WFBF gives Distinguished Service, Excellence in Ag awards; other winners announced

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer

Winners of the top awards bestowed at this year's Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting have many things in common, one of which is their passion for agriculture.

The 101st annual meeting – spread across two days –was held virtually due to COVID-19 concerns.

Carol Bartholomew

Distinguished Service to Farm Bureau Award

Carol and the late Bob Bartholomew of Waukesha County received the WFBF's highest honor, the Distinguished Service to Farm Bureau Award, for their dedication to the bureau since the 1980s. Bob Bartholomew passed away on July 8 this year at age 85, leaving behind a long legacy of love and passion for helping other farmers.

The Bartholomews, who have four children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, have had a dairy farm in their family since 1889. One of their sons bought the farm from them, and since then the couple had raised cash crops. They both regularly attended American Farm Bureau Federation meetings from 1987 to 2014, serving on many committees, and Bob once served as the Waukesha County Farm Bureau president and continued to go to the annual state meeting as a delegate.

Bob was also one of the people to start Waukesha County's Ag in the Classroom program, where he visited 3,000 fourth grade students a year, he said in a video recorded before he passed away. The Bartholomews also served as leaders for their local 4-H club, and Carol served as the chair of the county women's committee for nearly two decades.

"I've only been able to see so much of the United States, but to meet Farm Bureau members from the various states where the FBF meetings were held... what a privilege to visit with farmers from all over," Carol said. "Yes, we give time to the Farm Bureau, but Farm Bureau has given so much more to us in so many ways, including the wonderful friends we've made through the organization."

Dick Cates

Distinguished Service to Wisconsin Agriculture Award

Dick Cates, Jr. of Iowa County was awarded with the Distinguished Service to Wisconsin Agriculture Award for his leadership, dedication and many contributions to the ag industry. He grew up on a farm and still co-owns Cate Family Farms, LLC, with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Cates earned his doctoral degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison in soil science as a Leopold Fellow, and even after retiring in 2018, he continues to teach in multiple ag disciplines at his alma mater. He helped start a program for new farmers at Madison's Farm and Industry Short Course that would help prepare more than 600 students to start their own farm with business savvy, including WFBF's own delegate Ryan Klussendorf.

RELATED: Kevin Krentz elected president of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation

With many accolades and committee memberships, including being named Wisconsin Master Agriculturalist in 2016, Cates has dedicated his life to furthering the industry. He's previously served on the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Board of Directors, has been on an advisory council for the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture and is a member of the board of the Sand County Foundation.

"We have a dream to farm, and farming is important work. My father, as I was growing up, was not a farmer by profession, but by his youth experience always in his heart, taught me that farming is a mission of high calling, and it's work worth doing," Cates said. "Successful farmers are entrepreneurs and they value community, integrity, and trust in their relationships."

Natasha Paris

Excellence in Agriculture Award

Natasha Paris of Green Lake County was awarded the Excellence in Agriculture Award as part of the WFBF's Young Farmer and Agriculturalist program for knowledge of the ag industry and impact through an off-the-farm career.

Paris is an agri-science teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor at Ripon High School, and she also owns ParKelm Farm, a livestock operation, with her husband. She's been a Farm Bureau member for five years and is the vice president of Green Lake County Farm Bureau, also serving as YFA chair.

The award gives Paris a chance to compete at the AFBF annual meeting Jan. 10-13, which will also be virtual, and take a trip to Washington, DC, next year. The winner of the AFBF competition will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the annual GROWMARK meeting or $1,500 in credit at their local FS cooperative. 

Stephanie Abts of Manitowoc County, Julie Wadzinski of Barron County and Kellie Zahn of Shawano County also competed.

Julie Sweney

Dodge County member wins YFA discussion meet

Julie Sweney of Dodge County was named the winner of the YFA discussion meet Friday after competing against three other speakers during a judged competition. The competition tests youth Farm Bureau members on their ability to convey their ideas and opinions on a certain topic of the agriculture industry.

Growing up on her family dairy farm, Sweney graduated from the WFBF Leadership Institute in 2011 and holds membership chair of the Dodge County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. She is also director of marketing and communications for FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative. A press release said Sweney is a member because she wants to "help promote agriculture within her community."

Sweney will represent Wisconsin at the AFBF's annual discussion meet in January, where the winner will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the annual GROWMARK meeting or $1,500 in credit at their local FS cooperative. 

The other finalists were Natasha Paris of Green Lake County, Riley Bricco of Waupaca County and Erin O'Toole of Kewaunee County.