Six couples will be honored on March 24 as the 2022 class of Kansas Master Farmers and Master Farm Homemakers in recognition of their leadership in agriculture, environmental stewardship and service to their communities.
The statewide awards program is in its 96th year and is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension and Kansas Farmer Magazine.
This year’s honorees are:
- Rick and Connie Thompson and family, Anderson County (Frontier Extension District).
- Todd and Charlene Sheppard, Pottawatomie County.
- Philip and Jane Halling, Atchison County.
- Mark and Marcia Knudson, Brown County.
- Donna Pearson McClish and David Pearson, Sedwick County.
- Richard and Anita Poland, Barber County.
The annual awards banquet will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 24 at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Manhattan. Reservations for dinner are required and are available by contacting Sue Robinson at 785-532-5820 or [email protected].
Below are pictures and short biographies on each couple:
Rick and Connie Thompson and family
Rick Thompson’s love of the farm and the hard work required to make it successful is in his blood. He said his education was formed throughout his life on his family’s dairy farm.
He and Connie graduated in 1978 from Crest High School in Colony, Kansas. Connie went on to Fort Scott Community College, then nursing school. She has worked at the local hospital and a doctor’s office.
Rick Thompson said it has always been his priority to be a “good steward of the land.” His soil conservation efforts include terracing and tiling highly erodible land, and keeping waterways in good repair and mowed annually.
In 2003, the Thompsons received the Kansas Bankers Association Soil Conservation award in Anderson County. They have also served on the local extension board council. Over the years, they have donated lambs to children who couldn’t afford them to use in the local 4-H show.
Their philosophy for life: “No matter what job you choose, do it well, do for others and give back blessings to others.”
The Thompsons have three children: Blake and wife Hannah have five children; Erin and husband Justin Zook have four children; and Nick.
Todd and Charlene Sheppard
In 1996, Todd and Charlene Shepard rented pasture north of Manhattan and began running grass cattle. Today their operation runs Charolais cattle, raises forage and sells Charolais bulls to commercial cattle producers.
Todd was raised in Piper, Kansas, was an active 4-H member and did custom hay in the area during the summer. Charlene was raised in Blue Mound, where she helped her dad on the farm and was active in 4-H and FFA.
Both studied agricultural economics at K-State. They were married in 1990 and moved to Manhattan where Todd began a law career. Charlene stayed home to raise sons Zachary and Eli, who have been instrumental in building the family business.
The couple has been active in the Kansas Charolais Association and make it a priority to help young people interested in the cattle business acquire and breed heifers at reasonable prices so they can launch their own operation.
They promote crossbreeding programs and have helped commercial producers improve the efficiency of cattle operations. Charlene made the mating match that created Fink Gold Standard, a registered Charolais bull known as “one of the best bulls of any breed.”
Philip and Jane Halling
Philip and Jane Halling were both raised on a farm, where they say there were both taught to be of help whenever they are needed. It helps explain their lifetime of service to their business and their community.
Both have served on the Atchison County Farm Bureau board for more than 25 years; Philip was the president for four years, and Jane the secretary for 10 years. In 1990 and 2000, Jane served on the state NER board and was chair in 2000. They have hosted a K-State Research and Extension test plot for more than 20 years.
Philip graduated from Midway High School in 1977 and then took vocational ag and auto mechanic classes. For the past six years, he has worked road maintenance for the Lancaster Township. He also serves on the St. Louis Catholic Church parish council and is president of the Lancaster/Huron Fire Department.
Jane graduated from Centralia High School in 1978 prior to attending Highland Community College. For the past 23 years, she has worked as the elementary school secretary for USD 377. She also serves on the board for the Atchison County Farm Bureau, and has helped with the Lancaster Community blood drives since 2000.
They said they “believe in working together for the good of everyone.” The couple has two sons, both of whom earned electrical engineering degrees from Kansas State University; and four grandchildren.
Mark and Marcia Knudson
Mark and Marcia Knudson are fourth generation farmers, continuing to farm land land that has been passed down in their family since the 1800s. They said they care for the land by using technology that helps with soil and water management, and no-till practices.
“Our main goal as a family farming operation,” they write, “is to produce high quality food products with the lowest impact to our environment.”
Both were born and raised in Brown County and were members of Zion Lutheran Church, where they say they have memories of growing up together.
Mark began farming after high school with his father and grandfather. Marcia grew up on the family farm that her grandfather purchased during the depression, and where her father was raised.
The Knudsons have four children: Tricia and husband Christopher Ricklefs have two children; twins Matthew and Michael; and Meredith and husband Matt Mueller.
Donna Pearson McClish and David Pearson
In 1968, siblings Donna McClish and David Pearson’s parents purchased a farm in Wichita, which became the first urban farm and first African American farm in the area, providing education, gardening and activities for the community.
In the 1980s and 1990s, they remember their mother going into the inner city and asking: “What are you going to do when there are no grocery stores in your area?” Her vision was to ensure that future generations knew how to provide food for their families. That vision lives on in Donna and David.
The siblings started Common Ground Mobile Market and Mobile Food Hub in 2014, the only mobile market in Kansas, to provide fresh produce to the most vulnerable citizens in Sedgwick, Harvey and Butler counties. The market mobilizes a network of growers to provide produce to those they serve.
David is the farm manager and – like his father – has a great love for the land, which has helped to keep the farm in the family. He said he enjoys the labor of what he loves to do.
Donna, a former elementary school teacher, is the CEO of farm operations and the mobile market. She has a bachelor’s degree in human resource management, and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.
Donna is the first African American and first woman of color to serve on the State Board of Agriculture. She is also the first African American to serve on the Kansas Farmers Union Board of Directors; was the 2021 Kansas of the Year (community division); and won the 2022 Martin Luther King President’s Award.
Richard and Anita Poland
Ever since moving to their farm – Poland Angus Ranch – in 1976, Richard and Anita Poland have stayed true to their mission: “To produce breeding cattle that will have a positive, lasting effect on the beef industry.”
Richard graduated from K-State in 1974 and Anita graduated from the Grace School of Nursing in 1971. They couple has raised three children – Brandon, Heather and Erin – who were active on the farm as well as in 4-H and FFA.
Richard was the agriculture teacher at Medicine Lodge High School for 24 years until 1998. Anita worked as a registered nurse with Barber County Public Health until 2021. They continue to work the farm and support their grandchildren in their activities.
In 1993, Richard started the first Poland Angus Ranch judging contest, which was held for 28 years before the final contest in 2021.
Today, many of Richard’s former students are now his neighbors. He said his mission as a teacher is similar to that as a farmer: “To produce agriculture leaders and citizens that will have a positive, lasting effect on the communities, state and nation in which they live and work.”
He said he sees former students in leadership roles locally, statewide and nationally. “I would like to think that, in some small way, I had a part in that,” he said.