Manhattan, Kan. — Six couples will be honored on March 11 as the 2021 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 95th year and is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension and Kansas Farmer magazine.
This year’s honorees are:
- David and Sara Combes – Osage County
- Wayne and Carrie Grimm – Brown County
- Larry and Virginia Kepley – Grant County
- Nathan and Suzanne Larson – Riley County
- Philip and Rhonda Perry – Jefferson County
- Jess and Laryce Schwieterman – Hamilton County
The annual awards banquet will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Mar. 11 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Manhattan. Reservations for dinner are required and are available by contacting Sue Robinson at 785-532-5820 or email@example.com.
Below are short biographies on each couple:
David and Sara Combes, Coffey County
Some of David Combes’ fondest memories are of working alongside his dad on the family farm milking cows, using a horse-drawn wagon, and shucking corn by hand. His humble beginnings have bloomed into a large, diversified crop and cattle operation.
David and Sara Combes met while attending high school. While David attended Pittsburg State majoring in arts/house construction, Sara completed course work at Clarks School of Business and worked as an office assistant. David’s knowledge of constructing new buildings and Sara’s experience of accounting has helped them on the farm.
The Combes have received the Kansas Bankers Association Conservation Award for Osage County in 1997 and for Coffey County in 2010.
The couple has four daughters: Sharon, Lara, Beth and Jenny.
Following the couple’s example, all of David and Sara’s children have made notable and positive contributions to agriculture. Family has always been a cornerstone of the Combes lives, they said.
“We make a point to focus on fostering time together as a family. Whether big or small, each action is intentional. This intentional behavior continues to make a lasting impression on the entire family.”
The Combes make a point each evening to eat dinner together, taking time to get away as a family, and being involved in their church.
They said they feel extremely blessed to be able to work in the agricultural profession.
“Being entrusted as stewards of God’s land and livestock, and working together as husband and wife, gives us the opportunity to experience life together. We are grateful to God for all He provides us, and for the opportunity to raise our family in rural Kansas.”
Wayne and Carrie Grimm, Brown County
Wayne and Carrie Grimm attribute their love of farming and ranching to being active in agriculture during their childhood years. More than four decades later, they’re helping other kids get that same experience.
The Grimm family – including daughters Elsie (23), Sadie (19), Emmie (14), Estie (9) and Nellie (6) – developed a Farm Safety Day on their Brown County farm that annually hosts 500 first and second graders, teachers and families from neighboring communities.
“The purpose of Farm Safety Day is to teach children the dangers on the farm whether they live there or only visit,” the couple shared. “By providing safety training and education at an early age, we believe we can give children a foundation for making safe decisions as they progress through childhood, adolescence and adulthood.”
The family also hosts smaller tours for preschool children who learn how to feed and take care of the animals.
Wayne grew up farming with his dad and grandpa and was active in FFA. He received the Kansas FFA Forage Production Proficiency Award and the American Farmer Degree.
Carrie was active in her family’s cattle operation, as well as 4-H and FFA; she was a local, district and state FFA officer. Among numerous honors, she received the Young Cattleman’s Award for Nemaha County, FFA Beef Production Proficiency Award and the American Farmer Degree.
Carrie graduated from Kansas State University, where she earned a degree in animal science production management. She was also on the agriculture student senate, and served as a K-State Ag Ambassador and State FFA officer.
Today, the Grimm family’s beef cattle operation includes cattle and bulls. The Grimm family daughters use show calves for 4-H projects, and hope to one day sell their calves online.
Wayne also manages ewes, goats, milk cows, miniature cows, miniature donkeys, miniature horses, chickens, dogs, rabbits, ducks, turkeys, cats and a llama. The Grimm family also grows corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, brome, Sedan grass and rye.
According to Wayne and Carrie, “we strive as a family to be valuable members of our community. Our community has supported us and helped us grow to who we are today. Our hope is to give back to the community in any way we can.”
Larry and Virginia Kepley, Grant County
Little did Larry and Virginia Kepley know that a blind date as students at Kansas State University would turn into more than a half century of farming success.
That chance encounter led to marriage, two children – son Tad and daughter Kimberly – and a Grant County farm that not only has supported their family, but has contributed positively to the local community.
Over the years, the Kepley family farm has been home to beef, hog and wheat operations. Larry has participated in U.S. Wheat Alliance trade missions to promote wheat exports to Mexico, Uruguay, Vietnam, Argentina and Canada.
Larry, who earned a degree from K-State in agricultural education, worked for the Farm Management Association and as an extension agent. Over the years, he has been a member of numerous boards, including the Farm Credit Association, Southwest Kansas Irrigation Association, Kansas Wheat Commission, American White Wheat Producers and the Grant County Fair Board. He’s a founding board member of the Southwest Kansas Pork Producer Board, and the KANCO Crop Insurance Agency.
The list of awards Larry won over the years includes the Grower of the Year from the Kansas Wheat Growers Association; Farm Credit Distinguished Service from American Ag Credit; the Kansas Seed Grower of the Year and the Master Seedmen’s Award from the Kansas Crop Improvement Association. The Kepley Farm also was recognized as Century Farm by Kansas Farm Bureau in 2017.
Virginia, who graduated from K-State with a degree in home economics education, was active with Ag in the Classroom, at one time hosting fifth and sixth grade classes on tours to identify more than 25 types of trees on the homestead.
As a farm family, the Kepleys note that a Bible verse sums up their experiences: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord; plans for well-being and not for trouble, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
“This is a scripture that we think still bears fruit in our lives. We’ve had experiences that we never dreamed possible for a farm girl from Sumner County and a farm boy from Grant County.”
Nathan and Suzanne Larson, Riley County
Nathan and Suzanne Larson’s family farm may have sprouted from humble beginnings, but today it has expanded into an operation with ties to farmers around the world.
Nathan grew up assisting his father with the farm in Riley County. Later, he attended Kansas State University and earned a degree in agronomy.
While at K-State, Nathan met Texas-born Suzanne, who was majoring in elementary education. The two were married, with Suzie later returning after the birth of the couple’s two children – son Jeremy and daughter Lela — to complete her degree. As a school teacher, Suzie routinely incorporated agriculture into the classroom. Today, she works full time on the farm.
From the time they were married, Nathan and Suzie have been heavily involved in agriculture and received numerous awards, such as the Outstanding Farmer Award in 1985 and the second runner-up for the State Young Farm Family in 1989. The family has also received the Riley County Farm Family of the Year.
Nathan and Suzie are extremely proud of their children and their accomplishments. The couple has always emphasized the value of higher education, especially as it relates to farming.
“We feel that attending college and participating in community and farm groups have provided important opportunities for critical thinking and educational growth,” said the couple. “Intellectual curiosity about our world, the people in it, and how it all works and changes is critical for personal and professional development and for success as farmers.”
The Larsons have made a global impact. Nathan began serving on the Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission in 2012 and travelled to several locations throughout the United States. In 2016, Nathan participated in the commission’s trade mission to China. Nathan has also been involved with trade programs to numerous different countries.
Philip and Rhonda Perry, Jefferson County
Perry Ranch has been passed down through the family for five generations, and Philip and Rhonda Perry hope it can prosper for many more.
Phil grew up in Oskaloosa where he worked on a local cattle operation, eventually starting his own. Phil dreamed of becoming a rancher, and he became self-employed in 1987 to pursue that dream. Even so, he said he values the life lessons he learned from a former employer in the beef industry.
Rhonda grew up on a farm near Phil, so she was familiar with farm operations. She worked at the Jefferson County Health Department until her retirement in 2018. Since then, she has helped to watch her grandchildren, managed the bookkeeping for the ranch, and performed many other supportive roles.
The operation today has grown to several hundred cattle and many more acres of land. Such a large venture cannot be managed alone, the Perrys said. “Working together we grew our cattle enterprise. We have been fortunate to have the help of our son and a network of several other good employees.”
The Perrys’ help comes from their two children: Nickie and Nathan.
Phil and Rhonda said they place a high value on family: “We’ve always included our family in everything we did. We ate together, played together and worked together.”
The family’s hard work shows in the ranch’s numerous accolades, such as being chosen as one of three sites for the Kansas Livestock Association’s statewide field day events. The farm has also received the Kansas Bankers Association soil conservation award.
Jess and Laryce Schieterman, Hamilton County
For Jess and Laryce Schwieterman, both graduates in animal science from Kansas State University, their education is key to their farm’s success.
“We both believe our educational experiences have helped prepare us to be successful in farming and our community by teaching us that there is always something new to learn and ways to improve.”
Jess and Laryce’s farm did not begin right out of college, however. After graduating, Jess worked at a local feedlot and Laryce at a hog farm. Not too long after, a farmer in Syracuse nearing retirement offered the couple his land if they worked for him for a couple of years.
Today, the operation has grown and includes many different crops. However, it has not been an easy journey for the family.
“In a farming community, many times relationships are everything, and in 2003, after another local farmer passed away from cancer, we had the opportunity to start farming for his family.”
Over the next few years, the Schwietermans doubled their operation. But as the couple was preparing to purchase better quality irrigated land, Jess was diagnosed with cancer. While fighting the disease, and with the help of Laryce’s parents, the couple continued to purchase more dryland acres.
While working the farm, the Schwietermans believe continuing education in agriculture is a must. Jess has served on boards including the Syracuse co-op, the K-State Research and Extension Professional Development Committee in Hamilton County, and the Hamilton County Farm Bureau Board.
Laryce serves alongside Jess on the Kansas Young Farmers and Ranchers State Committee for Farm Bureau. She emphasizes the importance of attending as a woman in agriculture.
“Many conferences held are majority men, but I want women to see they play a vital role in the success of the farm.”
In their community, both are heavily involved in their church. Faith and family are keystones in their life. They have one daughter, Avery, who has cerebral palsy, who is a great blessing to them.
“This child, who is dependent on others for everything, has shown us this is a precious gift we have…The people who have come into our lives because of Avery has made us better versions of ourselves. We hope our love and devotion to her is a light to others when things don’t work out the way you had planned.”