When officials, supporters and guests of the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center held a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility on Oct. 11, the venture had reached 80 percent of its $13 million fundraising goal.

The center will include a 29,000 square foot area dedicated to educational displays and hands-on learning attractions; a calf birthing barn being supplied with cows from the nearby Grotegut family dairy farm; a conference center with a capacity of 300 persons; a cafe; and a country store featuring products made in Wisconsin.

Modeled on the similar Fair Oaks complex in northwestern Indiana, the WAEC hopes to attract travelers from busy Interstate 43 onto the Manitowoc County Highway C off-ramp. With Bayland Buildings handling the construction for an anticipated opening in the spring of 2018, the center will appeal to school groups, bus tours and families.

The official address will be 7001 Gass Lake Road to the southwest of the city of Manitowoc. Visitors will also be invited to tour the Grotegut farm along Newton Road.

In July of 2006, a delegation from Manitowoc County made a bus trip to the Fair Oaks facility on the border of Indiana's Newton and Jasper counties. One of the attendees was the late Norval Dvorak, who was the initial promoter of the venture in Manitowoc County and a leading organizer of the board now heading the WAEC project.

Fundraising success

With the infusion of a $5 million grant from the state of Wisconsin that had to be matched, the fundraising enjoyed a good start and has met the required match. The latest report puts the fundraising total within the past year at approximately $10.345 million.

The latest announced contribution was $550,000 from a consortium of seven Farm Credit Services cooperatives doing business in several states. That group includes Badgerland Financial, GreenStone FCS, AgStar Financial, AgriBank, AgCountry FCS, CoBank and United FCS.

Other major contributions have been $1 million by Land O'Lakes Dairy Foods; $500,000 by Country Visions Co-op and CP Feeds; $250,000 each by Investors Community Bank, Reisterer & Schnell Inc., and John C. and Kate Miller (former owners of Miller-St. Nazianz); $150,000 by Arm and Hammer Animal Nutrition; and $100,000 each by John Deere Inc., BouMatic Dairy Equipment, Bayland Buildings and Dairyland Seeds. Sargento Foods will also be a major supporter and supplier of the country store and cafeteria.

Another 15 contributors have given at least $10,000: Vita Plus, Sue's Moo Dairy (Susan Kracht), the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Rural Mutual Insurance, Zoetis, Cooperative Resources International, Quality Roasting, Milk Source LLC, Braun Electric, Bank First National, Animart Dairy and Livestock Supply, Hillstrom Public Relations, Diamond V, the Gehl Foundation and the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation.

Visit the WAEC website at The organization is being led by its executive director Melissa Bender, board president Julie Maurer of her family's Soaring Eagle dairy, vice-president Nic Schoenberger, who is a partner in Greendale Dairy, treasurer Gail Temme of Grotegut Dairy and secretary Laurie Schetter of GreenStone FCS.

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