestage with his wife Marsha and three sons

William “Bill” Prestage, the founder, owner and patriarch of Clinton, North Carolina-based Prestage Farms and the namesake for North Carolina State University’s Prestage Department of Poultry Science, passed away Monday, Oct. 10, at the age of 87. 

The foundation for the family-owned operation was created by the innovative production practices that Prestage himself pioneered in the 1960s. He focused on creating safe and comfortable environments for animals to ensure healthy growth. He also built quality relationships with local growers and created processes to ensure consistent, high-quality products for customers. 

Mike Williams, professor emeritus and former head of the Prestage Department of Poultry Science, first met Bill Prestage in the early 1990s while serving as director of the NC State Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center.

“Bill was a man of intense integrity and work ethic and absolutely committed to a livestock production model that would contribute to national and global food security. He recognized the importance of unbiased science and technology development to ensure that animal agriculture produced safe and affordable food products in a way that was environmentally and economically sustainable,” said Williams.

Bill Prestage, center, talks to former CALS Dean Richard Linton, left, and Lawrence Davenport. Photo by Marc Hall/NC State

Prestage’s unwavering commitment to excellence helped Prestage Farms become the industry leader it is today. He was inducted into the North Carolina Poultry Federation Hall of Fame in 2003 and into the North Carolina Pork Council Hall of Fame in 2005. He also chaired the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation Board, served on the Vet Med Foundation Board and served as president of the National Turkey Federation.

Prestage was more than a successful businessman; he was a dear friend and avid supporter of NC State, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the department. 

“We are grieved that our dear friend and benefactor of our department has passed away,” said Peter Ferket, interim department head of the Prestage Department of Poultry Science. “What a legacy he has left behind for us and may we honor his memory with everything we do every day.”

Prestage will also be remembered for the positive way he treated individuals. “He valued people for who they are and was very appreciative of their self worth,” said Jesse Grimes, professor and department Extension leader.

Sign unveiling
Chancellor Woodson, right, and Bill Prestage, left, unveil the new logo for the Prestage Department of Poultry Science in 2012. Photo by Marc Hall/NC State

In 2012, the poultry science department was named the Prestage Department of Poultry Science in honor of the family after Prestage and his wife, Marsha, made a transformative $10 million gift. The gift, which established two endowments, supports the strategic combination of teaching, research and extension programs and funds the Prestage Family Distinguished Professorship in Turkey Physiology, Nutrition and Immunology.

In addition, Marsha established the Marsha K. Prestage Scholarship in 2017. The full-tuition scholarship is given annually to an outstanding student with plans to major in production agriculture. The Prestages have long supported students through either scholarship funding or internship and employment opportunities. 

The family has also supported the College of Veterinary Medicine, the FFA Foundation, the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation’s Nickels for Know-How program and the Wolfpack Club.

An elderly couple smiling
Marsha and Bill Prestage. Courtesy: Prestage Farms

In 2015, the couple was recognized with the Menscer Cup, the North Carolina State University Foundation’s highest award for philanthropy, dedication and leadership. 

At the time of the event, Bill Prestage shared that he and his family were indebted to the university and said that NC State was a primary reason that Prestage Farms was an industry leader in turkey and pork production.

“Bill was a leader and advocate for North Carolina agriculture,” said John Dole, interim dean of CALS. “His legacy will live on through his family business and philanthropic efforts. Our college is sincerely grateful for the generous support of Bill and his family over the years.”

The department continues its close partnership with the Prestage Family as it makes significant and transformative advancements in poultry science research, teaching, and extension and outreach programs.

“With Prestage’s support, we have been able to attract highly talented new faculty and upgrade facility resources that will propel us to meet the demands for the future,” said Ferket.

In addition to their generosity to NC State, Bill and Marsha Prestage have supported many causes and programs in eastern North Carolina, including Boy Scouts of America, Graves Memorial Presbyterian Church, American Cancer Society, United Way, 4-H, Ducks Unlimited, Sampson Regional Medical Center Foundation, Sampson County Community College, community arts and theater, county agricultural fair programs and more.

A celebration of Prestage’s life will be held Sunday, Oct. 16, at 2 p.m. in Prestage Hall at the Sampson County Exposition Center.