One of the best books I have ever read was a book by Tom Brokaw, noted journalist and former T.V. newsman entitled “The Greatest Generation”. In this book Brokaw features people he deemed worthy of the title by their acts and deeds. For the most part these people had similarities in the time in which they were born, most from 1910 to 1920’s, and had witnessed the Great Depression, World War II and in some cases the Korean War as well. They succeeded by hard work, perseverance and integrity. The old saying, “they don’t make them like that anymore” rings true. They set the bar high and laid a great foundation for others to follow. In the purebred dairy industry we also have a “Greatest Generation” and here is just a sample of them.
Elis Knutson – The gentle giant who was known throughout the dairy show world as a man with a generous personality, a kind heart and a work ethic to whom friends were drawn like bee’s to honey. He once won a calf in a poker game that was given to a young man to be his first 4-H project. He was the herdsman for the world’s famous Pabst Farms, and during his time in charge of their show string accounted for countless champions, premier banners and stories that are still told some thirty years
after his passing.
Clarence Okerlund – A Marine Veteran that made stops at Heaven Hill, Carnation and Vaucluse and more, he was known as a fierce competitor, incredible showman, phenomenal caretaker and a great guy. Admired and respected and “liked” (for lack of a better word) by his fellow showman, he was affectionately known as “Hound-dog.”
A.J. Keightley – Gifted with one of the finest abilities to find “Diamonds in the rough”, many of his Sundays were spent scouring the hills of Kentucky in search of the next big time show winner. His champions were secured from tobacco farms with only a “handful” of Jerseys. Keightley would acquire them, sometimes via a trade, and develop them into champions. He showed for money with a show circuit that would last for weeks upon end, competing with millionaire-funded operations. His legacy
lives on through his great grandchildren to this day.
Max Gordon and Lew Porter – While neither of these two gentleman would be considered abnormally large, the two of them were the “Heavyweights “ in the Jersey world in the 1960’s-70’s. Between them they accounted for 10 National Grand Champion Females in an eleven year span from 1963 to 1974 (with no National Champion Female picked in 1972 because of the fire.) The farms in which they
managed, Heaven Hill and Happy Valley, were millionaire-funded and dominated the Premier Exhibitor Banners at not only the National Jersey show in Columbus, Ohio, but also Cattle Congress, The International, and Royal Winter Fair as well. Both gentlemen were workaholics, driven and held the other in high regard, often times buying from each other and many times showing under the other.
Merle Howard – Few if any could have been given the task that was laid on the shoulders of Merle Howard when he took over the herd manager’s position at Mooseheart School for boys near Chicago, Illinois. His job was to take a herd of marginal Holstein cows, ‘marginal’ is a kind term, and from within, with money generated from the sale of those cows, lay a foundation and breed and develop a world class Holstein herd that would not only compete with well-financed groups, but be considered at par with farms such as Pabst (brewery) Maytag (appliances) and Curtiss (Candy) among others.
Lowell “Pappy” Willis – The herdsman at the world’s famous Marlu Farm in New Jersey. It is amazing that this farm was known for it’s production breeding and therefore showed very limitedly but when they did show, they did well, real well. They bred and or developed a National Champion bull, a Jersey Jug Winner, an All-American Best Three Females group and some All-American females, all this with less than twenty head showed total in National competition. Now, decades after their final Jersey sale, nearly all Jersey winning animals have Marlu blood running through their veins. Amazing that Willis, who’s limited exposure to the “Circuit” that was practiced in the 50’s and 60’s, was awarded the Klussendorf award in 1980 primarily for his participation, albeit on a very small scale at just one show, the All-American Jersey show, that was only a Jersey show with no other breeds involved.
Olaf Kjome – The very first winner of the coveted Klussendorf was a remarkable gentleman by the name of Olaf Kjome (pronounced Jomie). Barley 5’6 in stature, Olaf would set the standard for future Klussendorf winners. Olaf saw hard times, being born at the start of the century where nothing was given to you and nothing was expected. His story was that of hard work, a lucky break or two and a ‘never give up’ attitude. Olaf was not born into the big league million dollar word of high stakes cattle showing but he adapted to it like a fish to water. After working his way up the ladder he was awarded the position of herdsman at the world famous Boulder Bridge Guernsey herd on the outskirts of Minneapolis, Saint Paul. Kjome was blessed with a kind heart, an unstoppable work ethic and an engaging personality. Olaf traveled the length and breadth of the United States and thus when the committee met to select the very first winner of what would become the “Hall Of Fame” of dairy cattle showmen, he rose to the top.
Henry Thomas and Dave Younger – The stories of these two would fill volumes. They worked hard, they played hard, they abused their bodies and they are known as two of the greatest cowmen the world ever witnessed. I’m not sure they really liked each other but I’m darn sure they respected each other. They both showed Guernsey’s in New York when that breed was on top. They both started with less than nothing and plowed their way to the very top of their profession. Their names are always tied into the farms in which they represented, Thomas with McDonald Farms, and Younger with Hilltop Hanover Farms.
I had the privilege to have known them all. Some I called close friends, all I called idols. I would and I did ask them thousands of questions. I tried to take something from each one. They were all so willing to share their knowledge. I can still recall vividly Elis brushing cows at the end of the barn at Waterloo and smiling when I would ask him countless questions about cow care. “Hound Dog” smiling so genuinely as he answered everything I wanted to know about the greatest cows he ever worked with at Vaucluse and Carnation. A.J. Keightley sitting by a wood stove as he told me about finding great cow after great cow in Kentucky. Max Gordon who let a little boy tag along and be one of the “crew” one year at Cattle Congress. Lew Porter ingraining in me the importance of cleanliness and organization and detail. Merle Howard, who would sit in the office of the Great Northern and tell me story upon story of Mooseheart. I never visited Marlu Farm but after listening to “Pappy” Willis, I felt like I knew Marlu cows as well as anybody. Olaf Kjome judged our cattle in our early years several times and always had a kind word and always ideas as to how we could get better. I was scared to death of Henry Thomas and his gruff demeanor but when I did get the courage to ask him a question or five I always got a answer. And then Dave Younger was like my second father and times spent with him are some of the greatest times in my life. For sure they were the “Greatest Generation” and what a honor to have known them.