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2017 Eminent Farmers/Ranchers & Homemakers

Categorized: 4-H & Youth, Livestock, Agronomy, Healthy Families, Community Development, Gardens

BROOKINGS, S.D. - The South Dakota State University Colleges of Agriculture and Biological Sciences and Education and Human Sciences will recognize four individuals with the Eminent Farmer/Rancher and Eminent Homemaker Honor during a banquet September 15, 2017 at the McCrory Gardens Education and Visitor Center, Brookings.

Banquet reservations are $25 and are available from the Office of the Dean of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Berg Agricultural Hall 131, SDSU Brookings, S.D., 57007 or by calling 605-688-4148 by September 1. The celebration begins at 5:30 p.m. with social hour, followed by the banquet at 6:30 p.m.

The 2017 Eminent Farmers/Ranchers honored are John Moes of Florence and Tom Varilek of Geddes. The 2017 Eminent Homemakers honored are June L. James of Hazel and Gwenn Vallery of Nisland.

Established in 1927, the Eminent Farmer/Rancher and Eminent Homemaker awards recognize individuals for their contributions of leadership and service to the community on the local, state and national level.

Each year SDSU selects four individuals to honor based on confidential nominations from across the state. The nominations are reviewed by a committee of SDSU faculty members, administrators and SDSU Extension personnel and are approved by the Deans of the Colleges of Agriculture and Biological Sciences and Education and Human Sciences.

The honorees photos join the more than 300 portraits of Eminent Farmers/Ranchers and Homemakers which are displayed in the "Hall of Fame" portrait gallery located in Berg Agricultural Hall on the campus of South Dakota State University.

To learn more about each of the honorees, please read their profiles below.

John Moes is 2017 Eminent Farmer/Rancher, Codington County

South Dakota State University, John Moes, is the 2017 Eminent Farmer/Rancher honoree, Codington County.

By Lura Roti for SDSU Colleges of Agriculture & Biological Sciences and Education & Human Sciences

In his father's day, the harder you worked, the better off you were. John Moes learned quickly that this mantra did not ring true for him.

"In the late '70s those of us getting our start farming realized that you had to work smarter, not necessarily harder, to make it," explains the Codington County cattle and crop producer and 2017 Eminent Farmer/Rancher.

A self-described "micro-manager," Moes keeps meticulous production records on his Angus herd; beyond the basics, he documents the number of illnesses, ability to achieve and maintain pregnancy and carcass data from their offspring. In the feedlot, Moes tracks every head with an electronic identification (EID) tag and pays for carcass data.

"If we work by the details then we can see what is working and profitable and what is not," he says.

Moes implements an intensive synchronization program where he AIs (artificially inseminates) his entire herd of cows and heifers within 48 hours - resulting in a 10-day calving season.

"Uniformity pays," Moes says. "We have this technology available to us that allows us to do this. When it comes to technology I say, 'use it or lose it.'"

He explains, "If they are all born within 10 days instead of 21 days, you have 20 days of gain - that's about 40 pounds per calf - that adds up quickly. Sixty animals - that's 2,400 more pounds to sell."

To keep up with new research and technology, Moes is always educating himself. An avid reader, he consumes industry magazines and attends workshops put on by South Dakota State University and others. In 2003, he volunteered to participate in a synchronization study led by George Perry, Professor and SDSU Extension Beef Reproductive Management Specialist.

"It's not what I know, it's what I learn," Moes explains.

His willingness to learn and try new things has served him well. Today, Moes, 60, together with his son, Bryan, and nephew, Lee Tol, operate a 300-head cow/calf herd; a 1999-head Concentrated Animal Operation, which primarily feeds and finishes Holstein steer calves; and farm 1,000-acres of grain and forage crops near Watertown.

However, when he started out, he only had a twelfth-grade education and work experience from growing up on his family's dairy farm.

Moes slowly began building his cow/calf herd while working for an area farmer. When he and his wife, Donita, purchased a small farm in 1987, he began working in town full-time until the cattle herd expanded to the point it needed his full-time attention. He says land prices kept him focused on expanding his cattle operation and the local ethanol industry helped with feed supplies.

"We feed 50-ton of modified distillers grain each week. It's a consistent feed and protein source," he says.

Looking at his operation today, it's obvious that Moes practices what he learns. And, he's not afraid to share his knowledge.

Each year, the farm hosts tours for SDSU and Lake Area Technical Institute students, as well as producers from across the nation and world. Moes continues to participate in research projects. And, each year, he employs at least one intern.

His advocacy for the beef industry extends outside the industry as well. Throughout the year he invites grade-school children and area business owners to learn about life on the farm.

"We open our farm up because people today are so removed from what we do here," he says.

Much of his public education focuses on the investment he makes to raise healthy and comfortable animals while improving natural resources at the same time.

"To do this and do it well, you gotta have passion for cattle. And I do."

Gwenn Vallery, 2017 Eminent Homemaker, Butte County

South Dakota State University, Gwenn Vallery, is the 2017 Eminent Homemaker, Butte County.

By Lura Roti for SDSU Colleges of Agriculture & Biological Sciences and Education & Human Sciences

Gwenn "Earles" Vallery began her teaching career in a rural, one-room schoolhouse. She wanted to end her teaching career in one too.

"I felt like I still had something to give to the children," says Vallery, 88, of her last teaching assignment in Alzada, Montana.

She was 80.

"I like adventures," Vallery explains.

At 88, the 2017 Eminent Homemaker has had quite a few - most motivated by her passion to educate and belief in lifelong learning.

Vallery was 19 when the opportunity to leave her hometown of Mitchell, South Dakota and teach led her to a remote, mountain logging community in Northern California. For two years she taught all eight grades in a one-room school.

"The first day of school the boys came (into the school yard) riding their bikes with their shoes in the baskets of their bikes. I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" recalls Vallery. "They did put their shoes on before coming into the school."

She had earned her teaching certificate in one year and was young when she began teaching the first time, but Vallery said it went well. "I had the kids' respect and even though I was young, they looked up to me," she says of the experience, which launched her teaching career.

Her career spanned 40-plus years. Many of those years were spent teaching in the Newell School District. Vallery also spent a year teaching on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and has helped many GED students achieve their dreams.

"I love working with children and seeing the light bulb go on when they finally get something they have been struggling with," Vallery explains.

Vallery moved to the western South Dakota ranching community when she married Thornton in 1950 (now deceased). Thornton was a fourth-generation Butte County farmer/rancher. Even though Vallery grew up in town, ranch life agreed with her. She continues to reside on the ranch today where her son, Randy, and daughter-in-law, Rhonda, grow crops, raise cattle and operate a hunting preserve.

Vallery met Thornton while she was pursuing her teaching certificate at Dakota Wesleyan University. She left California to marry him.

A people-person from the beginning, Vallery became involved in the Nisland community. Upon the urging of the County Extension Agent, she helped start Tot-n-Twenty Extension Club.

"We were all in our 20s and there were a lot of tots," Vallery says. "Extension night was the girls' night out and our guys took care of the kids."

Sixty years later, the club continues to meet monthly and enter projects in the Butte/Lawrence County Fair.

Extension Club introduced Vallery to 4-H. When her children were young she started the Eager Beaver 4-H Club and became an active volunteer at the Butte/Lawrence County Fair.

In 2016, SDSU Extension recognized Vallery for her years of service with the Spirit of Community and Family Extension Leaders award.

Vallery took a brief break from teaching to raise her three children: Rick, Randy and Rene. A life-long student, she completed her bachelor's and Master's in Elementary Education by taking summer-school classes through Black Hills State University. She is also a Master Gardener.

"It took perseverance," she says. "There was an incident when my older sister said, 'Just quit.' I said, 'No. Daddy told us, if we start a job we finish it.'"

Even in retirement, Vallery is not one to sit idle. She has traveled to 49 of the 50 states. Through involvement with Butte County Historical Society, she helped preserve the historic one-room Hillside Schoolhouse and move it to Belle Fourche where it serves as a museum.

Today, she enjoys teaching her 3-year-old, great-granddaughter, Kimber.

"I still feel like I have something to give. I tell people, 'There better be a little red schoolhouse in Heaven, because I'm not through teaching yet.'"

Tom Varilek is 2017 Eminent Farmer/Rancher, Charles Mix County

South Dakota State University, Tom Varilek is the 2017 Eminent Farmer/Rancher, Charles Mix County.

By Lura Roti for SDSU Colleges of Agriculture & Biological Sciences and Education & Human Sciences

Tom Varilek's passion for raising purebred Black Angus is innate.

"It's in my blood," explains the third-generation Geddes cattleman. "Every day, I get up and get to go look at cows. If I'm away, I miss chores. I always want to get back home to my cows."

At 68, only a few life experiences - college and Vietnam - kept the 2017 Eminent Farmer/Rancher from cattle chores.

"Like they say, 'If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life.' Even after all these years, bringing new life into the world at calving still gives me a warm feeling."

Upon his dad, Elvern's urging, Varilek began building his own cattle herd at a young age.

"In seventh grade, Dad said, 'If you will be showing 4-H calves, then you need to buy some of your own.' I went to the bank, borrowed the money and bought some."

4-H was also the motivation behind his decision to pursue an Animal Science degree at South Dakota State University. "During my 4-H days I used to go up to SDSU for judging and 4-H events. I liked SDSU and really saw no other reason to go anywhere else."

College life was a good fit for Varilek. "I am one of these guys who always wants to learn more. I want to know why."

He judged on collegiate livestock and meats teams and in 1971, shortly before he was drafted into the service, he was elected to serve as Little International Manager for the annual agricultural exposition put on entirely by students. "I like working with people," he says.

"Back in my day, there were 110 staff."

Throughout his career, Varilek has continued to put his leadership skills to good use serving South Dakota's agriculture industry. He has served on many boards and is current chairman of the Council on Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching. "If you reap the benefits of an organization or industry, you need to be involved."

Varilek planned to go on to veterinary school after graduation. Two schools had accepted him. But neither were willing to hold his slot when he was drafted into the Army.

So, instead of vet school, when he was discharged, Varilek returned to Geddes and together with his first wife, Carol Meurer (now deceased), partnered with his brother, Mick and dad, to raise registered Black Angus cattle and irrigated wheat, row crops and dryland hay. "Cattle are our main interest. Most of the crops we raise are sold through our cattle."

In 1985, Varilek and his brother decided to go independent. "I couldn't imagine a better life. There were days we put in long hours, but our kids were with us all the time. There was no daycare; we did everything together as a family."

From the beginning, Varilek CT Angus continued the family legacy to raise bulls who would work well for commercial cattle producers. Unlike many registered operations, Varilek CT Angus does not sell any bull younger than two years of age. The bulls are raised on the open range - conditioned to perform.

"Waiting until they are 2 increases their longevity. I feel sorry for a young bull that gets pushed so hard it falls apart. If you let them grow up naturally, they seem to do well for us."

The result is happy customers. About 90 percent of buyers are repeat.

Today, Varilek's daughter, Tess, and her husband, Duke Starr, farm and ranch with Varilek and his wife, Bev. "I have always been one of these guys that on this operation it's we or us, there is no "I" in what we do here. Just like a coach, I hope they do better than I have done."

June L. James, 2017 Eminent Homemaker, Hamlin County

South Dakota State University, June L. James is the 2017 Eminent Homemaker, Hamlin County

By Lura Roti for SDSU Colleges of Agriculture & Biological Sciences and Education & Human Sciences

Not long after her second daughter was born, June L. "Holzwarth" James needed to find a job. Times were tough on the family's Hazel farm and they needed a second income.

"Some were critical of my decision to work outside the home; 'How could I take a job and leave my babies,'" recalls James of the decision she made to work as a Hamlin County Extension Agent when the farm couldn't support the young family of four.

It was the early 1960s and most mothers did not work outside the home.

To make it in her new role as a working mom, James says it took a strong support group made up of her parents, a babysitter and her husband, Keith. "I worked very hard to balance - to be a good wife and mom and be good at my job. I had to build a support team."

Throughout her 30-year career serving as an Extension Educator, the 2017 Eminent Homemaker would share this valuable advice with many mothers she mentored through the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. "I had many young farm mothers ask me, 'I have to go back to work. How do you do it?' I think it helped that I could relate," says James, who spent most of her Extension career serving as the Codington County Extension Educator.

James' belief in team building extended to her professional life. "You don't do this job alone. Let me tell you. I worked to recognize the talents and skills of community members and volunteers and asked them to help out," she says.

Whether it was asking someone to serve as a 4-H leader, help her develop leadership programming for the Watertown Farm Show, or start a Senior Citizen Club - James enjoyed mentoring and encouraging. Recognized for her strength as a leader, late in her career, James was elected to serve as President of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educators. In 2007, she was recognized with the Spirit of Dakota Award.

"It's just amazing to have those around me who are willing to do things that I didn't know how to do or things that were not part of my skillset."

When James initially applied for the Extension Educator position in Hamlin County, she was in the midst of becoming certified to teach in South Dakota. She began her career in the classroom teaching home economics to high school students -- first in rural Montana, then in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

After growing up on a farm near Hazel, James enjoyed city life and had no intention of returning to her rural roots...that is, until she met Keith James.

"I was home on summer vacation and my brother, worried that I'd become an Old Maid, set me up on a blind date with a new farmer who recently moved to town. We clicked," she says.

Although she never dreamed of returning to Hazel, she did consider a career as an Extension Agent to be her dream job. "I was a 4-H member and had seen what my County Agent did and how she worked with us kids. I always thought 'wouldn't it be great to have a job like that.'"

James retired in 1995. She continues to volunteer as an Achievement Days judge and  remains an active community volunteer and columnist, writing for The Best of Times and Cattle Business Weekly. She continues to live and work on the farm where she and Keith raised their daughters, Linda and Robin. Today, her nephew farms the land.

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