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WIU School of Agriculture Assistant Professor Joel Gruver, Wayne and Rebecca Wedekind, Kate and Steve Niemeier, and School of Ag Director Andy Baker at the WIU Livestock Center. As a tribute to their grandson, son, brother and nephew, the Wedekind family set up the Andrew K. Wedekind Memorial Fund, which Niemeier said has been able to provide funds for causes about which Andrew cared. One of those causes is the Livestock Judging Team; the Wedekind/Niemeier family donated funds used to help purchase a new trailer that transports supplies/luggage when the WIU Livestock Judging Team is on the road.
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Wayne and Rebecca Wedekind and Kate and Steve Niemeier (center) pose with the WIU School of Agriculture faculty and members of the WIU Livestock Judging Team by the trailer that was purchased, with help from the Andrew K. Wedekind Memorial Fund, for the team.
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WIU Alumni Family Named IL Farm Family of Year by AgriNews and Burris Seeds

October 14, 2014


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MACOMB, IL – "I told my mom, if it wasn't for Andrew, we wouldn't have been up there on that stage receiving the Illinois Farm Family of the Year Award."

That's what Western Illinois University School of Agriculture alumna Kate (Wedekind) Niemeier said of her brother, Andrew K. Wedekind, and her family's recent recognition as the Illinois Farm Family of the Year. Her comment was related to a family history profile that Wedekind—as a student of WIU School of Ag Assistant Professor Joel Gruver—had begun as part of his studies at Western.

In early 2014, Wedekind passed away while still a student, but the profile he had started about his family—descendants of Jonathan Baldwin Turner, whose heritage is connected to the early expansion of agricultural research, the creation of "industrial" education, abolition and the idea of land-grant universities—helped lead to his family's honor as the 2014 Illinois Farm Family of the Year. The award, now in its 16th year, is sponsored by Burris Hybrids and the ag publication, AgriNews, and honors the selected family "for the members' work on their farm and contributions in their community." (To read/download the profile, see www.wiu.edu/vpaps/newsfiles/EvergreenFarmsProfile.pdf.)

In early September, Niemeier—who earned her degree in agricultural education in 2010 and now teaches agricultural ed at Lewiston High School—and Wedekind's parents (Wayne and Rebecca) and grandparents (Jack and Anita), their aunts and uncles and their family's farming operation, Evergreen Farms (Butler, IL), were recognized at the University of Illinois' Salute to Ag celebration. According to Tom Doran, in his Sept. 19 AgriNews article, "Evergreen Farms Earns Farm Family of the Year Honor," the farm's patriarch, Jack Rundquist, and matriarch, Anita (Turner) Rundquist, "still live on the farm and are involved in every aspect of the operation. They met when they were both enrolled as students at the U of I in 1945."

It was Gruver, who wanted to share his student's work with Wedekind's mourning family, who nominated the Rundquist family and Evergreen Farms for the annual award this year.

"When Evergreen Farms incorporated many years ago, all of the siblings were brought in as directors. All directors (including new family members) assemble several times a year to make decisions for the farm. All five of the siblings have different educational backgrounds and life experiences, and thus bring together diverse views of agriculture, which help to keep the farm viable and sustainable," Gruver wrote of the family in the packet he submitted. "Jack and Anita Rundquist are long-standing community leaders who have donated generously to the University of Illinois, Illinois College, Hillsboro School District, Montgomery County 4-H and many other charities. Perhaps even more important, they have instilled in family members a drive to continually make things better, not only on the family farm, but also in other professional activities and throughout the world."

Also among the information pieces Gruver submitted with his nomination were a detailed list of community service the Rundquist family had taken part in over the years and the three-page profile Wedekind had begun work on as Gruver's student.

"Andrew had a good start on the profile when he submitted it to Dr. Gruver," Niemeier explained. "So after Andrew passed away, Dr. Gruver sent it to me and said, 'I'd really like to do something nice for your parents and for your grandparents. Will you help me polish this up, and then we can print and bind it and send a copy to your parents and grandparents?' So I sneakily enlisted one of my aunts to help me. With her help, we confirmed dates and found photos and added them. Overall, with the help of my aunt and Dr. Gruver, I think we turned it into a pretty nice paper," she added.

"This is an extraordinary family with a rich agricultural heritage tracing back to back to one of the great academics, agriculturalists and humanitarians in Illinois history, Jonathan Baldwin Turner," Gruver noted. "Jack and Anita Rundquist are shining examples of J.B. Turner's humanitarian legacy."

A Legacy of Love Continued

As a tribute to their grandson, son, brother and nephew, the family set up the Andrew K. Wedekind Memorial Fund, which Niemeier said has been able to provide funds for causes about which Wedekind cared.

"We received an amazing amount of donations after Andrew's passing, so we're supporting projects that have to do with things he loved. Showing pigs was his absolute favorite thing to do, so we're starting a program with our local 4-H that will help with that. He enjoyed youth groups at our church, so we're supporting some of the activities for that, too. He also loved the FFA, so we've given some scholarships and helped with convention trips," Niemeier said.

The family also donated two gilts of Wedekind's to Western. Additionally, the family donated funds that have gone toward purchasing a new trailer for Western's Livestock Judging Team, which is coached by WIU School of Ag Professor Mark Hoge.

"While I was the first person in my family to attend Western—and Andrew knew of the great experience I had—the biggest deciding factor for him was Dr. Hoge. When Andrew was on the Livestock Judging Team while he attended Lakeland College, he visited with Dr. Hoge, and they hit it off. After that, he decided to attend Western to finish his degree, and things just kind of fell into place there for him," Niemeier explained.

Recently, during Western's Homecoming festivities, Niemeier and her parents, Wayne and Rebecca, and her husband, Steve Niemeier, traveled to Macomb to visit with School of Agriculture Director Andrew Baker, Gruver, Hoge, as well as some of Andrew Wedekind's Livestock Judging Team members. While here, the family took time out to pose with photos of the trailer the donation they provided helped to fund.

"This is just perfect," Rebecca (Rundquist) Wedekind, said, with tears welling up in her eyes, of the large group of Livestock Judging Team students and faculty who surrounded her during a photo op by the trailer.

"She's made it through most of our time here without tearing up," Niemeier said as she looked at her mother nestled among the students and faculty who also loved Andrew. "I'm very proud of her."

The Rundquist family will remain the Illinois Farm Family of the Year until another family is nominated and chosen next year—similar to how the crops are harvested each fall and planted to grow anew each spring. In the nomination packet, Gruver included a quote from Niemeier that sums up the sentiment of her family's recent honor perfectly.

"Even with the tremendous loss of loved ones, my family is stronger because of it. Agriculture is an excellent way of life. After the dark times of a flood, a drought or even just a hard winter, eventually the sun comes out, favorable growing conditions arrive and a new crop begins to grow. Once again, life is good and farming can continue."

For more information, about AgriNews and Burris Seeds' Illinois Farm Family of the Year Award, see http://agrinews-pubs.com/Content/Farm-Family-Life/Farm-Family-Of-The-Year/Article/Evergreen-Farms-earns-Farm-Family-of-the-Year-honor-/10/75/11187 and "Rundquists Honored As Family of the Year" in the Journal-News (Hillsboro, IL), www.thejournal-news.net/news/local_news/rundquists-honored-as-family-of-the-year/article_e77da700-49d2-11e4-87a4-d3dc622e855c.html.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (WIUNews@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations