Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter Photographer 

Ag citizens honored at Harvest Moon Ball


Cindy Glasson

Cassie Owsley presents Brad Lofink with his Ag Citizen of the Year award during the Harvest Moon Ball.

FFA members, families and alumnus gathered at the fairgrounds Saturday evening for their Annual Harvest Moon Ball and 6th Annual Centurion Banquet.

Centurian Ranch

The Centurion Award is given to a family that has been on their ranch or farm for a minimum of 100 years.

It all started in 1909 when John Grobowski purchased 112 acres of land on the upper Owl Creek. He had a herd of cows and put up his own hay to feed them. He was married several times and had a daughter, Theresa, in 1916. His last wife, Grace, helped raise Theresa. Things were going well and John purchased an additional 80 acres.

Theresa grew up, married and had 4 children, of which two are still with us: Sue Calhoun Morehead and Norma Calhoun Beltz.

In 1951 John, Grace, and their granddaughter Sue, along with help from the neighbors, built a log house on the ranch. John passed away in 1970. Grace decided to stay on the place and continue ranching. Finally in 1973, at the age of 72, Grace decided it was time for her to sell her cows after many years of calving her herd on her own.

Around 1982 Theresa Grobowski Calhoun and husband, Warren, moved back to the ranch to help her mother run the place. Theresa and Warren built the shop and continued living at the ranch putting up hay as well as tending their own small cowherd until 1987 when Warren passed away. Deciding not to stay, Theresa moved in with her daughter, Sue, who lived in Rapid City at the time. Theresa lived with Sue until her death in 2002. Sue Calhoun Morehead currently lives in Colorado Springs.

Grace Grobowski continued to live on the ranch until she passed away in 1995 at the age of 94. Very active in the ag community, Grace had been a member of the Pioneer Women, the Owl Creek Club and CowBelles.

In 1997 Theresa's other daughter, Norma Calhoun Beltz, and her husband Rick, started remodeling the old log house. They worked on the house and updating the ranch. Rick had retired from the military in 1982 and then worked in civil service. In 2003, when Rick retired from civil service, they moved up to the ranch to live full-time. Rick and Norma have a small bunch of cows that a neighbor runs for them. The hay grounds on the ranch are still in production but are leased out. Rick and Norma still live in the log house and enjoy the quiet country life.

Ag Citizens of the Year

Brad Lofink grew up in Worland with his parents and two sisters. They lived on the Worland Ranch right next to his grandparents. When Brad was in about fourth or fifth grade Verne began the auction business, Lofink Auction Services, which Brad always helped with along with the farming. Brad said that from the time he was in the fifth grade he always knew exactly what he wanted to do... farm!

Brad was always active in 4H and FFA when he was younger. He used to show sheep and pigs. He once told his dad he didn't ever want to teach a steer how to lead! Brad had his own flock of the old style Dorset sheep. He was the first of two people in Wyoming to have Dorset sheep. He worked on crossbreeding his Dorsets with Columbias, which they jokingly called "Corsets"! They made terrific show lambs and he showed them as well as sold them to other kids for fair animals. Brad graduated from high school in 1987.

The Lofinks moved to Thermopolis in 1989 where the family continued to farm and have auctions.

Brad began working on cars because one of their hired hands was a Vega brother from Vega Brothers Shop in Worland. Brad realized that having mechanic skills would come in very handy in farming because it is much easier to try to fix your own equipment than to pay someone else to do or even wait till it fit into their schedule. For two years after high school Brad worked for Vega Brothers and did not do any farming. He enjoyed the mechanic work and decided at that time to learn about machining with Goyn Machine, also from Worland. His mechanic experience also led him down another road -- he is a licensed car dealer -- he owns Plow Boy Auto Sales. It may not be a big business but he can mechanic and sell cars as a hobby without having to give up his farming!

At one time or another they leased McNamara's, Stump's, Bob Harvey's, Quarberg's, Baker's, Hillberry's, Cotton's, Wilson's and Pettipiece's land. Later on they bought Stump's and Bob Harvey's place and are currently running about 600 acres. They grew sugar beets for a while in the past but decided it didn't pay for them to do so, and they stopped growing beets. For a short time Brad also helped his father run about 75 head of cattle. They currently grow barley, beans, wheat and hay.

Brad is his dad's right hand man. Verne says he would never have been able to do all of what he does without Brad. He says that he used to be the leader but as the years have passed he has learned that he can sit back a little more and let Brad do things. He never has to worry about things getting doneeither with the farming or the auction service. He says that Brad is a very valuable asset, he is the clerk for the auction service but can be a ring man and take bids if he needs to.

Verne has also learned that in their farming, running the combine is Brad's job. He is good at it, and when it comes time for combining, he just stays out of Brad's way. Most of the time they divide and conquer, they each have their jobs and responsibilities and they know better just to stay out of each other's way and do their jobs. Verne says, Brad may not say a lot but when he does say something you better listen because it'll be important!

Brad is the father to four daughters Bailey, Rayann, Makayla and Elizabeth. All four girls have had their fair share of helping their father and grandfather on the farm.

The Becker Family Stock Farm is a family owned and run, better than organic, homestead style farm. The farm's roots go back to 1957 when Sonja's grandparents Fred and Marjorie Becker bought 150 acres on upper Owl Creek. In 1973 Fred's son, Keith and wife Sally, took over the ranch that now totaled over 700 acres. Sonja, their daughter, now manages the farm.

Sonja Becker, a Hot Springs County High School graduate, returned to the farm after college and the birth of her first child in 1997. Sonja and then husband, Randy Morris, believed it would be difficult to make a living farming, so they bought the Ritz Theater. They owned the theater for ten years until 2008. After her divorce from Morris, Sonja married Jon Schickel, from Wisconsin. Jon and Sonja had dreams of making a living off the farm. By chance and a little good luck, they ended up purchasing a small herd of dairy cows and 20 piglets. Things started to take off -- they even built a hoop house. For those they don't know what a hoop house is, it is an unheated greenhouse. They are heated by the sun and can extend your growing season. When Jon passed away in a tragic hunting accident in 2010, Sonja decided to keep on going with their vision.

Sonja, using only about 150 acres for their current operation, leases the rest out for winter grazing. The farm is home to beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and various other animals. There is a market for organic meat and produce, so the farm sells their state inspected meat. If you check their website you can pick your cuts of packaged meat with offerings of beef, pork and chicken. Along with the meat they also sell milk and eggs. Although the farm is not certified organic, Sonja considers her methods beyond organic and believes you can't get any better meat, produce or dairy products than what they offer.

The farm also offers nutrient dense garden produce. With the addition of their hoop houses they have extended their growing seasons and can start planting produce seeds earlier and continue harvesting long after many outdoor gardens succumb to winter weather. Sonja is also the founder and manager of the local Farmers Market in Thermopolis. After taking a Master Gardeners course through the Extension Office, Sonja spearheaded the organization of a famers market where local gardeners and farmers can set up weekly and sell their goods. Sonja was also recently elected to the Conservation District Board as the rural representative.

Becker participates in Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, commonly known as WOOFing. It links visitors with organic famers to promote an educational exchange. Sonja prefers individuals to come stay for 3 weeks, but has had them stay from just a few days to a year. One WOOFer, Rachel Jones, a freelance writer, wrote an article about the Becker Family Stock Farm for ACRES magazine, a 40-year old magazine that features sustainable agriculture. The article explains the diversification and managing the land and livestock that Sonja has done. Wyoming PBS went out to Becker Farms in July to observe and film their chicken processing. They butchered over 180, better than organic, broilers. The public was invited to participate and help. Afterwards, fresh birds were offered for sale before the remaining birds went into the freezer for future sales.

Growing up on the farm and learning traditional methods of farming and ranching, Sonja has pushed herself even further by diversifying and trying new and experimental methods to make the most of their farm. She has even adopted management intensive grazing (MiG) where the cows are moved twice a day. She says, "It's a balancing act between stock density and keeping cattle happy behind an electric fence." It is all a learning process, but in that process Sonja is the first in her family to make a living solely from their land.

Sonja, not one to take all the credit, says that she wouldn't be where she is today without the help of many friends and family and the help of Papa Karl. Karl Anderson, whom they bought the dairy cows from early on, came to Becker's to help out when Jon passed away. Karl stayed and has become a fixture on the farm.

Sonja is a mother to three children, Derek, Chauncy and Hacket. All three have had a hand in helping as another generation at the Becker Family Stock Farm.

Duane Watkins

They broke with tradition this year, deciding to honor a great man in the FFA community rather than have a guest speaker.

From growing up on a ranch in Meeker, Colo., the University of Wyoming Dairy farm, rodeoing, driving truck and teaching Ag in Carpenter then finishing his career at Hot Springs County High School, Duane Watkins was part of the change in Agriculture in Wyoming.

If you took Ag at the high school from 1971-1990, you probably had Duane as your teacher. Duane was known for all the shop projects that were being built and taught a lot of kids to build sheds.

His annual trip to Canada or some other lake to go fishing with students, serves as some of his greatest memories.

He has served as the Dairy Superintendent at the Wyoming State Fair. Over the span of his career, Duane was also a leader on the National FFA Board.

Needless to say, over the past 50 or more years, Duane has left his mark on American agriculture.

"Tonight we are honoring Duane's service to agriculture, " said Phil Scheel.

Since retirement, Duane has resided on his farm with his wife, Rose, five miles north of town. New this year, the Watkins' have purchased a home in Yuma, Ariz.

"We are thankful that you stayed longer in Hot Springs County this year, and the weather held for you to attend this evening. As the Thermopolis FFA Alumni, we would like to thank you for all your work and dedication to youth and to agriculture," Scheel said

Folks were then urged to tell stories about Duane throughout the years. Two old friends and students, Dave Soppe and Mike Polma spoke about everything they learned from Duane both in the classroom and out.

Verne Lofink recalled meeting Duane for the first time when he needed some sheep inspected for a breeding program. Duane arrived, but had forgotten his paperwork, telling Lofink, with some colorful language thrown in, that he had to go back and get it. Thus started a life-long friendship between the two men that was obviously heartfelt to anyone watching that evening.

Cindy Glasson

Sonja Becker, Ag Citizen of the Year.

A former student, Clay VanAntwerp, not only spoke about everything he learned from Duane, but from his wife, Rose, as well, regaling the audience with a funny anecdote about a less than acceptable FFA book that Rose decorated with a large, circled in red, "F".

VanAntwerp recalled a wintry morning, too, when Rose drove up their lane to pick him and his siblings up for school. A sweet story finished with Rose telling him if she got stuck, she would "use him under the wheels" to get un-stuck because she had taken a chance to make sure he made it to school.

In his final remembrance, Van Antwerp spoke about a family saddle that Duane had helped him rebuild and the lessons he learned not just about saddle making, but the life lessons passed on to him during the hours spent working on it with Duane.


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