After graduating from the UW-River Falls, he began renting his grandfather’s farm and married his wife Gayle in 1976. Jim’s roots run deep in the area south of Elk Mound where his great-grandfather settled from Norway in 1884.
In the 1990s, Jim faced a big decision regarding his dairy herd. He suffered from feet and knee problems and his children did not wish to milk cows after him. He decided against expanding and retrofitting his barn.
“It was a 20-year commitment I wasn’t willing to make,” he recalls. “I’m totally convinced it was the right decision for me. I really enjoyed the dairy business, but haven’t missed it since.”
Instead, he converted the farm to a cash grain and beef cattle operation. He now grows a corn and soybean rotation and raises 350 to 400 beef cattle annually, most of which are brought in as 400 pound Holstein steers. He also raises a herd of colored beef cattle on pastures converted from 50 acres of odd-shaped fields and wooded areas.
Although he is a third generation Farm Bureau member, Jim credits Carl Casper for getting him involved in his county’s Young Farmer program. It led to serving on his county board of directors before a five-year stint as the county president.
In 1994, he decided to back off of many community and church committees to make the two-year commitment to be in the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program (WRLP).
“I didn’t have a clear understanding of how broad it was or how much I’d enjoy it,” he said. “I think the greatest thing the whole experience did for me was help me understand different styles of leadership in different people.”
Today, he serves on the board of directors for the program renamed Leadership Wisconsin overseen by University of Wisconsin-Extension. But it was near the end of his WRLP experience when he faced another big decision; he had been asked to run for his local school board and to represent Northwestern Wisconsin (District 9) on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors.
The timing did not allow him to see if he was elected to one position before trying for the other; so he made the commitment to run for both, and was successful on both fronts.
On the state WFBF board, he has experienced firsthand the emphasis that WFBF presidents, Bill Bruins and Dan Paulson, placed on building relationships with members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.
“We may not always agree, but they know we will be involved and will be in their D.C. offices twice a year,” he said. “I think that’s important and that it will continue to pay dividends.”
When asked to recall memorable Farm Bureau moments, Jim immediately remembered moderating a legislative forum in the early 1980s. A discussion between a candidate and a Farm Bureau member got so heated that the legislator stormed out of the room.
“It almost blew the whole thing up,” Jim said with a laugh. “I was standing there not knowing what to do next.”
Secondly, the Department of Natural Resources devised a plan in the 1980s to buy farmland around a Dunn County wetland. The farmers who had owned the land for generations did not want it on the DNR’s wish list, so they appealed to Farm Bureau to get the word out about the misguided plan. Their advocacy led to a special hearing in Madison where they dissected the DNR’s document.
“They didn’t think we would read the fine print,” Jim said. “We ripped that thing from stem to stern. We stopped it, and it was never brought up again.”
Jim’s wife Gayle is a former teacher and principal, who now works as a clinical supervisor in speech and language for UW-Eau Claire. They have two daughters. Erin works in public relations in Madison. Jennifer (a middle school teacher in Eau Claire) and her husband, Adam, have two children and another on the way.
Story by Casey Langan. Original version appeared in the December/January 2011-12 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.