By Con Marshall
Four couples will be inducted into the Dawes County Agricultural Hall of Fame during the awards program beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 26 in the grandstand at the fairgrounds. Other recognitions also are on the program, which will be open to the public without charge.
The Hall of Fame inductees will be Bob and Judy Hawthorne, Bill and Ava Hawthorne and Jim and Deb Leismeister, all of Chadron, and Webb and Dianne Johnson of Crawford.
The Hawthorne brothers and their wives raise cattle, sheep, wheat and alfalfa 7.5 miles west of Chadron on the farm Bob and Bill’s great-grandparents, Charles and Ellen White, purchased in 1918. The brothers’ parents, Robert and Nellie Hawthorne, took it over in 1978 and were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
This year’s inductees have continued the example set by Robert and Nellie with their hospitality and participation in numerous agricultural and community activities.
One of those activities included hosting a Kindergarten Farm Day for youngsters from the Chadron Schools for more than 40 years. The children had the opportunity to pet and feed baby animals, watch calves nurse and touch a newly laid egg. Questions abounded.
The Hawthornes also hosted Animal Judging Clinics that helped several Dawes County youths earn college scholarships to further their agricultural education.
After having outstanding 4-H careers as members of the Happy Hustlers Club that their parents co-founded in 1958, Bob and Bill earned Animal Science Degrees from the University of Nebraska.
Both Judy and Ava graduated from Chadron State College with degrees in home economics and frequently served as judges at the Dawes County Fair and others in the Panhandle. Each also developed cake decorating businesses.
Jim and Deb Lesmeister grew up on cattle ranches that their grandparents homesteaded in north central South Dakota near Eagle Butte. They were married in 1979 and purchased their ranch in the northeast portion of Dawes County in 1994.
Soon after the move, the Lesmeisters’ children, Crystal and Dillon, joined 4-H. Since Dillon’s favorite projects involved horses, Jim started helping with the 4-H horse show and the kids’ rodeo at the fair. His contribution included using his tractor and cultivator to smooth the arena, something he still does. He’s been a superintendent of the county fair’s horse show for at least 15 years.
In addition, Jim Lesmeister served six years on both the Dawes County 4-H Council and Dawes County Extension Board. Three years ago, Dillon and his wife Bailey purchased as ranch in the same area as his parents’ ranch. While each couple has their own cattle and equipment, the men work together on an almost daily basis.
Webb Johnson will have been a Dawes County Commissioner from District 3 for 12 years when he steps away from the position at the end of the year. In appreciation for his service, he’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and so is his wife, Dianne, who has served as his unpaid secretary while fielding dozens of telephone calls, at least 90 percent of them pertaining to the roads.
Johnson knew what he was “getting into” when he initially ran for commissioner in 2008 since his father Arnold, had filled the position for 12 years dating back to 1981. Arnold and his wife, Myrna, were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Webb and Dianne live on the place 12 miles south of Crawford where his parents had lived since 1957 and they began purchasing in the mid-1960s. His parents, now approaching 90, reside in Crawford and remain in good health.
In summarizing his duties as commissioner, Webb said it’s probably as busy a part-time job as anyone could find. While the three commissioners officially meet as a board just the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month, he said “there’s hardly a day goes by when something isn’t going on.”
Johnson noted that this year’s drier weather had its advantages. “We finally had time to work on the West Belmont Road. It had been on the plan four or five years,” he said.
Commissioners also have other responsibilities. Johnson represents Dawes County on four boards that meet in Scottsbluff the second Thursday each month. He’s in his second year as chairman of two of them.
Dianne also knows about meetings. During their 42 years of marriage, she was a 4-H leader and served a couple of terms on both the 4-H Council and the Dawes County Extension Board.