While there's widespread concern about the need to attract a new generation to farming, the women who typically organize and supervise youth activities on behalf of farm and community organizations often remain behind the scenes, content to play quiet supporting roles.
While there’s widespread concern about the need to attract a new generation to farming, the women who typically organize and supervise youth activities on behalf of farm and community organizations often remain behind the scenes, content to play quiet supporting roles.
That’s the case with two cattlewomen from Southeastern Colorado who were honored for their contributions last year.
Jo Ann McEndree, of Springfield, and Carol Rink, of Bristol, were inducted into the Colorado Master Farm Homemakers Guild last October. The two also happen to be cousins, which put a special spin on their shared induction ceremony, held in Pueblo.
“Our families both got to be there and watch us be inducted at the same time,” McEndree recalled. “Carol’s husband Milton is actually my cousin. It was pretty neat, since our families are really close.”
McEndree helps manage her family’s ranch near Pritchett, a property that was originally homesteaded by her great grandparents. The Rinks ranch north of Granada near Bristol, although his family’s roots are in the Springfield area.
“Milton’s grandmother was my grandad’s sister, and his grandfather was my grandma’s brother,” McEndree explained.
Now both women are lifetime members of the Colorado Master Farm Homemakers Guild, an elite group brought together by nominations from a variety of commodity and community organizations.
The group meets twice a year, each time in a different part of the state. The next induction ceremony is scheduled for October 10 in Greeley.
“There’s no money involved, but as an inductee you get a certificate and you are then a lifetime member,” explained Mary Henneck, the group’s president.
There are 79 women in the guild, and meetings generally attract around 30 participants. The women range in age from those with young children to some who are now in their 90s. They come from all types of agriculture backgrounds, with one of the few stipulations being that the bulk of their income must come from a farming enterprise.
Henneck and her husband Paul are now retired and live in Greeley.
“I was inducted in 1980,” she recalled. “I was very active in the Colorado Farm Show back then.”
Over the years, the group has offered her friendship, fellowship and a chance to pay it forward. In addition to a “second chance” scholarship, a $500 gift given to a woman who wants to further her education in some way, they also make a regular contribution to the Colorado Ag In the Classroom program.
This year the group has the important task of preparing to host the National Master Farm Homemakers Guild in October 2018. Tours and activities will be based out of Ft. Morgan.
The national meeting normally attracts close to 100 members and guests, Henneck said.
Keeping the national group going has not been easy. In fact, it nearly disbanded two years ago and is down to just four active states: Kansas, Iowa and Kentucky, in addition to Colorado.
“I can’t say it’s any one thing. It’s a combination of life, the environment, politics… you name it,” she said.
The master homemaker designation is an offshoot of the once thriving home economics programs hosted by land grant extension offices. Since then, home economics has been rebranded as “family and consumer sciences,” and participation has declined.
“At one time we had 45 clubs in Weld County, and now we are down to two,” Henneck said.
Among the states, Kansas has maintained the most vibrant program. There, one couple from each region is honored with the Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker award, and their accomplishments are widely publicized and celebrated with a statewide banquet.
Times are changing, with some aspects of it easier to accept than others, Henneck said.
“CSU just built a new football stadium, and it will bring in more money than the ag program ever will,” she noted wryly. “Actually, it’s built on land where they used to have their ag farm, so you can tell where the priorities are.”
At the same time, fast-paced modern life leaves people with less time for volunteering and for attending workshops or meetings.
Even so, that hasn’t diminished the value of recognizing women who make countless contributions to their agricultural organizations, families and communities.
Henneck calls them “unsung heroes.”
“They are very active in their businesses. They are not just a farm wife, they are a farmer,” she said.
Often their unseen contributions include support for youth activities.
One of the ways McEndree and Rink bonded over the years was through their mutual participation in CCA’s junior programs at the regional and state level.
“I helped Carol with the juniors a lot. If they needed more chaperones, I’d drive them. But I like doing it, because I want to see the young people get involved,” McEndree said.
For her part, Rink explained that working with the juniors has been rewarding and inspires optimism about the future.
“I think a lot of these kids want to come back to their family ranches and carry on the legacy,” she said.
Junior activities develop leadership skills and introduce kids to modern business management and production strategies. Rink said she has been impressed by their comfort in fielding questions from their peers and the awareness they bring to issues and events that are shaping the future of the cattle industry.
“Kids today are more in tune than you’d think,” she said.
McEndree, who serves as a state officer for Colorado Cattlewomen, is quick to say CCA supports its cattlewomen’s affiliate.
“They know we’re here, and they know they need us,” she said.
But there are times, she admitted, when their contributions, which extend to industry promotion but not to lobbying, can feel a little secondary.
“It’s been nice to get that extra pat on the back for what we do,” she said.