One day your life will flash before your eyes, make sure yours is worth watching. Mine is. I was born with a bang on the 4th of July the first son of Donald and Louise Klussendorf. I was raised with the work ethic of a mule, stubborn, never asking for help and determined to better myself. I found my perfect match in high school and married Christine Rolfe Klussendorf on Aug. 24, 1968. We were blessed with a daughter Erica and a son Ryan, what a perfect life we have. Together we have lived in four different zip codes, traveled the world and continue to pursue a better life together. Being parents has been a blessing, but we have found our stride as grandparents to five wonderful kids who bring out the younger side forcing us to keep up daily.
When you were growing up what did you want to be?
Growing up the first 10 years of life on a farm in Pewaukee set my life up for farming success. My parents were one of the first Wisconsin farmers to convert from milk cans to a bulk tank cooler. Unfortunately, when the construction of I-94 made its way through Waukesha County it came right through the middle of our farm. Watching my father and grandfather strive to continue farming they picked up and moved west to North Prairie. I learned from the strong line of Klussendorf men behind me that no matter what the challenge is, hold your head high and work through it while bettering yourself and your business for the future. Farming was a life purpose I chose based on the love of working with animals and the soil that I was taught to me from a very young age. Additionally, I enjoyed the perks of being my own boss.
Tell us about your farm in Waukesha County and your responsibilities?
Upon graduation from UW-Platteville, I came back to the home farm, with a blueprint in hand of a young stock addition and a ton of other ideas. My Dad complied with my requests and we added a wing for youngstock onto the main dairy barn, only to lose that addition and the youngstock a year later in a devastating barn fire. We could have hung our farming hats up and moved on but determined to succeed we formed a partnership and expanded. Building a total confinement, slated floor, free-stall barn and double-8 parlor. What started out as my dad and I, expanded from 60 cows to 185 eventually adding a herdsman to oversee the cows. In 1979, we changed from a partnership to an s-corporation for estate planning purposes. Dad was the chair of the board and I was vice president of Broadlands, Inc. I was responsible for day-to-day operations, from fieldwork to bookkeeping. Broadlands, Inc., cropped 800 acres with four full-time and four part-time employees.
When you moved to Taylor County did you farm and what were your responsibilities?
I was retired from farming and Chris and I wanted to be closer to our three grandsons to watch them grow up so we packed up and moved to Taylor County. The plan was for me to get a part-time position on a neighboring farm feeding cows but quickly turned into a full-time position and lots of hours. Leaving few available hours to help on our son Ryan’s farm or see my grandson’s sports games. I eventually retired and now spend time helping on Ryan’s farm driving tractor or mixing feed while he is away or volunteer in many different organizations in Taylor County.
What was it like to move from an urban Waukesha County to a rural Taylor County? How did you transition the Ag in the Classroom work that you did?
Moving to Taylor county was a huge adjustment, everything is a slower pace, not just the traffic. Living in Waukesha we were a hop, skip and jump from everything, now we are at least an hour away from major entertainment, shopping and extended family. Lucky for me, that leaves time to dive into Ag in the Classroom work that is much needed in Taylor County. Ag in the Classroom in Waukesha County was an award-winning program, in 1990 we were awarded AFBF Program of Year for ‘Farmer in the Classroom.’ Waukesha Farm Bureau organized a program bringing members of the board to speak at county schools teaching thousands of students each year. I used my experience in Waukesha County to find an inside advocate at the three school districts in Taylor county to approach fourth-grade classrooms with the same idea. Now, we have been invited back each year and influence about 300 kids each year.
You participated in the WFBF Leadership Institute. Please share the four top takeaways that you learned and have used either in your role as president of Taylor County Farm Bureau or in other ways that you advocate for agriculture.
The top four things I have learned while participating in the Institute are: You can teach an old dog new tricks. Technology doesn’t come easy for us old guys but give us an iPad and a few assignments, we can convince our grandkids to teach us how to use them. How to balance different generations of people to get things done, became extremely important when I started my new role as Taylor County Farm Bureau president, we have several generations representing in our board members and getting everyone to work on the same path can be a challenge. Another important lesson was the need to be forward-thinking and stop reliving the past, I tend to relive my Waukesha County roots and sometimes those are not relevant to the challenge at hand. It’s important to know the past but move forward to a solution in the future. Most importantly the Institute is for everyone, I learned as much from the younger generation, as they did from me and my past experiences. These young kids are looking for leadership training, what better way to give them that then to pair them with someone who has been a leader their entire life.
What is one agricultural experience that has defined you?
The most memorable experience I would say defined me was my very first Farm Bureau Young Farmer meeting. My Dad voluntold me to go and a wise man stood in front of the room and said, “If you not like the way things are going and do nothing about it, do not complain.” Those few words have molded my thinking to want to tackle issues barehanded and get to better days ahead. I can remember the first time I really thought to myself here is your chance to change public perception. Broadlands, Inc., had an open house when rebuilding was complete after the barn fire. My father-law had a friend he was showing around when they stopped in front of a six-month-old red and white Holstein and he said, “How much chocolate milk do they give?” I knew I needed to take the bull by the horns and inform the public what agriculture is about.
What is one Farm Bureau experience that you are most proud of?
In the early 1990s, I was at a district Farm Bureau meeting on the state Farm Bureau campaign STOP, School Taxes off of Property. Like most Farm Bureau meetings when the meeting was over, we had parking-lot discussions. I was one of 18 farmers from the township of Mukwonago, upset about how the local assessor was assessing our land at the highest use of the property not on farmer-to-farmer sales. At our next county board meeting, we decided to support the farmers in the Township of Mukwonago. This group of determined farmers hired a lawyer to help fight the assessor at the open book of review and won. Since this was a problem around the state the lawyer helped to write legislation and we submitted it to our legislators. I am so proud to say that I was part of the beginning litigation around Use Value Assessment, I spent many days at the Capitol working for the better of all Wisconsin farmers.
Your grandfather was a charter member of the Waukesha County Farm Bureau and your father served as president of the Waukesha County Farm Bureau. Now, you are serving as president of the Taylor County Farm Bureau. And your son Ryan serves as the District 8 Board of Director. What a legacy! What is your hope for the future?
The Klussendorf name has always been a part of Wisconsin agricultural history, my hope is that it will continue to be a name that is simultaneously known for dedication, advocating and leadership. I have always looked up to what my father and grandfather have done to support the agriculture industry. Watching Ryan taking that leadership to a new level makes me proud of what he has already accomplished. He is living up to the legacy before him as he spends countless hours working towards the betterment of agriculture even as his world around him crashed after his barn fire. I don’t know what the future holds for my grandchildren but if they follow the tradition, they will become Farm Bureau members. Ryan has shown them the importance of advocating for agriculture, all I can do is sit back and watch the magic happen while continuing my own advocacy.
What is something that many Farm Bureau members do not know about you?
In the summer of 1975, our farm Broadlands, Inc. was showcased on the NBC Today show for the Bicentennial, Wisconsin edition. Barbara Walters refused to come out to the farm as she may get dirty so we filmed the interview portion at WTMJ4 in Milwaukee. NBC film crews did come out to the farm and filmed what a day in the life of a farmer was like. I sported some great 1970s lambchops during that interview and finally came out of my shell. Later that year I attended my first Farm Bureau YF&R Conference, two years later I was appointed to the state committee, eventually serving as chair.
What Farm Bureau committees have you served?
I have been on a lot of county committees over the years, all as important as the last. I served on several WFBF committees where I felt I made a direct impact on Farm Bureau and our policies.
1977-1981: Young Farmer Committee
1981: Special committee on Young Farmer Finance
1997: Wisconsin Legislative Council’s Special Committee on Land Use Policies
1993-1996: State Tax and Education Committee Chair
Policy Development Committee and VFA Committee
Is there anything else that you want to add?
Recently, I learned that my grandfather served on his local school board for many years. I know my father also served and I served 18 years on the Mukwonago School District. My daughter has followed that tradition and serves on the Elkhart Lake School board. Service to one’s community is important. Unfortunately, there is little representation from the agricultural industry especially when the meetings start at 6 p.m. Take the time to run for these positions and make sure to represent agriculture’s best interests.
Story by Marian Viney. Originally appeared in the June | July 2021 Rural Route.