Agri-Business Club celebrates 50 years

Gloria Hafemeister

WATERTOWN - Fifty-years ago a group of farmers and those affiliated with agriculture in the Watertown area felt there was a need for a service organization involving farmers and the businesses serving them. With a desire to provide an educational component, they decided they would invite speakers to their meeting to inform them about the latest agricultural topics.

The 2017 recipients of Watertown Agri-Business scholarships came to the organization’s Christmas party Thursday at Turner Hall to update members on their school activities and goals.  The students were guests at the event where the club celebrated its 50th anniversary as an organization.  Included are, back, from left, Justin Nehls, a UW-Platteville student; Nick Voigt and Matthew Griebenow, both Fox Valley Technical College students; Dawson Nickels, a student at UW-Madison; Middle row: Natalie Siedschlag, a UW-River Falls student; Emily Pahl, a recent graduate of UW-Madison; Alexis Schultz, a student at UW-Madison; Tyler Gruenwald, a Fox Valley Technical College student; and Courtney Ewerdt, a student at UW-Platteville; Front row, from left: Roseanne Crave, a student at the University of Dubuque, Iowa; Lauren Rockney, a graduate of UW-Platteville; Katrina Kube, a student at Madison Area Technical College; Brittany Rennhack and Jessica Manke, both students at UW-Platteville.

Members and guests gathered recently at Turner Hall in Watertown to celebrate 50 years since the Watertown Agri-Business Club was organized.  Several of the original organizers were on hand.

Thirty-five men attended the first of many meetings back in 1967, electing Roy Jones to serve as the club’s first president.  Harold Niedfeldt  was elected vice president and Stanley Johansen was secretary/treasurer.  Serving on the board of directors were Vernon Behl, Wilmer Altreuter and Walter Griebenow.

Meetings were held the fourth Thursday of each month at the Plattdeuscher Hall until 2015 when the club decided to move meetings around to other local restaurants.

In the early years the organization was made up of only men.  Wives were invited to attend their Christmas parties and special events.

The first Christmas party was at the Ixonia Firemens Hall with a speaker on Farm taxes after the dinner. The president also presented a talk and photos of his trip to Russia and Europe.

In 1968, the club felt they needed a project. As its first project, members took young gentlemen from area high schools to spend the day at various businesses exploring the variety of occupations involved in agriculture and agri-business. The same year the club began awarding a $500 scholarship to a young man pursuing an education in agriculture.

Another of the club’s early projects was a pig roast in the park for anyone in Watertown to attend. One year the club held the picnic at the Piper Brothers Dairy and Carnation Breeding Farm. Six-hundred people attended.

While the event in the park was a good fundraiser for the scholarship funds, a rained out event led to the decision to instead host a dairy breakfast on an area farm. The first Breakfast on the Farm was held at Harvey Ziemer’s farm in 1975.

Since 1968, the club has also purchased a grand champion animal at the Dodge County Fair.  The first animal was a steer from Stan Jones. After they bought it they found out they couldn’t afford it so they processed the meat, raffled tickets for ½ steer and Harris Crydt was the lucky winner. They then sold the rest of the packages to others to make back some of the money they had spent.

The custom of buying animal projects at the fair has continued and the club is now spending $5000 each year between Dodge and Jefferson County fairs. 

Wanting to support other worthwhile ag-related projects the club held other fund-raising events such as a dance at Ixonia Firemen’s Hall, and making floats for area parades.  In 2017 the club revived the idea of a parade float with the Schmidt, Grosenick and Dettman families putting together a float for the Watertown July 4 parade.

Supporting youth in Ag

Over the years the club has supported numerous activities in area schools, 4-H clubs, FFA organizations, food pantry and more.  Last year the club gave almost $4000 to ag-related projects.

In 1973 the club met with the Jefferson Agri-Business Club to share a meal and share ideas.  In 1974 the Watertown Agri-Business Club decided to join in the effort of raising funds to help construct the youth building at the Jefferson Fair grounds for the benefit of 4-H and FFA members in the county.

With more and more women actively involved in farming and agri-businesses, the club began to accept women as members as well.  The club’s first woman president was Sue Strese in 2014.  She held office for two terms.

According to Strese, who has assembled a history of the club, since beginning to present scholarships in 1968 the club now gives almost $15,000 each year. 

Jim Ostrom, a successful farmer who is now part owner of several large dairies in the state, was one of the early recipients of a scholarship from the Watertown Agri-Business Club.  In appreciation he returned in 2012 to give the club $10,000 for club scholarship funds and again in 2017 he gave another $10,000 as a means of helping more students achieve their goals in agri-business.

Strese says, “No words can express our gratitude to this gentleman.”

2018 will be the club’s fiftieth year presenting scholarships and thanks to donations such as this and supporters of the club and its activities, more students than ever can receive financial assistance for school.

To this day the club is best known for what has become a two-day Dairy Breakfast on the Farm.  The event involves all of the club’s members as well as many others including scholarship recipients, 4-Hers, FFA members and more.  The event has grown from 600 the first year to over 5000 in more recent years.

To date the breakfast weekend has been hosted by 24 different families, many of whom hosted several times.  The club is currently seeking a host for the 2018 breakfast.