By Con Marshall
Four inductions will be made into the Dawes County Agricultural Hall of Fame beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 31 in the Grandstand at the Dawes County Fairgrounds. The program is open to the public without charge.
This year’s Hall of Fame inductees are Chet and Stephanie Ansley of Hemingford, John and Sheri Grint and their daughter Jeri Anderson, all of Chadron, the Crawford Livestock Market and the Chadron High School FFA Program.
Dawes County is one of the few counties that has an Ag Hall of Fame. Founded in 1989, it helps remember those who have been the agricultural leaders and supporters through the years. Enshrinements now total nearly 180, including many couples who shared the honor.
The Ansleys had been on Hall of Fame Selection Committee’s “futures” list for several years. Unfortunately, the action did not occur before Chet lost his life in a vehicle accident near the family’s ranch just north of the Niobrara River a year ago.
The outpouring of sympathy that followed showed how much friends thought of Chet and his loved ones. At least 400 attended the memorial service at the ranch and some $9.000 in gifts was given to help support perhaps his favorite charity—Christian missionaries.
Chet and Stephanie were high school sweethearts at Fairplay, Colo. After their marriage they attended Colorado State University and then ranched with his parents east of Greeley for 18 years. In 1989, they purchased the ranch that other esteemed couples—Fred and Agnes Neeland, John and Katie Engel and Rod and Jean Hinman—had owned.
The Ansleys initially took in cattle to pasture while building their own herd of high-quality Angus. Their children, first daughter Amy and husband Dave Jones, and then son Justin and wife Reyna, have helped operate the ranch.
Chet was a leader in many other activities. They included a weekly prayer meeting in Hemingford, the Easter Sunrise Service at Box Butte Reservoir and Open Door Church. He also was on the Farm Service Agency board and the Cottonwood School board. Stephanie keeps the ranch books, helps with the haying and the cattle and also is involved in Christian activities. Both also are worthy of a Good Neighbor Award.
The Grints are some of Dawes County’s leading horse producers. Each spring at least 15 colts are born on their pine-clad ranch east of Chadron and have been sold into more than 20 states as well as Mexico and Sweden.
John grew up in the “horse business” in northeastern Custer County. He says his grandfather, Floyd Pulliam, was a horse trader all of his life. In 1974, after serving in Vietnam, attending Chadron State College and marrying Sheri, John landed a job that suited him to a tee. He was the field representative in the northwest portion of the state for the Nebraska Board of Educational Lands and Funds for 39 years.
It allowed him to meet a majority of the landowners in Sioux, Dawes, Sheridan and Grant counties and the western half of Cherry County. Eventually, he was the overseer of 230 state-owned parcels, most of them sections. John also was involved in every rodeo Chadron hosted. Whenever there was bronc or bull riding, he was usually the one who unlatched the chute gate.
For at least 40 years, he has raised a few colts. In recent years, John and Sheri, one of the area’s best bowlers and long-time secretary for Metal Products in Chadron, were able to purchase nearby pastureland. More mares were acquired and Grint and Girls were soon raising colts that have become hot commodities.
Jeri, the youngest of the three girls and the junior queen of the final Little Britches Rodeo in 1990, became more involved eight years ago when she started posting photos of the colts soon after they were born. They were a hit. Before long some were sold before they were born and others were snatched up as soon as she took their picture and sent it through the airwaves.
While also teaching at Chadron Middle School, Jeri spends lots of time with the mares and colts. The buyers are getting a gentle horse who loves people. Blue roans, chestnuts and bays are among the prevalent colors.
This is the second time Crawford Livestock Market has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The first was 20 years ago, when Doug and Janice Strotheide and Jack and Laurel Hunter were the owners. The Hunters are still involved in the market, but their daughter, Alicia, and her husband, Rick Robertson, became the primary owners in 2018.
The business is thriving. It was selling about 60,000 head of cattle annually in 2002, while the total last year was 90,000, making it the eighth busiest in Nebraska. Consigners from a 200-mile radius in the tri-state area put their trust in Crawford Livestock, which also sells another 20,000 head annually via Western Video Market.
The Crawford auction dates back to the early 1930s. It reportedly sold lots of hogs in its early years. Following the Great Depression, the Crawford Bank took it over in 1940, sold it a few years later to Tom Ormesher and Joe Tobin, who also owned the sale barns at Chadron and Gordon.
Crawford natives Wright Lathrop and Tom Moody purchased it in 1949 and ran it for 24 years. Before 1080 was banned, sheep sales were the main attraction, sometimes drawing 10,000 head at a single sale. Ben and Frank Pisacka were the next owners, followed in 1980 by a group of investors that included Doug Strotheide, Bill Schoepner and Rob Harvey. That same year, Jack Hunter, a rancher from Ardmore, was hired as a fieldman and is still involved 42 years later.
In 1988, Hunter and his wife Laurel bought out Schoepner and Harvey to become co-owners with Doug and Janice Strotheide. The Hunters became the sole owners in 2003.
Recent improvements include an air-conditioned ring and screens containing ads and other information scrolling during the sales. They also support area FFA chapters and have created Crawford Livestock Youth in Agriculture Scholarships. Up to 65 employees are involved in behind the scenes activities on sale days.
Crawford Livestock also is the site of the annual Fort Robinson Buffalo/Longhorn Sale and a horse sale, which this past June had an average of $8,200 on 90 head.
Beginning in the early 1950s, Chadron High had a substantial FFA program whose members received numerous State Farmer Degrees, one earned an American Farmer Degree, teams won numerous high honors at district and state competitions and produced graduates pleased with their experience.
For reasons no one seems to remember, the program was no longer offered following the 1961-62 school year. More than 50 years later, FFA was revived at Chadron High, and it has gained widespread acceptance from both the students and the community. It has Chadron High expanded the opportunities for students. Because of that success, the program is being inducted into the Dawes County Agricultural Hall of Fame.
CHS Principal Jerry Mack, the recipient of FFA’s State Agribusiness Award as a senior at Burwell High School, said he was curious why Chadron did not have an FFA program when he taught math at CHS 2002-2011. During his second year as principal, he and then-superintendent Dr. Caroline Winchester worked to add ag classes to the curriculum so an FFA chapter could be established.
Faculty members Jon Cogdill and Maribeth Moore volunteered to take college courses so they were endorsed to teach the new high school courses, which were combined with existing industrial arts courses in welding and woods to meet the curriculum requirements. By the fall of 2014, Chadron High had an FFA program again. Cogdill and Moore are the chapter advisors.
There are several differences in the old and the new. Only farmboys were involved in the first program. Now, about 40 percent of the approximately 50 members are girls and nearly half of members are not from farms and ranches. No matter, all of them can build their skills and explore more career possibilities.
In addition, the new courses in veterinary science, companion animals and wildlife and natural resources management are open to all students, not just those who are FFA members. However, membership allows students to compete in approximately 40 contests that are available at the district and state levels.
The past year was an excellent one for the Chadron Chapter. At state, a Chadron team won first in Ag Technology and Mechanics. Another was the runner-up in Farm and Agribusiness Management, then placed 11th at the National Convention in Indianapolis. In addition, the Environmental and Natural Resources team was 4th among 115 teams at the state convention. Chadron also had individual state champions in Ag Mechanics, Floriculture and Farm and Agribusiness Membership. The chapter earned Gold Emblem honors.
It takes time and effort to earn such honors. The team members meet each Tuesday and Thursday evening for special training that is provided largely by volunteers from the community. Numerous businesses have provided financial assistance. Principal Mack said the outpouring of support has helped the Chadron chapter become one of the most competitive and successful in the state.
The Chadron Chapter is also proud that one of its alums, Maikala Koerber, a 2022 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in agriculture education, will be the new ag teacher and advisor of Crawford’s FFA chapter beginning in less than a month.