Jess C. Merkle was born in 1912 in McAlester, Oklahoma. He graduated from Hartshorne High School and attended Oklahoma A&M College. After employment in the produce and poultry industries, with J. H. Johnson, he formed J-M Poultry Packing Company and moved to El Dorado, Arkansas, in 1956 to start a new division of that company. In El Dorado, Mr. Merkle established the first modern poultry plant to serve South Arkansas and developed it into a real asset to the area. J-M Poultry Company became the largest employer in El Dorado and Union County and provided important income to many contract growers in the area. Eventually this business grew into ConAgra, a billion dollar enterprise in south Arkansas. Mr. Merkle has served in an executive capacity for many organizations with connections to the poultry industry. He served as president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation, president of the Southwestern Poultry and Egg Association and chairman of the board of the National Broiler Council. In 1967 he was named “Arkansas Man of the Year” by the Arkansas Poultry Federation and in 1987 he was given an honorary life membership by the National Broiler Council Board of Directors. Mr. Merkle was a long-time supporter and promoter of the Southern Arkansas University Agricultural program. After retiring in 1977, Mr. Merkle served on numerous boards for civic and professional groups. He served 10 years on the Arkansas State Livestock Sanitation Board, with 5 years as its chairman. As a member of the International Business Executive Group out of Washington, D.C., Mr. Merkle traveled to several developing countries such as Turkey, the Philippines and Costa Rica to assist them in establishing poultry programs in their countries.