Please share a little about yourself.
I grew up on a small dairy farm near Wabeno in Forest County. After high school graduation, I earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from UW-River Falls and then was invited to serve Uncle Sam in the Vietnam War. After discharge, I returned to UW-River Falls to complete my master’s degree. I was married to Vicky for 42 years before her untimely passing from cancer. Our daughter, Becky, her husband Brian and grandsons Isaac and Eli live in Marshfield. Following retirement, I’ve been involved in volunteer organizations in addition to Farm Bureau. I serve on the school board for the Oconto Falls School District and I’m involved in FFA Alumni, church, on a local credit union board, county dairy promotion group and county breakfast on the farm organizing committee, among others.
When you were growing up what did you want to be?
Wabeno High School offered vocational agriculture classes and FFA when I was in school. I enrolled during all four years and was active in the FFA chapter. Through the influence of my ag teacher, Bill Taubman, I developed an interest and aspired to teach ag.
As a retired ag instructor, please share what your responsibilities were? What was the most enjoyable part of your career?
Following completion of my master’s degree, I taught agriculture in the Green Bay Area School District for seven years. Initially, my assignment was teaching ninth-grade students. As the Green Bay program grew, I became the instructor and FFA advisor at Preble High School, along with my wife Vicky, who was the third woman to work as an ag teacher in the state. She taught agriculture classes at Edison Junior High School, the feeder to Preble High School, which had the distinction to have both traditional farm students as well as urban students. For several years we had the largest FFA chapter in the state. While not looking to make a career change, I was approached about the vacant agriculture agent position with UW Extension in Oconto County. I applied and was hired. After 22 years, I retired from that position.
The best part of teaching was working with the students. The excitement and enthusiasm of young people, especially those interested in agriculture, was and continues to be infectious. In Oconto County, I continue to work with young people through 4-H, FFA Alumni and the county fair. I have always maintained that my annual energy recharge came in participating in the Wisconsin and National FFA Conventions with the blue jackets.
How long have you served on the Oconto County Farm Bureau Board of Directors? What is the best part of this role? The most challenging part of this role?
My parents were Farm Bureau members in Brown County and policyholders of Rural Mutual Insurance. After my retirement from UW Extension, my college classmate, Dennis Jahnke, who is Oconto County Farm Bureau president was seeking members for the county board of directors. He asked if I would serve, and I said, yes. The best part of the role is being able to maintain contact and involvement with people in agriculture. The most challenging is convincing people to get involved in leadership and projects.
What is one agricultural experience that has defined you?
One of the major focus areas of my UW Extension programming became farm financial management. Through the climatic and economic stresses on agriculture during the 1980s and 1990s, I applied financial analysis tools developed by UW Extension with farmers and their lenders to test the feasibility of plans for adjusting their businesses to maintain sustainability. The work helped to verify some plans had high prospects to improve the farm’s financial position. Working with farmers to help them make decisions that improved their lives was very rewarding.
What is one Farm Bureau experience of which you are most proud?
I haven’t done much in Farm Bureau but I’m very proud of my wife, Vicky’s accomplishments and contributions to Farm Bureau, which influenced my involvement. While members in Brown County I was encouraged to enter the Discussion Meet contest only to discover that I had aged out of YFA. But Vicky hadn’t so she entered and advanced to the state finals. My role was to be her mentor and cheerleader. That trip was our introduction to Wisconsin Farm Bureau and the beginning of more regular attendance at the convention. My involvement with the Farm Bureau Discussion Meet and its FFA offshoot continues to this day as I have judged the event at the WFBF Annual Meeting for many years and at FFA contests at the district and sectional levels.
What is something that many Farm Bureau members do not know about you?
I am the eldest of a family of 16 siblings. I attribute my interest and passion for education to my mother’s goal of seeing all of us complete some education after high school and the sacrifices she and my dad made on our home farm to make it happen. She succeeded in that goal with all of us but one having completed post-secondary training ranging from associate to graduate degrees.
What Farm Bureau committees have you served?
I serve on the Oconto County Farm Bureau Board executive committee as board vice president and as the chair of the county policy development committee. I served a term as the District 7 member on the WFBF Policy Development Committee.
Is there anything else that you want to add?
The complex world in which we live in today makes knowledge, advocacy and connections key to success. Farm Bureau can provide those key attributes. Those involved in agriculture are encouraged to not only join the Farm Bureau but also get actively involved in opportunities it offers that suit their interests in policy development and advocacy, Ag In The Classroom, consumer education and promotion or other programs.
By Marian Viney, originally appeared in the February|March 2022 Rural Route.