Fayette County Farm Bureau: One Century Strong

In the early days, Farm Bureau members wore suits and ties to their open house for their new Fayette County Farm Bureau building held Feb. 23-24, 1951. Board members were (l-r) Henry Bodensteiner, Millard Nelson, Tom Smale, Farm Bureau field man Harold Rall (standing), Kenneth Medberry, John W. Ingels, and E.S. Pardee. 



Fayette County Farm Bureau:  One Century Strong

By Vicki Rowland

Contributing Writer


One century ago, on July 7, 1917, an association of farmers was formed called the Farm Bureau Association of Fayette County. The Fayette Commercial Club sponsored the movement.  Fayette businessmen pledged funds to furnish an office room with heat and lights for the new association in the Gray Building. Articles of Incorporation were signed, and a board was formed with representatives from each township.  

Names of descendants of several of the original signers of the Articles of Incorporation and the members of the first board of directors can still be found on the land in Fayette County: Stewart, Bodensteiner, Grafenberg, Rothlisberger, Shaffer, Arthur, Patterson, and Smith.  William Larrabee was on the first board, representing Clermont Township.  

The group had lofty aspirations to improve life in agriculture. Some of the early goals were the organization of purebred breeders’ associations, boys’ and girls’ clubs, orchard and poultry demonstrations, county soil surveys, a wool growers’ association, the development of the exchange service, soil fertility plots, corn variety plots, limestone work and soil tests, hog diseases, soy bean experiments, drainage projects, diseases of small grains, farm accounts, and various women’s projects in nutrition, clothing, etc.

After four years, the office was moved. Then in 1923 more room was needed, and a more permanent space was located in the Old State Bank Building. Here they remained for nearly two decades until they built a new building on the south bank of the Volga River at 5 South Main Street in Fayette. The new building had space for meetings and activities, although by today’s standards, it would be considered small.  In 1995, Farm Bureau built another new building at 107 East State Street in Fayette, where it is currently located.

From the beginning, the Farm Bureau worked closely with the Extension Service.  There was a county agent, or Extension director. There were Farm Bureau field men and Extension Youth and Club agents. In 1955, the Extension Service was separated by law from Farm Bureau. The Extension Service was then funded by county, state and federal funds instead of being funded by Farm Bureau.

Farm Bureau addressed topics that appealed to women. A home demonstration agent worked for a short time on the conservation of food (1918-1919). Thereafter, home economists were employed to teach nutrition and homemaking skills. 

Women’s groups took part in many projects, including a citizenship program, helping with the resolutions process, writing congressmen and legislators, and getting out the vote for local elections.  They supported the arts by forming the Rural Farm Bureau Women’s Chorus and a Mixed Chorus, and they encouraged reading at home through a library project.  They succeeded in 1960 in getting free mail delivery to approximately 200 more farm homes in Fayette County.  

In May 1967, the membership voted for a regional program, and Fayette County Farm Bureau formed one with Clayton and Winneshiek counties. Galen Griffin was hired to be the first regional field man.  Today the Region consists of six northeast Iowa counties, and the regional manager is Samantha Wagner.

Fayette County Farm Bureau took an active role in influencing legislation, beginning in January 1919, when the board adopted a resolution on road improvements and ordered it be sent to the Legislature.  In March 1919, the board ordered the Farm Bureau secretary to inform its senator and representative that it opposed repealing the law protecting quail and the prairie chicken (now extinct in Iowa). This was followed by a resolution opposing daylight-saving time.

Throughout the years, Fayette County Farm Bureau has continued its active involvement in lobbying for good farm legislation. 

“They have been successful in securing many legislative measures of financial value to farmers, such as property tax relief, preservation of Secondary Road funds and Gas Tax Refund.  Many people believe the Farm Bureau’s greatest contribution to agriculture has been their successful efforts to maintain a free and independent agriculture. The Farm Bureau is noted for their faith in the free enterprise system and the economic laws of supply and demand.” (Schneider, Bessie. History of Fayette County Farm Bureau, 1967, p.4) 

Farm Bureau has offered many different services to its membership over the century. The first 50 years noted that there was a Farm Service Company started in 1931. The Farm Bureau Mutual Auto Insurance Company was formed in 1939. In 1961 a Hog Marketing Center began operation, and in 1966 an electronic recordkeeping service was begun. Other popular programs in the 1950s included the Married Couples groups and Young Adult groups.

In more recent years, Farm Bureau is known for its health insurance program (although that is independent of the Farm Bureau Association). A stroke detection screening is provided at the Fayette Farm Bureau office. 

The membership works to contribute to notable causes such as the Fayette County Food Shelf, as well as a college scholarship program for graduating seniors of member families. 

It also gave strong financial support to the Bethel Generators 4-H Club, which spearheaded fundraising for many improvements to the Fayette County Fairgrounds facilities. On the third Saturday in December through March, Fayette County Farm Bureau hosts a series of Town Hall meetings, which are open to the public and provide an opportunity to meet with elected officials.

Today’s Farm Bureau focuses on leadership training for board members, young farmer activities and education, and member training.  Of course, the focus on desired legislation continues.  Members are kept informed though the monthly Farm Bureau Spokesman newspaper. This publication was preceded by the Farm Bureau Exchange List, which was started in 1919.

The Farm Bureau’s yearly opinionnaire allows it to remain a grassroots organization by giving its members a chance to submit their input during the policy development process. That policy is heard at the state and national levels.

Due to the aggressive efforts of Fayette County’s first office administrator, Bessie Schneider, the membership grew from 350 to 1600 in the first two years. By 1956 there were more than 2100 members. When Farm Bureau moved to its current location in 1995, there were 2829 members. Despite fewer farm families and larger farming operations, the membership today stands at 2652. 

There have been only three office administrators in the county office. The first was Bessie Schneider, 1918-1965; the second was Vera Schmidt, 1965-1975.  The present membership is served by Theresa Voshell.

Derek Smith of Randalia is currently the Fayette County Farm Bureau president.  Thirty-eight presidents have served before him. Millard Nelson Jr. and Kenneth Blockhus served in the 1960s. 

The groundbreaking woman to serve as county president in 2006-07 is Linda Druecker. In 1917, having a woman president was unthinkable.  Women did not even have the right to vote yet at that time. 

Certainly there have been many changes in the past century. One event noted in the archives was the “funeral” held for old Timothy Hay. Alfalfa was a newcomer crop in 1925. At a County Farm Bureau picnic, a mock funeral for “old Tim” was held. Pallbearers included alfalfa, red clover, sweet clover, alsike, mammoth clover, and soybeans. Friends of Timothy Hay opposed the event, yet “old Tim” was buried.  

Ron Bodensteiner of rural West Union joined Farm Bureau in 1961 when he came home from military service. The great-grandson of one of the original founding members, Ron has been an active member, serving as director of Auburn and Windsor townships for many years.  He currently is the treasurer of Fayette County Farm Bureau and as such, he serves on the Executive Council.  

When asked what the two biggest changes in farming have been over the past 100 years, Ron stated that they used the till the land “black and flat,” and now the thinking is “the less tillage, the better.”  

Another notable change is in the “technology of the seed.” Farmers used to get a bag of seed corn for $30, Ron recalled. But now, great improvements have been made in seed technology. This saves applying insecticide to the soil, which saves the farmer money and is better for the environment. In addition, the improved seed results in improved yield.  

“We used to be happy to get 100 bushels of corn to the acre, but now we are disappointed if it does not yield over 200 bushels per acre,” Ron explained.

Times change, but Fayette County Farm Bureau has remained “One Century Strong,” continuing to represent and serve Fayette County farmers and their families in the things that matter most to them.




Fayette County Farm Bureau Presidents


Paul P. Stewart (1917-1922)

Ed Eitel

C.B. Holtzman

G.E. Sauerbry

J.F Wilkinson

Ray A. Bell

W.S. Rothlisberger

J. Fred Ingels

E.D. James

John W. Ingels

Henry Bodensteiner

Reynold Strong

Clair L. Claxton

Rodney Drewes

Millard Nelson Jr.

Benton Harrison

Frank Brownell

Kenneth Blockhus

Kenneth James

Leo Bodensteiner

Kenneth L. Vagts

Harvey Pohlman

Urban Kuennen

Veryl Burghardt

Jerry Falck

Bert Henderson

Dennis Martin

Neil Schwake

Phillip James

Mark Kuennen

Tom Hayes

Bill Baerg

Mark Stewart

Vince Spain

Linda Druecker

Chad Ingels

Mark Recker

Joe Bahe

Derek Smith (2016-present)









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