Ag Hall of Fame inductees announced
The 2016 inductees to the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame were announced by the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce at the Eastern Washington Ag Expo luncheon at the Holiday Inn Express on Tuesday, Jan. 5. The four individuals and one couple will be honored at an installation gala at the Pasco Red Lion on Thursday, Jan. 21, sponsored by the chamber and the Port of Pasco.
This is the 16th year that Hall of Fame honors have been awarded to Mid-Columbia farmers, families and agribusiness leaders in Franklin County and neighboring Mid-Columbia counties. A portion of the money raised through the event and its sponsorships supports higher-education scholarship opportunities for local youth who want to study agricultural sciences.
The new inductees are being recognized for their outstanding contributions to agriculture and agribusiness in 5 categories. These are the categories and the inductees for 2015:
- The Mid-Columbia Ag Hall of Fame Pioneer Award honors individuals who have had a significant influence on the development of agriculture and unselfishly served their communities. The 2016 inductees are the late Lawrence and Iris Hayes, who were early settlers in the Columbia Basin Project. Lawrence served on the boards of Big Bend Electric Cooperative and the Mid-Columbia Library District. He was active in the Cattlemen’s Association and other commodity groups. Iris helped found Basin City Homemakers and Women in Farm Economics (WIFE), and was a founding member of the Columbia Basin Junior Livestock Show.
- The Rising Star title, which acknowledges a young person committed to agriculture and community service, will be conferred on Dick Muhlbeier, a manager with RDO Equipment Company of Pasco. Besides being a highly praised agribusiness manager, Dick supports 4-H and FFA chapters, the Farm Fair, the Junior Livestock Show and other programs for youth. He also volunteers his time for Second Harvest and Habitat for Humanity.
- The Agriculture Advisor Award was earned by Columbia Basin College ag teacher Kerrin Bleazard. It is given to an individual in an ag-related program who has had a significant impact through mentoring of young people. Since 2007, Kerrin has revitalized the teaching of agriculture at CBC with a science-based curriculum, and has earned national honors for her work.
- The Stewardship Award is presented to someone who has served the community and displayed leadership in agriculture over a long period. Chep Gauntt is being honored for his stewardship of his own family farm and his eagerness to share ag technology with others. He helped revive the CBC ag program and gear it toward advancement to many different university degree programs.
- The Visionary Award, for a person who has had an extraordinary impact on agriculture, honors Bob Tippett, a man of vision who has helped many farmers through his involvement in ag lending, management and real estate. He helped develop the Pasco Food Industrial Center and the TRAC facility, and has served the community on the boards of the Pasco and Tri-Cities chambers, TRIDEC, the Wine Science Center, Young Life and other organizations.
The Agriculture Hall of Fame Gala will be held on Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Pasco Red Lion, starting with a social hour at 5:30 p.m. A full-course dinner will feature local produce and local wines. For reservations and information, call the Pasco Chamber at (509) 547-9755 or drop by the office, which has moved to 1110 Osprey Pointe Boulevard, Suite 101, in Pasco. You can visit the chamber online at www.pascochamber.org.
About the Inductees
Lawrence and Iris Hayes
This category honors individuals who have had a significant influence on the development of agriculture in our region and unselfishly served their communities.
The late Lawrence and Iris Hayes are being honored with the Pioneer Award. They were early settlers of Block 19 of the Columbia Basin Project near Mesa, beginning in 1957.
Basin farming was a pioneering effort in those days for many reasons — wind erosion, canal breaches, crop failures and low commodity prices, not to mention living conditions. The Hayes home had no domestic water for the first six months, until a community well was completed. Iris taught school to bring in extra income.
The Hayes family thrived on hard work and found time to serve their community. Iris helped found Basin City Homemakers and Women in Farm Economics (WIFE), and was a founding member of the Columbia Basin Junior Livestock Show. Lawrence served on the boards of Big Bend Electric Cooperative and the Mid-Columbia Library District. He was active in the Cattlemen’s Association and other commodity groups. The couple volunteered their time as 4-H leaders, firefighters and ambulance drivers.
A third generation of the family is now farming the original Hayes homestead.
Rising Star Award
This category acknowledges a young individual in the agriculture industry who demonstrates a commitment to community involvement with a dedication to enhancing agriculture.
Dick Muhlbeier is the recipient of the Rising Star Award. Born of two Columbia Basin families and raised near Basin City, Dick is a manager for RDO Equipment Company of Pasco. He is married with two children.
As a child, Dick was an enthusiastic worker on the family farm. He was active in 4-H and FFA, and won numerous livestock awards at the fair. While attending Connell High School, he also took classes at Tri-Tech Skills Center to learn about heavy equipment. He went to work for RDO in his senior year and excelled in the John Deere Ag Program after graduation. He also earned degrees at Walla Walla Community College.
Besides being a highly praised agribusiness manager, Dick supports programs for youth, makes sure FFA chapters have tractors for competitions, conducts presentations and tours, and takes heavy machinery to the Kidz Dig Rigz event for the Kadlec Foundation. He and helps with the Farm Fair and the Junior Livestock Show, and volunteers his time for Second Harvest and Habitat for Humanity.
Agriculture Advisor Award
Recognizes individuals in ag-related youth programs and similar organizations who have influenced young people through their leadership, guidance and community involvement.
Kerrin Bleazard was selected for the Agriculture Advisor Award for her work at Columbia Basin College.
In 2007, Kerrin was chosen to revitalize the agriculture program at CBC through teaching, research and outreach. She quickly moved toward a science-based curriculum that prepares students for 25 four-year degree choices in agriculture and agribusiness.
Kerrin wasn’t raised on a farm, but became hooked on agriculture in a class at Kamiakin High School. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture science at WSU. She worked at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and taught ag classes at Kahlotus High School before joining the CBC faculty.
Outside of the classroom, Kerrin’s students get hands-on experience working on the CBC farm and in the greenhouse. Her program has been honored by the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and in 2010 Kerrin was named Outstanding Postsecondary Agricultural Education Teacher, one of only six in the nation to earn that distinction.
Enrollment in the CBC program has mushroomed under Kerrin’s leadership, and her impact on students has been inspiring.
Honors individuals who are actively displaying exemplary community involvement and enhancing agribusiness through leadership or technology development.
Chep Gauntt, the recipient of the Stewardship Award, grew up on a family farm in Moses Lake. He studied business at Big Bend Community College and Eastern Washington University and began working at Green Giant, rising through the management ranks until he was in charge of asparagus operations from Walla Walla to Basin City. Then he decided to farm independently.
Chep became an avid steward of the land and of agriculture itself, eagerly learning new methods as technology advanced. He now encourages his son Drex to use high-tech tools such as GPS, variable rate application, soil moisture monitoring and even drones. He shares what he learns with other farmers.
Chep helped resuscitate the CBC ag program, the campus farm and the scholarship program. With his valuable input, a “pipeline” concept now starts in high school and can lead to a four-year degree or higher.
Chep, his wife Kay and son Drex grow alfalfa, Timothy hay, field corn, sweet corn and wheat on their farm. As if that doesn’t keep him busy, he also manages the drip irrigations system for a Boise Cascade tree farm.
A special award recognizing a person who has had an extraordinary impact on agriculture.
Bob Tippett’s impact on family farming is deserving of the Ag Hall of Fame Visionary Award.
Bob’s father founded the Tippett Land and Mortgage Company in Boise and was a loan correspondent for Connecticut General. In the late 1960s, the firm opened a Kennewick office to broker start-up loans for Columbia Basin farmers. Fresh out of Boise State with a degree in accounting, Bob took over the Kennewick office.
Bob moved back to Boise when his father passed away, but returned to the Tri-Cities in the mid-1980s, when the farm economy was in a slump and banks were foreclosing. He helped many farmers with sound advice on surviving the financial crisis, and he partnered with Jim O’Conner in a company that managed lender-owned farms.
Bob Tippett is a man of vision who has been involved in ag lending, management and real estate. He has operated a hay farm and a seed business. He helped develop the Pasco Food Industrial Center and the TRAC facility, and has served the community on the boards of the Pasco and Tri-Cities chambers, TRIDEC, the Wine Science Center, Young Life and other organizations.