To put things into perspective, “M*A*S*H” was the number one show on TV, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was killing it at the box office and Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” was burning up the music charts the week of June 1, 1981, when Dan Reedy began his job as manager of the Kendall County Farm Bureau.
Reedy, a Sandwich resident, retires from the bureau after more than 37 years on Feb. 15, coinciding with plans to merge the county association with its affiliate in Grundy County and close the Kendall County office in downtown Yorkville.
Reedy said the office at 111 E. Van Emmon St. has served as Kendall County Farm Bureau headquarters since 1937, when it was built. There was an active slaughterhouse in the building’s basement up until the late 1960s, and the affiliated meat locker plant in the building was active until 1975 or so, Reedy said.
“Downstairs in the basement, the smokers are still in the walls,” he said.
Reedy said one of his former employees recalled the smell of the slaughterhouse when she worked there starting in 1964.
“She could remember the sights, sounds, and smells of slaughter,” he said. “And they did not get central air in this building until ‘68. So the windows were open and of course in the back they would have big things of renderings and that sort of stuff waiting for the trucks to come and so on, and the hogs and the cattle were bellowing.”
Reedy is originally from downstate Lovington, Illinois, a burgh of approximately 1,200 people located about a half-hour drive southeast of Decatur. His parents were involved in county government – his mom worked at the courthouse and his father served on the county board, he said. He graduated from Illinois State University in Normal in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences.
Reedy farmed for eight years before deciding to go into association management, and worked for the state farm bureau organization for four months before taking the job in Kendall County. Reedy said he got the job in Kendall County following a tragedy. He said the previous farm bureau manager, a young man in his early 20s, was killed in a car accident the day after being hired for the job in May 1981.
Reedy said a farm bureau manager wears many hats. He said he’s in charge of personnel, the building, renting the building, and in managing the organization itself, which includes finances, membership, programming, and “anything else that is thrown in there in between.”
The organization has affiliates that include Country Companies insurance, FS, and Prairie Farms Dairy, Reedy said. The bureau also offers a variety of programs such as ag in the classroom, he said.
Reedy said there are approximately 3,500 members of the Kendall County Farm Bureau, with about 450 of those being full-time farmer members.
When he began his tenure in 1981, the total membership number was the same – while the county’s population was 37,000 compared to 126,000 today – although there were more farmer members, around 850 to 875, he said. Reedy said Grundy County’s membership numbers are similar to Kendall, but it has around 650 farmer members.
Reedy said that while the farm bureau board members are young, the county is losing farmer members quickly.
“You have to look forward to what’s best for the organization and you can readily see that we could be down to 200 to 250 farmer members in, what, 10 years maybe,” he said. “And I think our drop-off will be quicker than it has been over the last 30-plus years.”
Reedy said technology and production in farming have changed since he started the job in 1981.
“Farms have gotten bigger, technology is assisting us at growing more crops and there’s more production because of it,” he said. “Unfortunately, it takes more acreage to have a good living. And we still have a good majority of our spouses or farmers who work [additional jobs] off the farm for insurance purposes, and that’s not going to change.”
The agricultural economy has its own challenges and struggles these days, Reedy said, with the Chinese retaliatory tariffs on soybeans and other measures.
“We have the tariffs and things like that are just crunching us terribly,” he said. “Plus, the last three to four years, the cost of production is still increasing because so much of what we use ... is fuel-based, so you have that going up. Plus for the last five years, our market prices aren’t typically covering the cost of what it’s costing to put [crops] in the ground. And now of course there’s tariffs. You try to make money where you can to put it back in case of the lean times.”
Reedy said that despite the challenges of farming, the agriculture department at his alma mater, ISU, has grown over the last five to 10 years.
He said the idea of agriculture as a career was on a downtrend when he first joined the farm bureau, noting that while he was a school board member in his hometown, the school district cut its ag program in the late 1970s.
Reedy said the definition of agriculture has expanded over the years, however, to a scope beyond farming.
“We are at an all-time high for FFA kids and ag students,” he said. “So many of them are not your typical ag kids or farm kids, by no means. Under 2 percent of the total population farm.”
Reedy gave a local example of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) program at Newark High School, led by Joe Steffen.
“The perfect example is Newark,” Reedy said. “Joe has a very strong and very healthy FFA and ag department. The number of kids he has who live on farms? Maybe two, three. But they are kids who are interested in ... the broad scope of agriculture.”
Reedy said agriculture involves “anything that’s growing,” including landscaping, horticulture, the sciences, flowers, veterinary medicine and food science. Food science classes have taken over what once were “home ec” classes in some high schools, he said.
“Agriculture is considered all the way to restaurants and serving,” he said. “And when you think about culinary, you think about brewpubs and wineries – again, agriculture. So we have broadened our scope of what we think of as agriculture now. Especially in the suburban area, there are new FFA and agriculture programs starting every year. So we have a whole new group of young people out there who are looking at ag as a possible career who never would have looked at it twice.”
Reedy said there are so many jobs in ag-related fields in Illinois that the universities that have ag programs aren’t graduating enough people to fill them all.
“The options are unreal,” he said.
Reedy said he will miss the people he has dealt with at his job, and that he has made lifelong friends in Kendall County since he started his job so many years ago.
“The people I have worked with here in Kendall County have been exceptional, all across the board, not only with the Farm Bureau and some of the other things I’ve been involved with, but all across the board,” he said. “I met people quickly, but a lot of them are longtime friends now.”
Reedy said he’s been involved with the 4-H programs and has seen farmers’ kids grow up to take over their fathers’ farming operations.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see these kids grow from little bitty [kids] or not even born to this point in their life where they’re sitting on our board opposite me and they’re my bosses, if you will,” he said. “They were little dudes when I first came here, and now they grew up to be really pretty good kids.”