The Art of Greatness

By: Ali Luety

Five iconic individuals who’ve impacted the Angus industry and cattle business discuss how they initiated change, sparked controversy, and how their individual and collaborative efforts contributed to society. They evaluate what it means to be great, and whether they consider themselves great. Portrait artist Richard Halstead offers insight based on his time spent with each individual to paint a life-size portrait for their induction into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery.

Portaying an outlier

These five icons don’t necessarily fit livestock industry “norms”. They’re outliers; exceptional people who deviate from society’s normal understanding of achievement or greatness. That’s how Malcom Gladwell, author of “Outliers; The Story of Success” defines an outlier. They operate at the extreme outer edge of what is statistically plausible.

They’re leaders chosen by their peers, the highest compliment one can receive, according to “Originals” by Adam Grant.

Richard Halstead painted each individual’s portrait after they were selected to be inducted into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery. The gallery is the crème de le crème of the livestock industry; many see it as the ultimate honor, and only one individual is selected every year.

Halstead painted every person, putting scrupulous effort into each portrait. With meaning behind every painstaking detail, Halstead aimed to portray each individual in their truest sense. He captured their energy, how each person held themselves, how they interacted with others, their personality. It’s all there, in each stroke, if you look close enough.

A documentary exploring the meaning of greatness through the portraits of five icons in the Angus cattle industry. #IAMANGUS

Ranching Matriarch

Minnie Lou Bradley

The Bradley 3 Ranch is tucked in the Texas panhandle about an hour east of Amarillo, down winding dirt roads that stain trucks a rusty red. It’s big country where ranchers still ride horseback on cattle drives, everyone calls their father “daddy”, and steaks are country fried. Minnie Lou Bradley still lives on the ranch she started with her husband more than 60 years ago.

As a young woman, Minnie Lou saw the gallery for the very first time the day before she won the Chicago International Livestock judging competition in the early 1950s. Her judging coach told the team that the portraits represented the greatest bunch of men in the livestock industry that there ever was. Decades later, her portrait hangs alongside the industry legends she admired as a teen.

It’s hard to put a finger on the many contributions Minnie Lou’s made to the cattle industry, but forging a path for women in ranching was a big one. Although she might deny it, Minnie Lou’s accomplishments inspired today’s generation of women involved in agriculture to be heard, seen and respected.

What glass ceiling

Growing up, Bradley never felt different because of her gender. She spent countless hours in the barn and on the road looking at livestock with her dad and “granddaddy”. But she didn’t realize that wasn’t typical.

When her family got a shipment of 1,000 lambs in, her granddaddy let her pick 10 from the 1,000 to feed and ready for the Junior livestock Show in Oklahoma. He told her she had to do the selecting as it was her project. Several months later, she and her granddaddy loaded them up and headed east to her first competition at the age of nine.

The judges were walking around inspecting each pen. “When the judges stopped at my pen, my granddaddy said, ‘No you shouldn’t go on any longer; I’ve looked around, and she already won it.’ I was so embarrassed; I about died,” Bradley laughs. But her granddaddy wasn’t wrong. “It wasn’t too long before the judges came back and gave me the blue ribbon.”

That was just enough to hook Bradley. She then started in the Hampshire and Berkshire hog business. By 13, she owned her first Angus cow. “I got so I had more stock than my dad did,” she recounts.

“My daddy always told me my limit was what I determined it was. He said, ‘If you wanted to get it done, go do it. Don’t depend on someone else.’”

Making her mark

Minnie Lou became the first woman to major in animal husbandry at Oklahoma State University, then Oklahoma A&M. There, she was the first woman to mark cards for the college judging team. At a naïve 17 years old, she visited Oklahoma A&M and started her college career.

“There had never been a girl in animal husbandry classes,” Minnie Lou recounts. “I guess they really didn’t know what to do with me. I kept saying just treat me like you would anyone else.”

Dr. Hilton Briggs became her advisor for two years before moving on to become president of South Dakota State University, and Minnie Lou later found out that he was on a mission to get rid of her.

“He almost accomplished that mission,” she says lightheartedly. “But he didn’t.”

After her first animal evaluation class, Minnie Lou went up to the judging coach, Mr. Glenn Bratcher to let him know she was to be on his judging team. “He said, ‘You are?’ And I said yes,” Minnie Lou says matter-of-factly. Bratcher told her if she was good enough, she could be on the team, though he likely didn’t think she’d make it that far.

But he didn’t know Minnie Lou. He didn’t know her drive. “I told everyone in fifth grade that I was going to go to Oklahoma A&M and would be on the judging team,” Minnie Lou says proudly. And she was going to make good on that promise.

When she didn’t make the traveling team after consistently ranking in the top five during workouts, she was devastated. She didn’t give up, though. Instead, she tried harder to make the team for the Fort Worth judging contest.

“Mr. Bratcher called me into his office,” Minnie Lou says. “He said, ‘I made a statement to you, and I need to live up to it. We have spent the day talking to the dean of women and the dean of students, and we didn’t find anything that said you can’t go.’”

Fast forward to Minnie Lou’s first collegiate contest. The department head, Dr. Al Darlow, pulled Minnie Lou aside.

“He said, ‘You’re the first girl that we’ve ever had on the team, and I’m telling you right now, you will be the last if you don’t come through today,’” Minnie Lou says, sternly. She proved herself in Fort Worth, and from then on, she didn’t have any problems. Minnie Lou went on to win the Chicago International judging competition, becoming the first woman to win a major contest. While in Chicago, Briggs, her former advisor, asked for a visit to apologize for the many and tough hours he assigned Minnie Lou in her first two years.

Home on the ranch

As a sophomore at Oklahoma A&M, Minnie Lou met Bill Bradley. He was from a ranch near Wichita Falls, Minnie Lou recounts. “I think he told me more tall tales than the truth, but it sounded good to me!”

She went back to the Bradley ranch during Easter break to help brand cattle and quickly found out she didn’t know a thing about branding; she had never had to brand cattle on her family farm. But she caught on quickly, and soon enough, Bill’s father, Rusty, asked Minnie Lou to help castrate. Eager to prove herself, Minnie Lou didn’t hesitate. In true cowboy style, Rusty told her “you cut it, you eat it”.

It wasn’t long before she graduated from college, and Bill headed over to Korea in the service. Minnie Lou accepted a position at the Texas Angus Association and continued to visit the Bradley’s every weekend.

Before Bill returned from the war, Rusty told Minnie Lou they were going to look for a ranch. “I asked why, and he said, ‘Well Bill says he’s going to marry you when he gets home. So, we better get you a ranch,’” Minnie Lou remembers.

In 1955, the soon-to-be Bradley 3 Ranch was worn out, drought-stricken and unkempt. Driving up to the place, Minnie Lou remembers it was the longest dirt road she’d been on.

“Not a windmill was working, fences were down, and it looked really bad as far as grass. I’ll never forget when Rusty got down on his knees, opened up his pocket knife and dug up the roots. He said, ‘Well the roots are alive; I believe it’s got a lot of potential,’’’ Minnie Lou laughs, twisting her face to resemble her disbelief at the time. “He made the deal, and when Bill got back from Korea, we moved right straight up here. We’ve been trying to improve the ranch now for 63 years.”

The early years were tough on the Bradleys. There were a lot of things they didn’t know about how to improve the ranch.

“Everybody wondered about us for the longest time,” Minnie Lou smiles. “All of our water that we drank had to be hauled. Mr. Richburg would bring us 1,000 gallons every two weeks. You really learned how to conserve water.”

Minnie Lou was determined to do things differently on the Bradley 3 Ranch. She remembers when Mr. Jones, a banker and family friend stopped by the ranch. She had been meticulously keeping the books and paying the bills since they bought the place, but the ranch still struggled.

“I asked, How do all these other ranchers make money?” Minnie Lou says. “We’re not doing any good. He said ‘Oh, you’re doing good. A rancher out here, unless they’ve got oil, they don’t expect to make much money. It’s just about living, and living the life you want.’”

It wasn’t the answer Minnie wanted. “We’ve got to do better than that,” she says. “And that’s when we went into the registered business as we believed West Texas ranchers were looking and needing a change from purebred Herefords to crossing them with Angus.”

A trend setter

Minnie Lou is no fashionista. In fact, she only shops using catalogs. But when it comes to ranching, she’s a trend setter.

After deciding to get into the registered Angus business, Bradley 3 Ranch received their lifetime American Angus Association membership in 1958.

“We wanted to raise our bulls differently; we wanted to raise them as a commercial man would,” Minnie Lou says. “They sell by the pound, so it’s important that we produce a lot of pounds. We have to think about things in terms of pounds per ranch and acre.”

That was before performance tracking was accepted in the industry. “It was still a nasty word,” Minnie Lou recalls. Bradley 3 Ranch was one of the first to join the performance registry international, causing some to turn up their noses. But looking back, Minnie Lou laughs at how far performance testing has brought the industry.

“Minnie Lou and Bill have been innovators from the very start,” says James Henderson, Minnie Lou’s son-in-law. “They started measuring performance on Angus cattle before most, they were early EPD users, and Minnie Lou helped shape how we use DNA, parentage and ultrasound today.”

Minnie Lou is an entrepreneur, and she passed that trait on her daughter, Mary Lou. The two pioneered the very first Certified Angus Beef Natural processing plant – setting today’s standards for the popular program.

“Everything that’s here was paid for by the cows; that’s probably the thing that’s most unique about this ranch,” Henderson says. He’s actively involved in the ranch and helps manage nearly three times more cattle than the Bradleys thought the place could run. It’s a true testament to the family’s dedication to good stewardship and quality genetics.

Expontential impact

Minnie Lou is not a warm and fuzzy mother figure; she’ll tell you that. “I’m not a cozy person,” she says. “I know that and feel bad about it, but I’m not.” Instead, she shows that she cares in other ways.

“I have a lot of expectations for everybody. I’m probably bad about that; I can’t stand anyone without ambition. I want everybody to have a drive, to have a goal; I want them to achieve it,” she says firmly.

No matter her method, she’s touched so many lives. For years, she hosted numerous underprivileged young men and women at the ranch as temporary hired hands. She showed them tough love and taught them about more than ranching. When talking about her mentees, she says, “I think what a lot of them are missing is they don’t have any expectations.” Many of her pupils have gone on to be incredibly successful.

Recently, she started Kids Crockin, a program to teach needy kids in her local community how to cook beef and other fresh ingredients to help get away from so many processed foods and become more independent. She jokes, “I don’t know if they like me, or they like my cooking.” No matter, the program is growing every year and is making a difference in young lives.

Minnie Lou is a role model even for people who have never met her. “I get a lot of letters from young ladies I don’t even know. They usually thank me for opening some doors,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t know why I’m a mentor to them.”

Keegan Cassady, 2017-2018 Miss American Angus, looks up to Minnie Lou and even referred to her as an industry celebrity. “She’s someone who has served as a role model to me, being the first woman to do so many things. It’s easy for me to have so many role models today, but for her, she had to be the first one to do all these things,” Cassady shares.

When she met Minnie Lou at a past Angus Convention, she was excited, yet a bit nervous. “She was so selfless,” Cassady says. “I would say something about her, and she would deflect and talk about someone else.” Afterward, in true Minnie Lou fashion, Cassady received a handwritten thank-you note that she still cherishes.

Texas-native Moriah Pohlman thinks Minnie Lou is quite the rancher. “For as long as I can remember, she’s had a big impact on the Angus and cattle industry,” Pohlman says. “She has this outstanding herd of Angus cattle that are feed efficient in tough country. Minnie Lou Bradley has motivated me and other women in the cattle industry.”

Halstead shared that Minnie Lou is the kind of person who inspires confidence. “That’s very different from a person who is confident, which she is that as well,” he articulates. “She’s one of the most admirable people I’ve ever met in my life.”

But Minnie Lou doesn’t consider herself great. “I just think I’m another person who’s just had a lot of good fortune.” As she speaks, you can feel her inner conflict. To Minnie Lou, her success doesn’t necessarily correlate to her talent and hard work.

“I always worry about some of these things that’ve happened to me. I don’t know if I’m worthy of them or not,” Minnie Lou pauses. “I don’t want anything that I’m not worthy of. I will do what I can tomorrow to make myself more worthy of this good life I’ve had.”

Gene Genius

Dave Nichols

A gigantic black bull with blinding letters, flashing “Welcome to Nichols Farms” greets guests as they turn down the gravel road to meet Dave Nichols. The iconic bull is a permanent fixture that visitors have come to know and expect. It lights the way to Nichols Farms, no matter what time of day or night. And Dave Nichols is proud of that. He had to lay power lines about a quarter of a mile down the road to power the figure, but it sure is eye-catching.

Step into the Nichols Farms office, and Lillian Nichols, Dave’s sister-in-law, long-time partner and employee, greets you with a smile. There are newspaper clippings hanging up, framed photos, old and new, and in the spot of honor, you’ll find a portrait of Nichols. It’s a replica, and the real canvas hangs in the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky.

Halstead created the painting for Dave’s induction into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery in 2015. Study Halstead’s painting, and you can pick up on subtleties that speak to Dave’s life and character. He’s sitting down, looking off into the distance, one hand on his suit jacket.

“You look at his eyes; they’re dead serious,” Halstead shares. “You can feel in his expression that he’s telling some kind of story to captivate you. He’s aware that he’s one step ahead of everybody, and he’s proud of it. The whole game is being the first at everything.”

Induction into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery is one of the greatest honors of Dave’s life. At his induction ceremony, dozens of people spoke on his behalf, sharing success stories and solidifying Dave’s impact on the beef industry. “I thought, what can I say about myself that everyone else already hasn’t? What else can I tell this full house?” Dave recalls.

Those who know Dave know he isn’t often without words. He’s got a mesmerizing voice with 79 years of life experiences to share with anyone who will listen.

10-year-old businessman

Dave was always destined to be a cattleman. His dad, Merrill Nichols, made sure of that. At the tender age of 9, Dave bought a black baldy steer from his dad for $90. He fed the steer and sold it for $300 the following year. With some money in his pocket, he bought two steers for $125 a piece.

“I fed them for a year, and dad made me borrow money from the bank at 10 years old,” Dave laughed. He didn’t know it then, but his dad worked behind the scenes to set the loan up. “But the market crashed, and I didn’t have enough to pay back the entire bill.”

Merrill didn’t bail his son out. Instead, he used some tough love. He told Dave to create a plan to pay back the money he owed.

“So, at 11 years of age, I’m sitting in the office of Henry Stuhmiller, the president and owner of the State Savings Bank, to negotiate what I hoped was enough money to stay in the cattle feeding business,” he says. It was an important lesson that still guides Dave to this day. But that’s just one lesson his father taught him.

Back in the ’50s when cattle were belt-buckle high, Merrill and young Dave produced bulls that were guaranteed not to sire dwarf or midget cattle. At a time when dwarf genetics were rampant, Dave smartly designed a display ad in the local paper advertising the bulls. The paper came out on a Thursday, and that afternoon, the yard was packed with vehicles looking to buy their bulls.

At the time, Dave was pretty proud of his great advertisement. But years later, he realized just what made the ad great.

“At the bottom of the ad was Merrill Nichols’ name. And whatever Merrill Nichols said was the way it was. My dad always told me, ‘If a man’s word isn’t any good, neither is his bond,’” Dave smiles. “To this day at Nichols Farms, when anyone buys a bull or anything from us, they never sign a piece of paper. We shake hands.”

It might be old school, but it works for Nichols Farms. “If there ever comes a day when I can’t do business like that, I’m going to quit. That’s how I’m keeping the heritage of my dad.”

Soft voice, loud presense

Dave has a very soft voice, almost a whisper at times. Halstead describes it as hypnotizing. He’s not a fast talker; he’s thoughtful. Dave’s not someone who sounds authoritative. But his presence is just the opposite. As a well-known figure in the beef industry for decades, Dave commands any room he walks into.

Dave’s involvement in the beef industry expanded when he started his undergraduate degree at Iowa State University. He went to school at a time when industry legends like Dr. Robert de Baca and Richard Wilhelm were teaching there.

The Iowa Beef Improvement Association worked with Dave to transfer his Angus performance records on a computer – the first Iowa herd to do so. That was in 1956, the same year Dave won the national FFA speech competition with a speech on performance testing.

Soon after, Nichols joined a newly founded group, Performance Registration International, to track his herd’s performance. In 1962, Nichols Farms was proud to have a Certified Meat Sire (CMS) registered by that group.

Then, when Angus Herd Improvement Records (AHIR®) was adopted at the American Angus Association®, Dave moved his records over. Looking back, Dave reflected that, when past American Angus Association CEO John Crouch was hired, performance testing became a reality for many cattlemen and women across the country.

Dave can remember spearheading the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) along with other industry leaders five decades ago. Dr. DeBaca drove out to the National Western Stock Show and took Dave with; they were going to hear someone talk about performance testing in cattle.

The idea behind BIF stemmed from that meeting; industry leaders were looking for an organization to focus on performance testing. Dave served on the first board of directors in 1967, and ever since, it’s been incredibly impactful for his operation. In fact, BIF is inadvertently responsible for ultrasound technology.

Dave remembers, “Because of me and willing people to go along with it, ultrasound was born on a trip back from BIF, thanks to Dr. Wilson, Dr. Rouse and my idea.”

The Iowa Cattlemens Association, American Angus Association and Simmental Association pooled $100,000 to fund the first ultrasound project. Then, an Iowa State University research team ultra-sounded cattle with a machine used in human medicine.

Dave proudly recalls from his office chair, “The first cattle ultrasounded were ultrasounded a few feet from where I’m talking to you now.” The research done at his farm provided a basis for cattlemen and women to increase Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB) brand qualifying cattle across the country.

No more salad days

Dave’s early success wouldn’t have been possible without his brother, Lee, who was the other half of Nichols Farms. He took care of the land, crops and feeding cattle. As Dave recalls, Lee had a perfect 4.0 GPA during his Iowa State career, even though he ended up dropping out. “The closest thing I came to a 4.0 GPA was my blood alcohol level,” Dave laughs.

In the ’70s, the two were buying a farm nearly every year, and Nichols Farms was really fruitful. Dave says those days were the “salad days” for Nichols Farms.

Then the farm crisis hit in the ’80s. The farm economy plummeted, and farm values were dropping like a rock. And Nichols Farms was heavily leveraged from buying farms and hiring employees.

“Things were fine until Lee had a bad case of the flu,” Dave whispered with watery eyes. “So, he went to a specialist who determined he had leukemia. They determined it was probably caused by Agent Orange.”

Lee was diagnosed in May, right in the middle of calving season. “I came home from Houston and I walked into our bull barn full of bulls. The machine shed stacked with seed,” Dave says gravely, “And I didn’t know where the fields were.”

Dave called a staff meeting to let everyone know he was calling the local auctioneer to sell Nichols Farms. To him, it was a done deal. But one by one, Nichols Farms employees chimed in offering help.

“Mike Antisdel said he knew where the corn fields were, and he could plant the corn. Bart Mostaert spoke up and said he could AI the cows; he learned it at Hawkeye Tech. And Lillian, Lee’s wife, said she was quitting her job as the high school librarian to help out.”

But that wasn’t all. Phyllis, Dave’s wife who had been active on the school board, the state Republican party platform committee and much more, said she was quitting it all to come on board full time.

After weeks of treatment at the Houston, Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Lee passed away in mid-August, less than three months after diagnosis. In the meantime, the corn got planted, the cows got bred and the hay got put up. “Our loyal, hard-working employees saved Nichols Farms,” Dave says with a wavering voice. He knew that they stepped up because they were treated right.

Continuing the legacy

Still, Dave had to figure out how to get Nichols Farms through the economic drought of the ’80s. He remembered back to what his dad taught him when he went back to the bank for a loan at the tender age of 10: make a plan. Dave and Lillian determined they couldn’t sell their assets and come out intact. The only way to survive was to double the size of Nichols Farms.

“In the midst of an agricultural holocaust, a school teacher and a farm boy had to double the size of our operation when our neighbors were going broke and selling the farm,” Dave says, shaking his head.

And that’s just what they did. Dave rented land for the first time and sold bulls at higher prices. At his customer appreciation day that year, he looked out over the crowd and said, “For 25 years, I’ve been telling you that I’m going to take care of you when you buy bulls. Well I want you to know, the last two years, you took care of Nichols farms.”

In the years after Lee passed away, Dave continued to embrace technology. By 1992, Nichols Farms had a website that’s still up and running more than 25 years later.

And today, Nichols Farms has one of the most extensive databases in the industry, with more than 70 data points on each animal. Dave proudly shared that his database has been used in recent years for genomic validation and U.S. Meat Animal Research Center animal breeding research.

Dave says he’s been invited to speak at approximately one program per month for 40 years. Nichols Farms has hosted more than 20 studies in partnership with several land grant universities. One of Dave’s favorite programs, though, involves youth. He has students from roughly a dozen universities visit each year.

“I just love when university kids come here. I tell them, you really, really can be what you want to be. I also tell them, if you go home and do everything Dave Nichols is doing, you’re going to fail. You will fail,” Dave says very seriously. “You need to find out what Dave Nichols is doing wrong and what you can do better, then you’ll be successful.”

A different breed

Nichols’ many accomplishments don’t tell you of his colorful character. He isn’t afraid to make you a bit uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because you’d be hard-pressed to make him feel awkward or uneasy. After all, he’s never been afraid to be the center of attention.

As a youngster, Dave’s dad told him that no more folks see him whether he’s at the front or the rear of the parade. Dave thought it was a wise remark, but he smartly replies, “But when I’m a mile ahead of the parade, I can look back and see, Joyce Rice, the drum major leading that parade, and she’s beautiful! If you’re a mile behind, all you can see is a bunch of white guys picking up horse manure from the local saddle club.”

The most infamous Dave Nichols story of all is how Dave got his start in the Angus breed. To get his dad on board, 13-year-old Dave argued that purebred cattle would help the cattle industry prosper. He was convincing, and his dad agreed. But the truth of the matter was girls showing Angus cattle wore tighter jeans and were a lot better looking compared to girls showing other breeds. “I was just hoping to get some action at the tie-outs,” he laughs with a mischievous look in his eye. If you know Dave, there’s more where that came from.

At his core, Dave is a people person. He cares deeply about the cattle industry and the people in it. Talk to Halstead, and that’s apparent. “He’s very generous, he would do anything for the people who work for and with him. He has great respect for all those who work for him, he treats them as equals.”

Lillian keeps the office and database running smoothly and Phyllis takes care of the books. Dave likes to brag about Phyllis. “She works her butt off.” In the same breath, he playfully boasts, “I’m sleeping with the bookkeeper.”

All jokes aside, Dave is tender hearted and thoughtful. He’s proud of the legacy he’s worked so hard to build.

“It isn’t what you gather; it’s what you scatter,” Dave reflects on one of the most impactful nights of his life; induction into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery. “I didn’t realize until I was walking up to that podium. There are not many monuments of people who made a lot of money or were just cheerleaders. Greatness means that everybody’s lives would have been less if it wasn’t for that person. That’s what I’m doing here.”

Angus Amplifier

Tom Burke

The Angus Hall of Fame has Tom Burke written all over it. Literally.

Before you step inside the building, you see stones with quotes etched into them are sprinkled across the lawn. One in particular says it all: “Happy Days!” For anyone who doesn’t know Burke, that’s his greeting to nearly everyone he encounters.

For 50 years, Burke has been the face of the Angus Hall of Fame. He started there in 1968. “I’m darn proud to have a job here; I like it very much, and I plan to stay here quite a bit longer,” Burke says, radiating satisfaction.

Take a step inside, and a handful of mounted Angus heads greet you. The oldest head mount in the world – Rover of Powrie – is from Scotland in 1883, which is also the year the American Aberdeen-Angus Breeders' Association was established. The name was changed to the American Angus Association in the 1950s. Look closer - there’s newspaper clippings about Burke and photographs of him covering the wall. Images of Burke standing with politicians, working Angus sales across the world and so much more.

When you walk down the hallway, past the fireplace, Burke’s portrait draws your attention. In the painting, he’s reaching out to the viewer, looking to make a connection. His eyes are sympathetic and appealing, saying something about his underlying motives. Dive beyond the surface of the painting, and you’ll realize that, although his hand reaches out to the viewer, his fingers are closed. That small detail illustrates his desire to connect with people while still remaining a private individual. Burke is standing in a pasture with Angus cattle in the background, just where you’d imagine he should be.

Burke is eternally optimistic, and one might say he’s the breed’s number one fan. His relentless passion to promote and sell Angus cattle is unrivaled. Longtime acquaintance Julie French-McMahon put it best when she said, “Tom Burke -- when he stands on an auction block and speaks for those cattle, he’s magic. Cattle sales can go south pretty fast; you can sell the first 10 lots, and then there’s not much left. But Tom Burke never stops; he never gives up. He stays on that block, and he just continues asking for bids and making things happen.”

A force of nature

Burke knows just about everyone in the business. He’s charismatic, or at least that’s what people say about him. He exudes confidence; you can tell he’s comfortable with who his is. That self-assurance and composure are some of Burke’s most remarkable qualities.

“Tom Burke is a theater performer like I’ve never seen in my life. He has this voice that carries. One moment he is speaking like a circus ring master; the next moment he’s speaking in a quiet but rumbling, audible, confidential voice,” Halstead remarks, altering his voice to match his description of Burke’s.

It’s fitting because Burke’s been at his job, selling Angus cattle, for half a century. He’s worked sales in every continental state aside from Rhode Island, and his job has taken him overseas, too. Burke has probably been on more planes in a year than most people get on in their life. In 1994, USA Today recognized his extensive travel, dubbing him one of the most traveled people of the year. And with an average of 340 nights a year away from his home, it’s easy to see why. Despite so much time on the road, when Burke shows up to work a sale, he’s 100 percent present. It takes a special kind of person to thrive in such a demanding field of work.

“He is a world in himself. I literally have never met anyone like him,” Halstead remarks. “He is a presence, a real force of energy.”

Before Halstead visited him in person, he questioned Burke’s colleagues to get some background. “I couldn’t get any adequate answers. They would start to describe him and they’d finally give up and say, ‘You just have to see for yourself. You’ll find out,’” Halstead laughs. “And I did.”

Burke knows no stranger. French McMahon says, “He’s enthusiastic about life, and he never forgets a name or face. You could ask him a pedigree, and he can quote it to you.” To her, those qualities define Burke.

A more recent acquaintance of Burke, Heidi Anderson, smiles as she describes her impression of him, “A legend would be a good description of Tom. I think there’s about a million adjectives you could use .... A legend, a character, an intellect.” But Anderson turns more serious to articulate her respect for Burke. “He’s great at the moments in between. He’s great at the moments behind the mic.”

The Angus gene

Burke grew up in the days when cattle wore neck chains. That’s how you identified each animal. On particularly rainy days, he can remember going out into the field to loosen the chains so they wouldn’t grow into the necks of the heifers and bulls.

“When I was a little kid, I used to have my mother get me penny postcards,” Burke says. “I’d write off for Angus sale catalogs, so I could sit down and study them and analyze them. So, I’ve been an Angus enthusiast since day one.”

Burke grew up on an Angus farm in southeastern Minnesota, near Rochester. Every summer, Burke would travel to about 10 fairs to market his family’s cattle.

“It was my job to go to fairs, work at them and get everything broke beforehand,” Burke says. He remembers halter breaking their entire heifer calf crop, which nobody would dream of doing today. But in the 1950s, his family marketed their livestock at shows, and it was important to have tame cattle.

It should come as no surprise that Burke served as the very first president of the Minnesota Junior Angus Association. Dean Hurlbut, previous director of activities for the American Angus Association, remembers traveling with young Burke during field days. Instead of going out to dinner with the group, Burke would go on herd visits. Even in his teens, Hurlbut recounts that Burke was more knowledgeable about Angus cattle than those who’d been in the business for their entire lives.

Maybe his passion stems from what Burke calls the “Angus gene”. He says it’s just something he was born with. He credits his family for setting him up for a successful career.

“My parents made available to me everything I needed, even when times weren’t always great. They were always willing to make the financial commitment and willing to do what it took, so their children could take the next step in life.”

Life before the Angus Hall of Fame

Before Burke landed his dream job at the Angus Hall of Fame, he was in the service for two years. After his service was up, Warren Morris, the director of field service for Drovers Journal at that time, called Burke and asked him to interview for a position managing the 12 southeastern states. Back in 1966, Drovers Journal came out every weekday. It was, and still is, regarded as one of the most respected industry publications. Burke was quick to oblige.

“There were two of us fighting for the job, Roy Wallace and myself,” Burke reminisces. “Well, as it turns out, I was offered the Drovers Journal job, and he got the Select Sires job. So, it all worked out.”

Drovers Journal treated Burke well, and he wasn’t looking for another job. But, when J.B. McCorkell asked him to come and work for him, Burke was curious.

“He was the first full-time Angus sale manager in the industry and had been in business since 1939,” Burke says. “I was a little apprehensive about it. But, I decided to move to Kansas City.”

His first day on the job was pretty atypical. “McCorkell had a doctor’s appointment, and when he came back, he announced that he had terminal leukemia,” Burke recounts. It was a devastating prognosis, but McCorkell kept working until he passed in 1972. Burke was a sponge and absorbed as much as he could from the longtime Angus sale manager.

Since then, Burke’s been enjoying a job that he loves. It’s not work to him; he goes to work every day to “enjoy the passion of life”.

The final destination

Burke is a walking, talking Angus encyclopedia. It’s no wonder, then, that he feels a connection to George Grant, the man who brought over the very first Angus bulls from Scotland in 1873. Grant brought the four Angus bulls over to Victoria, Kansas, where he hoped to establish a colony of wealthy, stock-raising Brits.

Without hesitation, Burke launches into the pilgrimage of Angus cattle coming to America when asked, “George Grant and his crew loaded [the four Angus bulls] on the battleship Alabama from Aberdeen, Scotland. They came across the great Atlantic and landed in New Orleans, Louisiana. Then, they came up from New Orleans on the Mississippi River on a river barge and landed in St. Louis. Next, they loaded them on a wagon train and took them across Missouri, across Kansas, all the way over to Victoria, Kansas.”

Then, Burke’s face turns more serious, pointing out that it took nearly 50 days for the Angus bulls to arrive at their new home. The journey was no small undertaking.

Like a teacher reading books to students sitting in a circle, Burke inflects his voice to note a change in tone. His face lights up, like he’s getting to his favorite part in the book.

“When [the Angus bulls] got here, their spirits were high because they met these Longhorn females, all colors of the rainbow. These Angus bulls, solid in black color, went about their work. Nine months later, the miracle was born,” he says with pride. “But the best was yet to come, because the following year, they put them on grass, took them to Kansas City and topped the market. And that’s what really got the Angus breed rolling.”

Burke’s passion for Angus cattle is evident simply in the way he talks about the breed’s history. He feels a close connection to George Grant, exclaiming, “I feel he’s a brother. If I’d have known him, we’d have been friends.” Burke continues, “He’s a gentleman who had the vision and foresight to bring Angus cattle to America.”

It comes as no surprise that Victoria, Kansas, holds a very special place in Burke’s heart. To him, it’s a place of Angus reverence.

With a population of 1,214, the town has a modest main street and is one of those towns travelers pass through in the blink of an eye, but it also boasts the largest church west of the Mississippi River – the Cathedral of the Plains – St. Fidelis Church. That’s not why it may as well be New York City to Burke, however. Grant passed away just five years after his arrival in Victoria, and you’ll find his grave and an Angus memorial just outside of town. Burke equates it to Mount Rushmore. And when the time comes, that’s where Burke will be buried. Burke admits, it might sound morbid. But for him, it means a lot.

“I was fortunate to be able to negotiate with the city of Victoria, Kansas, and the Kansas Historical Society that when I pass away, and I hope it’s a long way off, I’ll be buried by Mr. Grant at that very facility in Victoria,” Burke says. “I hope that my passion for Angus cattle continues as his has after life.”

No doubt, Burke is dedicated to the Angus breed. “I don’t think I consider myself great. I consider myself lucky,” Burke says thoughtfully. “I think that I consider myself to have a passion for what I do. I consider myself to be committed.”

To Burke, greatness means you’ve accelerated at something you love to do, and ultimately, you’ve made life better for your fellow man. “Once you leave this earth, all you have left is the tradition of what you did and the accomplishments in life,” Burke concludes.

Brand Builder

Mick Colvin

By: Nicole Lane Erceg

The year was 1976 when USDA had just lowered its standards for the Choice quality grade. The industry that lobbied for the change was quickly moving toward a lean, commodity product. Angus cattle sold at a discount and registration numbers were in steep decline.

One Angus breeder in Ohio had an idea to turn things around: create a high-quality, specification-based brand.

The American Angus Association producer board ran with it, placing Association Regional Manager Louis “Mick” Colvin at the helm. He was tasked with a project most said couldn’t be done.

On October 18, 1978, the first pound of the Certified Angus Beef brand was sold in Columbus, Ohio. Two weeks later, USDA cancelled the program.

Most said that was the end. Nice try.

Most people aren’t Mick Colvin.

Before the brand

Born the son of a dairy farmer in 1938 near the village of Shellsburg, Pennsylvania, Colvin was more likely to milk cows than launch the world’s largest beef brand.

It was the gift of a Hereford heifer from his father at age 11 that sparked his love of beef cattle.

He went on to study animal husbandry at Pennsylvania State University, where he also worked in hog barns for 80 cents an hour and was an avid member of the livestock judging team. As a sophomore, he married high-school sweetheart Virginia.

Upon graduation, on the advice of his judging coach, Colvin took a position as herdsman for Mole’s Hill Farm, a registered Angus outfit in Connecticut.

He led the herd to win three international champions in four years, winning a prestigious trophy for herdsman of the year in 1963. He met people like Ohio Angus breeder Fred Johnson, and developed relationships that would change his life.

Colvin’s success caught the eye of Hereford breeders, who offered him herdsman positions he politely declined. As a reward for choosing to remain at Mole’s Hill, he was given choice of a heifer each year, the start of a registered Angus herd he could call his own.

In 1966, the Colvins moved to South Carolina where he would manage another purebred Angus operation, Longleaf Plantation. The farm had never exhibited cattle before Colvin took the reins but promptly won a Supreme Champion female ribbon at the All-American Futurity in Lexington, Kentucky.

Johnson, of Summitcrest Farm, had been watching his young friend with appreciation.

“Mick was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and a hard working herdsman with great integrity, even then,” Johnson remarks on an archive video made in 1999.

It was just the beginning of multiple awards, banners, accolades and hall-of-fame inductions and throughout his career, but the one that meant the most to him was having his likeness hung in the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky.

“He was a farmer always,” Halstead says. “A very brilliant man, and a visionary.”

Colvin is most unassuming and possesses a “tremendous mind,” the artist says. “This man is of enormous value to the entire livestock industry, but especially to the Angus breed for what he did in building the Certified Angus Beef brand.”

Nearly impossible

It was no easy feat.

Knocking on seemingly every door in the beef business, he heard the same phrase repeatedly.

“Young man, this program sounds like a good idea. You come back or give me a call when you get it started.”

He kept knocking, until he finally got the answer he was looking for: “Yes.”

“I thought when we got that first pound sold that we were just about as successful as we could ever be,” says Bob VanStavern, meat scientist who helped create the 10 science-based specifications the brand is based on today. “Because the concept had worked.”

It took 22 months to sell the first million pounds of the trademarked but not-yet-registered brand. Now, 19,000 Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand licensed partners around the world market more than 100 million pounds a month.

“I wish I could say we had a plan, but we flew by the seat of our pants,” Colvin says.

In the early days, he and Virginia were the driving force. While her husband knocked on doors trying to sell the program, Virginia made folders, kept records and tracked how the pounds were used that came from the one or two carcasses certified each week.

Today, nearly 10 carcasses are certified each minute.

“Looking back, it looks easy,” Colvin says. “But it wasn’t.”

A solid foundation

He built a brand based on his core values — the most important being integrity. Colvin describes the word as “endless” — a term that could stand the test of time.

It’s a foundation that was tested more than once throughout his career leading the brand.

“I remember when we cancelled our first foodservice distributor,” he says. “I was scared to death, I really was. But the man didn’t have integrity, and we knew it.”

The decision led to the brand’s first major lawsuit.

“We ended up winning, because it was all about integrity,” he says.

The ability to stand behind its marketing claims set the Certified Angus Beef brand apart from the others that would follow. From the beginning, each pound has been tracked from the packing plant of certification to the final sale.

Colvin always made sure the brand could stand behind its name and claims.

Being a true to his word was more than the key to his success, it was integral to the brand’s existence.

As he built the brand he encountered more stumbling blocks. From Association board votes that nearly ended the program to meetings with the New York mafia to secure packers, Colvin persevered.

“To try and get someone to believe in Certified Angus Beef the way we did — a packer, distributor or retailer — was a huge hurdle,” Colvin recalls.

Through it all he kept the brand’s mission at the center of his tough decisions and the onslaught of rejections.

“I never saw a time where he put his personal interests above what was in the best interest of the program,” Johnson had recalled.

This philosophy and tenacity laid the foundation for the brand’s growing success. Some partners like Houston’s Taste of Texas steakhouse and Boston’s Oxford Trading, the brand’s first foodservice distributor, are still CAB partners 40 years later.

Making a difference for cattlemen

More than just building the first brand of fresh beef, Colvin had to provide returns for the cattlemen who owned the brand. He knew the consumer pull-through-demand model worked, but the brand’s mission is to increase demand for registered Angus cattle.

He delivered on that seemingly impossible feat, too.

For more than 20 years, he led efforts to encourage packers to pay premiums for cattle that qualified for the brand. It took nine years before the first incentive was recognized, but today, the CAB premium is an expectation on settlement sheets. Packers now pay more than $75 million dollars annually just for the CAB line item on the grid for cattle that meet the brand’s standards.

“The Certified Angus Beef Program is the most significant advancement in the beef business since carcasses began to be ribbed and graded in 1965 or when boxed beef got its foothold in the early ’70s,” says Tim Hussman, Colvin’s first hire for the brand in 1983 and past president of Newport Meat Co., Irvine, California. “Through Mick’s leadership, breeders, feeders, USDA, packers, purveyors and retail stores continue working together to produce and deliver the highest quality beef we know how.”

He’s humble, gentle and never takes the well-deserved credit.

“It’s astronomical what we’ve done,” he says. “I don’t know what more I can say about the success we’ve had.”

It’s never I, always “we.”

All about his people

It’s been nearly two decades since the cofounder stepped down from that helm, but his presence and legacy still permeate the brand.

He walks in the front door at the Wooster, Ohio, office like it’s his home. Familiar, excited faces greet him and he chats with scores of them, including many who joined the brand during his tenure. They’ve carried the torch he lit on the mission he began.

Today the staff is bigger, the pounds and commissions break records like clockwork and the computers tracking it all are newer. After 14 years of consecutive growth, it seems like CAB has always been a wild success.

“We hired people for their people skills. We made people a part of the program, and it paid big dividends,” Colvin says.

Modest and casual by nature, Colvin has been an enormous presence in that world. His emphasis on people, integrity and perseverance transitioned the beef industry—after its diversion to mere pounds of commodity—back to a sustaining focus on quality that performs for all people in the production chain.

“I had to hear from other people how important Mick Colvin was, because he would never say anything like that,” Halstead says. “He never spoke of himself or all his other accomplishments; he just spoke highly of other people. It was his staff and colleagues who emphasized his impact.”

Ask Colvin about greatness, and it’s no surprise that his answer looks outward to CAB staff.

“To me, being great means every person who works for the brand is happy,” he says.

Some will say Colvin’s legacy is the brand, but those that know him realize it’s much more. He will always be known as a man of integrity—one who values doing the right thing above personal or commercial gain.

“That’s someone who’s a great personality, somebody with real character, somebody great,” Halstead says.

Cattle Catalyst

Dr. Dave Hawkins

The scent of old woodchips, dusty work boots and the lingering, musty odor of past livestock shows and class demonstrations meet you at the doors of the Michigan State Livestock Pavilion. Through those main doors, you’re greeted by four portraits of Michigan State professors— Dr. Ron Nelson, Dr. Harlan Ritchie, Dr. Dave Hawkins and Dr. Maynard Hogberg — signifying they were inducted into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery. Hawkins is the second from the right. He’s smiling at you from the corner of his eye, reflecting an approving twinkle, almost as if he knows you. He looks familiar, comfortable, unassuming, yet stately. Hawkins is a Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University (MSU), and just to the left of his portrait is a door to one of four classrooms where he used to teach animal science courses.

Open the door to the classroom, and nostalgia floods in. Old black and white photographs of MSU’s champion bulls at the National Western Stock Show and first place heifers at the North American International Livestock Exposition fill the walls. But when Hawkins walks into the classroom, his presence lightens the mood. The teacher in him seeps out.

“I can remember teaching in this classroom,” Hawkins recalls. “It was a very interactive place where students were comfortable to ask questions about the topic being discussed.”

In his labs, he would incorporate as many techniques as he could. From multimedia presentations and lectures, to hands-on activities, Hawkins always wanted his students to put the practices he taught into use.

However, Hawkins is no extrovert. He doesn’t command a room immediately upon entering it. His presence is different. When he enters a room, you feel safe, taken care of, almost at home.

Portrait artist Halstead remembers, “He was somebody who was good at meeting people … He was so good at working with people. He was unobtrusive, respectful, understood everyone’s particular areas of expertise and knew how to make it all work together. His greatest contribution has been more that of a teacher, a mentor and consultant.”

Many who know Hawkins might be surprised to find out he’s an introvert. But perhaps that played to his advantage as a teacher. Although he prefers to be alone, reading and thinking his own thoughts, he deeply cares about people and their future and their needs, Halstead recounts.

He’s a teacher to the core, and a dang good one. He used his professorship to mentor and grow students, but growing up in rural Ohio, Hawkins wasn’t sure if he was even capable of attending college.

First generation

Less than half of high school graduates went on to college in the early 1960s. And for a rural farm kid like Hawkins, who also was the first in his family to get a college degree, the prospect seemed daunting.

“It was a challenge to start out with initially because I basically grew up in southwest Ohio, and so to branch out beyond that, I had to gain the confidence that, yes, I could do it,” Hawkins recounts. Lucky for him, he had parents who cared. “Education was extremely important to my parents because they had not been able to reach their full potential… They had their own hopes and dreams of what I might be able to do if I went to college. And so they always encouraged me. It was never ‘if you’re going to college’, it was ‘when you go to college’.”

Then, when George Wilson, a professor from Ohio State, came and judged Hawkins’ county fair steer show, it was a done deal. Hawkins took home champion steer honors, and afterward, Wilson convinced him to go to college, at The Ohio State University (OSU), no less. Wilson was Hawkins’ academic advisor at OSU and continued to serve as a mentor to Hawkins throughout his life.

“I was a little unsure of myself – was I going to be smart enough to succeed?” Hawkins wondered. But with support from his teachers and a taste of success, it was full steam ahead.

When Hawkins started his college career, the plan was to come home after graduation and farm with his dad. A harsh dose of reality kicked in during his time in Columbus, Ohio, and he and his family realized there wasn’t enough income to support two families from the land. Although it was a glum realization, Hawkins found ample career opportunities, and, perhaps by fate, he landed in just the right profession.

Michigan state of mind

After Hawkins completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at OSU, he considered OSU for his Ph.D. However, Dr. Ron Nelson and Dr. Harlan Ritchie from Michigan State had also recruited him. Wilson, his mentor at OSU, suggested to Hawkins, that he go elsewhere and get another perspective beyond his OSU experience.

“At the time, I felt a little put off,” Hawkins says of Wilson’s counsel, “but it was probably some of the best advice that I ever got.” His time at OSU was a springboard and launched him into a lifelong career at Michigan State.

“Michigan State was a place, when I came here in the ’60s, that was really on the rise trying to change the industry,” Hawkins says. He moved to East Lansing for what he thought was just a degree, but after he earned his Ph.D., he landed a faculty position. When he joined the staff in 1969, the cattle industry was ripe for change.

Hawkins recounts when he bought baby beef, or “belt-buckle cattle” for his 4-H project growing up. The cattle were small, early maturing and early fattening in response for a demand for quality. But “as with most of our pendulum swings, it went too far,” Hawkins imparts.

The MSU faculty knew that and worked hard to reverse the trend. Hawkins says, “There were herds available, not well known, that did have seedstock available that we could bring in and use here to promote and change the industry. We started selecting for heavier muscled cattle that had larger frame and growth rate.” Then, artificial insemination became available to every day farmers and ranchers, revolutionizing cattle breeding. Cue the fireworks.

Golden era

The team at MSU in the ’70s was electric. There was an influx of people coming to see growthier, leaner cattle, a far cry from the shorter, stockier cattle of decades prior. MSU faculty were asked to judge shows and travel across the country to speak.

“The key to all of this is the people involved because you can have the very best livestock at any one point in time, but if you don’t have the right people working with them and working with the students and working with the breeders to try to move the industry forward according to what the economic trends are at that time, it’s all for naught,” Hawkins articulates.

For 55 years, the MSU Animal Science Department was run by Dr. Nelson and then Dr. Maynard Hogberg, a time that Hawkins refers to as the “golden era”.

From 1971 to 1977, Hawkins taught meat animal evaluation courses and coached the MSU livestock judging team. For three decades after, he was a mentor to many MSU livestock judging team coaches.

Hawkins also was Beef Cattle Teaching Center faculty coordinator, and he led the center’s charge to develop high-quality beef cattle. Between 1973 and 2009, MSU won more than 60 grand or reserve grand champion banners at national shows across North America. Success in the show ring bolstered cattle business for Hawkins and the university. MSU sold bull semen and exported cattle across the world.

Hawkins was a big believer in performance testing and helped establish the Michigan Bull Test Station. In 2001, he was honored by the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association as MCA Seedstock Breeder of the Year. Over the years, Hawkins has been invited to judge at nearly every major cattle show in the U.S., Australia, Canada and Denmark.

Individually, Hawkins’ career is pretty impressive. But he prefers to talk about what he and his coworkers were able to accomplish as a team.

“We had the opportunity, and the people across the nation believed in us and what we were doing,” Hawkins says, taking care to give his entire MSU Animal Science team credit. “Everybody had a role. We all had the same vision. And it really didn’t matter who got the credit for what. And it was a very synergistic group where we got ideas from each other.”

Hawkins’ accomplishments and awards go on and on, but his real passion was in the classroom.

Beyond the classroom

Halstead remarks, “He asked me to include the globe in his portrait because of the students he had from all over the world. That sticks out to me as especially meaningful because of his impact all over the world. As quiet and unassuming as he is, he’s had a tremendous impact globally.”

Hawkins coordinated animal science undergraduate program for two decades. He taught nine courses that impacted more than 7,000 students and advised more than 1,850 undergraduate students. His influence on thousands of lives can never be measured, but many students still recall his lasting impact.

“Dave Hawkins has had tremendous influence on my life,” says Dr. Jeannine Schweihofer, one of Hawkins’ advisees. “He was one of the first faculty that welcomed me and made me feel at home and made it really feel like family in the department. He was really good at that.”

Schweihofer’s voice waivers, and it’s evident there is a lot of emotion behind her words. Her eyes convey just how impactful Hawkins was in her life.

That illustrates Hawkins’ success as a teacher. He considered his professors at Ohio State as role models, and they inspired him to become a professor himself. “You can never repay those people for what they did, except if you try to pay it forward,” he says thoughtfully. And he passed down that motto to Schweihofer.

“He’s really a people person; he always knew the best connections and people and ways to approach situations and different scenarios,” Jeannine recalls. “Watching that and learning from his mentorship has helped me to become a mentor to others.”

Today, Schweihofer is a meat quality extension educator with MSU extension. She still keeps in touch with Hawkins and enjoys running into him and his family at Spartan sports events.

“My vision was to be the very best teacher I could be, because the college experience gets to be a very challenging one for many people,” Hawkins explains. He knew that not every student graduated as class valedictorian in high school, and many freshmen grew up in rural America and simply didn’t know all that was available to them at MSU. That certainly was the case for Ken Geuns, who Hawkins helped recruit to MSU.

Geuns worked for an Angus breeder in Illinois and attended many cattle shows in the Midwest growing up. That’s where he first met Hawkins. Later, Geuns’ employer “coerced” him into visiting MSU and set him up to visit several professors, one being Hawkins.

That visit landed him an assistantship position in the animal science department, an opportunity he never even dreamed was possible. “He had such a tremendous rapport with students, very easy to talk to, and I was very lucky to have him as an advisor,” Geuns says.

Fast forward a few years, and Geuns landed a role on the MSU animal science faculty.

“In terms of my professional career, there’s no question that Dave had a significant role helping me get established as a faculty member and a person who did a lot of extension programs with youth.”

Geuns went on to retire from the MSU faculty in 2012 and is still an active community member in East Lansing.

“Dave has impeccable character. There’s no question about that,” Geuns pauses. “I’m kind of at a loss for words right now, and I’m usually not that way.”

Hawkins has that effect on people. It’s hard to find the words to do him justice, but after a moment, Geuns found his voice again.

“Dave Hawkins is a great individual from the standpoint of his knowledge of the beef cattle industry, from the standpoint of his character, and his passion. He’s a great individual, a great man, who’s really made a difference in the livestock industry and the lives of many young people throughout the U.S. and the world.”

Perhaps Hawkins had such an impact because he went above and beyond his post to teach students life lessons they could apply no matter what season of life they were in. He knew that the only way to really help a student and steer them in the right direction was to really get to know them beyond the classroom and understand their hopes and dreams.

“Some of the most rewarding things have been when we’ve had a student that maybe struggled a little bit, but through some of the opportunities we could provide, whether that be a work experience, classroom work, study abroad, or whatever it might be, helped them to develop confidence and become a very successful professional out in the industry,” Hawkins recalls. That was his favorite part; seeing students succeed by simply giving them the chance to.


“My talent, if there is one, was that of being able to impact students through the classroom,” Hawkins says softly and with some hesitation, as if it pains him to talk about his personal accomplishments. But talking about team victories is a bit easier for him. Reflecting back on his tenure at MSU, he says, “Looking back on it now and with four inductees into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery, why, maybe we did some of the right things.”

To Hawkins, “greatness is achieved by one’s actions serving others”. The recipe for success has to include sharing expertise to inspire, and mentor others. Without the service component, the good can’t rise to become great.

“I think I’m good,” Hawkins articulates. “It’s up to others whether I’m great or not.”

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