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Members of the Hoener family and Lexis Thurman (Warsaw, IL) on the Hoener family deck at the farm near Sutter, IL. From L to R: Gregory Sr.; Michael (2012 graduate of the WIU School of Agriculture); Gregory Jr. (2015 graduate of the School of Ag); Lexis Thurman, senior, sociology major, and 2016 Ag Mech Club Farm Expo vice president–show operations; Thomas, senior agriculture major and current president of the Ag Mech Club; Kathy, and Amber.
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Gregory Hoener Jr. (at the podium) and members of the Ag Mech Club at the 45th annual Ag Mech Club's Farm Expo in 2015.
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Show floor of the 2015 Ag Mech Club's Farm Expo.
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A Family Affair: Hoener Brothers Serve WIU's Ag Mech Show Since 2008

February 4, 2016


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One of Western Illinois University's Signature Academic Programs, the WIU School of Agriculture continually succeeds in driving excellence in, and opportunities for, students studying agriculture. In this work week before the 46th annual Ag Mech Club's Farm Expo (Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 6-7) — the largest student-run show in the U.S., held each year in Western Hall — University Relations staff will feature a School of Agriculture-related story each day through the start of what many call the "Ag Mech Show," which opens at 9 a.m. Feb. 6. For more more information about the Ag Mech Club's Farm Expo, see www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=13227.

MACOMB, IL — In its 46th year, the Western Illinois University Ag Mech Club's Farm Expo—the event many call the "Ag Mech Show"—has an established legacy not only in western Illinois, but also boasts a reputation that appeals to vendors from as far away as Minnesota, Wisconsin and even the Dakotas. The annual exposition is the largest student-run show in the U.S., and planning for the next year's event begins the first day of the expo's current year. Many vendors at this year's show will register for their Western Hall booth locations for the 2017 event this Saturday.

Since 2008, three brothers—two WIU alumni and one student—from Sutter (IL), all majoring in agriculture, have established their own legacy as part of the team that tackles the truly Herculean task of putting together the huge trade exposition, while maintaining their studies—and doing it all, basically, for no pay. Michael Hoener, who graduated in 2012; Gregory Hoener, who graduated in 2015; and Thomas Hoener, who will graduate in May, were, or are, members of the student organization, the Ag Mech (short for Agriculture Mechanization) Club behind the Farm Expo. Thomas currently serves as president of the Ag Mech Club, following in his older brothers' footsteps, whom both served as an Ag Mech Club president during the time each attended Western.

Though the three brothers have the WIU and Ag Mech Club president experience in common, they do not necessarily share the same approach to serving in the role as the leader of the Ag Mech Club organization. Out of her three sons, Kathy Hoener, who sat in on a group interview—along with the Hoener brothers' father, Gregory Sr., their sister, Amber (a student at West Hancock High School in Warsaw, IL), as well as Thomas' girlfriend, Lexis Thurman (Warsaw, IL), a senior, sociology major, who is serving as the 2016 Ag Mech Club Farm Expo vice president of show operations—Thomas, she said, is the most outgoing.

"Thomas has always been a people person. Naturally, Michael and Gregory were pretty shy. Working on the Ag Mech Show over the years has really helped break them out of their shells," Kathy explained.

"Through working on the Ag Mech Show, I learned it's not bad to put yourself in an uncomfortable position, to see what you can really do. At the time, you think, 'Wow, this is really rough and maybe not even possible.' But when you look back on it, you think, 'That was not as hard as I thought it was,'" said Michael, who now works at The Knapheide Manufacturing Company (Quincy, IL).

"I know the life lessons they have taken from this," added Gregory Sr. "I have watched every one of them grow. And it's just something to see how each one of them have changed after having the experience of working on and being involved in the Ag Mech Show. Now they understand why 'Dad' drives them so hard. 'You want to know how it gets done? Well, that's why I'm yelling all the time—or it wouldn't get done," he added, with a wide smile, as he sat with his family at the Hoener kitchen table last weekend.

For the last eight years, the Ag Mech Club's Farm Expo has been a regular part of Hoener family life. Gregory and Thomas each nodded their heads when Michael talked about the hours and hours the Ag Mech Club president, as well as the club's officers, spend working on the exposition.

"It really is a yearlong process, but then you really hit it hard right before Christmas break, to make sure things are lined up over break," Michael said. "And once you get back from break, you might as well live in the Ag Mech Club office."

During the interview, Kathy alluded to a Hoener family/Ag Mech Show "experience" that Michael, during his service as Ag Mech Club president, wasn't too enthused about—at least at the time.

"It was my last year at WIU, and it was after opening ceremonies on Saturday. On the main floor of Western Hall, they fold up the bleachers to make room for the vendor booths, and on both sides you have your vendors. So I hear this rustling, and I look up and I see Thomas and Amber walking between the bleachers and the railing on the upper part of Western Hall. Instead of just walking through the aisle, they cut through, and Thomas had bumped a sign and it fell," he explained. "When it fell, everybody on the entire floor of the show was looking up, and a couple of my buddies looked at me, 'Whose kids are those?' I just thought, 'I'm just going to walk away now,'" Michael added.

"I barely bumped it," Thomas, quick to defend himself, said during the interview. "I remember thinking, 'What just happened?' And I look over and my sister is running away," he added with a smile.

"Now, when I think about it, I think that was a good thing for me—it helped take the edge off," Michael noted.

Michael also recalled how one year his brother Gregory, before Gregory was a student at Western, came to Macomb and helped him after the Farm Expo had concluded.

"The year before I was an officer, Gregory came up and stayed the weekend and helped tear down. I had guys who barely knew me saying to me, 'I've never seen that guy.' My buddies were complimenting him, saying how he was doing more to help than some of the actual Ag Mech Club members."

Gregory Jr. said his interest in WIU stemmed from his older brothers' experiences at Western and Michael's involvement in the Ag Mech Club and the Farm Expo. Like for Michael, Western was a good choice for him because it was close to home.

"I was an agriculture education major, and I worked with Dr. Andy Baker [chair of the School of Agriculture] through the Warsaw FFA. I didn't want to get too far from home either, and I knew the ag program there was really good," Gregory added.

As in years past, this year, the Ag Mech Show will have thousands of people who come through and experience two days of an exposition that students, as well as faculty and staff in the WIU School of Agriculture, have worked diligently to produce. Over their collective years at Western, the three Hoener brothers have had different faculty advisors for the show.

"I first worked with Richard Tillotson," Michael noted. "He was the one who taught me everything. He retired in 2011, and the show has had various advisors since," he added.

"I would particularly like to thank Donna Pestle, who works in the School of Ag office. She really is a lifesaver. Without her, and without the help of my girlfriend, Lexis, I don't know if I would have been able to get by," Thomas added. '

"This is truly a 'feel good' story. The Hoeners have been big supporters over the years, and we are grateful the Hoener brothers selected WIU and the School of Agriculture as their program of choice. It has truly been a family affair for the last eight years, as they learned from each other and developed their own leadership styles. Being a father myself, I can truly understand why this particular show will be remembered forever for the Hoener family," said School of Agriculture Director Andy Baker.

Visit the 2016 Ag Mech Club's Farm Expo from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6 and/or from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7 in Western Hall. It is open free to the public, and complimentary parking is available in Q-Lot, east of Western Hall (see http://bit.ly/WIUAgMechShow2016 for more information).

WIU School of Ag News (Feb. 1-5)

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