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‘Farmers tell a great story’

31 May


Walter Bones is indebted to his family for allowing him to step away from full-time farming to briefly pursue another career: secretary of agriculture for the state of South Dakota.

“I went to them and said, ‘You can’t believe the phone call I just got,’” Walt says. “And not one of them said, ‘Who’s going to plant the corn?’ They all said, ‘That’s a great opportunity.’”

So Walt (’73 animal science) temporarily left the daily management of a livestock operation, custom cattle-feeding business, elevator company, and dairy in the capable hands of his brothers, brother-in-law, and nephews in Parker, S.D. He headed to the capital city of Pierre – and all points beyond.

“I had the opportunity to travel across the state and see people in action,” he said of the two years he spent as secretary of agriculture (2011-2013). He worked with zoning issues, government rules and regulations, agricultural law, and the transition of farms from small to large – even managing fires and flooding.

“One of my focuses was to try to tell the [agriculture] story,” he said. “We’re in a rural state, but not a large percentage of people are involved with agriculture. Farmers tell a great story; they live it every day.”

Walt was no stranger to public service. He’s been active with the National Corn Growers Association, the Midwest Dairy Association, South Dakota Hereford Association, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, and other groups.

Walt’s dad, an Iowa State graduate, served in the South Dakota State Senate while managing the family farm.

“My mom and dad are great role models,” Walt said. “My family holds public service in high esteem.

“Agriculture has been really good to us.”


Bringing the beach to South Dakota

21 Jun


It all started with a cruise.

Trey (’05 journalism & mass communication) and Becah (’05 chemical engineering)  Fliehs discovered that they loved to travel – especially when the travel took them to the Caribbean islands. After they graduated from Iowa State, they began a tradition of taking cruises to the islands each January.

On the first one, in 2006, they traveled with a group of more than 30 people and determined that they needed a name.

“If you’re going to tote around 32 people on a traveling event, you’ve got to be able to corral everybody somehow,” Becah said. “We were trying to think of fun names, and we came up with Team Cocktail.”

Every year, the “Team Cocktail” group got bigger and bigger.

“Everywhere we went, people wanted to know how they could become a member of Team Cocktail,” Trey said.

A few years ago, the couple was on Barbados, looking at T-shirts and lamenting the quality.

“When we’d get home and wash the shirts, they would shrink up,” Trey said. “So we got the idea to make high quality, fun T-shirts you could wear either on vacation or once you get home.”

Becah and Trey – along with Trey’s sister, Lyndsey Fliehs Higgins (’02 marketing and management) – decided to take Team Cocktail to the masses. With a logo design and trademark, the company launched a website in 2010. Today, Team Cocktail offers Caribbean-based T-shirts, polo shirts, board shorts, and accessories online, in retail shops in 25 states, and on several islands. They also sell merchandise at country music concerts and festivals. The company has recently branched out to offer special cruise packages, excursions, and beach getaways.

The island lifestyle is in direct contrast to Trey and Becah’s day-to-day lives in Groton, S.D. Trey is a third-generation farmer, working alongside his father and grandfather on a 10,000-acre corn and soybean farm in the northeast part of the state. Becah is a technical manager at the POET ethanol plant down the road and is also active on the farm. All the corn grown on the farm is sold to the ethanol plant.

“We represent the next generation of farmers who break the traditional mold of how people view the career,” Becah said.

Though South Dakota has a reputation for being located in “blizzard alley,” Trey and Becah agree that the state is “quiet, calm, and beautiful.” And, at least, it’s not as cold as its northern neighbor.

“We’re the tropical Dakota,” Becah laughs.

The Dakotas

16 Jun

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Thirty-six states are now complete, with just 14 more to go.

Jim and I recently returned from North Dakota and South Dakota – yes, they are two separate states, even though I find myself referring to them as “The Dakotas” more often than not.

We met with Iowa State alumni only on the far eastern side of the states (so close to Minnesota it almost felt like cheating) because, well, that’s where they live. We didn’t get to travel to the wild-west part of either state, which was sort of disappointing. But then again, we didn’t have to compete with family vacationers in their slow-moving recreational vehicles at Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Theodore Roosevelt National Park – or even Wall Drug.

Our first destination was Fargo, N.D. It’s really hard to go to Fargo and NOT think about the hilarious 1996 Coen brothers’ movie of the same name, even though the film was actually set in Minnesota.

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Despite its reputation for brutal winter weather, Fargo is a very nice city with a cool, historic downtown area. It’s also home to North Dakota State University. Jim and I took a quick drive around the campus and had our picture taken in front of the big bison sculpture before getting down to business.

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We met first with John Wheeler (’84 meteorology), well known in the area as a television meteorologist for ABC-affiliate WDAY-TV since 1985. I get the feeling that if you want to know what the day’s weather is going to bring in Fargo, you check with John.

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Equally successful is John’s wife, Emily Williams-Wheeler (’86 interior design), an artist and art instructor who owns Studio e. Emily took us to Fargo’s West Acres Mall, where she just completed painting a brightly colored children’s mural.

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Driving south, we arrived at the home of 2005 grads Trey & Becah Fliehs in Groton, S.D. Becah (chemical engineering) and Trey (journalism & mass communication) are farmers – and also owners of a Caribbean-inspired company called Team Cocktail. Becah is also the technical manager at a nearby POET ethanol plant. (That’s Trey and Becah with their three-legged dog, Trip, short for Tripod.)

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Our last visit during this brief trip to the Dakotas was with Walter Bones (’73 animal science), a farmer and former South Dakota secretary of agriculture. Walt operates (along with two brothers, a brother-in-law, and three nephews) the family farm near Parker that was homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1879. So there’s a lot of history there.

We’re back in Iowa now, with stories to write, photos to look at, and more trips to plan.