Three inductions into the Dawes County Agricultural Hall of Fame will be made Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Grandstand at the Dawes County Fairgrounds. Several other awards also will be presented. The public is invited to attend.
The new Hall of Fame members will be government trapper Don Fryda of Chadron and farm and ranch couples Bob and Sharon Rickenbach of Chadron and Jake and Vicki Wasserburger of Crawford.
Fryda has worked to protect agricultural property and help maintain human health and safety in Dawes and Sioux counties for 38 years. Officially, he’s a wildlife specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. There are only about a dozen of them in Nebraska. One is his brother, who works in the south-central part of the state. Their father had the same duties at Ainsworth and then Oxford, Neb.
Fryda likes his work, its challenges and its variety. He may be shooting coyotes from an airplane, setting a trap or snare to catch a creature that is invading a chicken house, trying to control prairie dogs in a pasture by spreading a government-approved bait, figuring out how to prevent beavers from cutting down trees or setting off fireworks to remove vultures from their perch. The possibilities are endless.
Not all of them involve something lethal or noisy.
A few years ago, he caused a flock of blackbirds that were “making a huge mess” on a home near Chadron State Park to change their flight pattern by simply placing a bobblehead owl on a post.
“We use different tools for different problems,” he said.
While there are many varmints that can cause problems, Fryda said coyotes are always at the top of the wanted list and his busiest time is calving season.
“We’ll never eliminate all the coyotes. They’re too smart and prolific for that, but we try to control them,” he said.
In 2008, Fryda received special recognition for his work. He was presented the Bill Spalsbury Award for the western half of the United States. It was given”In recognition of your professionalism, positive attitude and significant contribution to the APHIS.”
Don’s wife, Rose, is an assistant director of nursing at the Chadron Community Hospital.
The Rickenbachs, who have known each other all their lives and have been married almost 51 years, reside eight miles east of Chadron along Little Bordeaux Creek, one of Dawes County’s most productive areas. They have had numerous bumper wheat crops and even in the driest of years generally have enough pasture and alfalfa to maintain their cowherd.
But agricultural productivity isn’t the only reason they are being inducted into the Hall of Fame. They give extensively of their time, resources and leadership to make the county a better place to live.
Bob has served on the board of directors for the Northwest Rural Public Power District the past 25 years and supports Sharon in her many leadership roles.
She is past president of the Chadron Culture Club, immediate past president of the Chadron Community Hospital board, was co-chair of the development of the kiosk system at Greenwood Cemetery, currently is president of the Dawes County Historical Museum board and is vice president of the flower mission that tries to brighten every patient’s stay in the hospital.
They also are active in the Chadron Methodist Church and are always willing to lend a helping hand. “We’ve had lots of sorrow,” Sharon noted, alluding to the fact that their youngest son, Troy, died in a traffic accident at age 20 and one of their twins sons, Todd, died 2 ½ years ago after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
“People were so kind and helpful to us in those times that we try to give back when we can,” Sharon noted.
Sharon’s parents, the late Gordon and Helen Redfern, whose place is just a half mile from where Bob and Sharon live, were inducted into the Ag Hall of Fame in 1997.
Another family milestone anniversary will occur in January. That’s when 100 years ago the Redfern family that included nine kids moved from extreme southeastern Nebraska to Dawes County and became “sharecroppers,” in Gordon’s words during a 1994 interview.
It was most of three decades before they had the resources to purchase the land along Little Bordeaux Creek. Four of the boys-Carl, Sterling, Clyde and Gordon-eventually owned farms there. The American dream came true, but not before lots of uncertainty and hard work had occurred.
Wasserburgers were some of the early homesteaders in Sioux County, dating back to the mid-1880s after moving from Wisconsin. Jake’s grandparents, Big Jake and Anna, settled in the Montrose area and had 11 children. The youngest, George, and his wife, Bea, purchased the ranch in 1959. Jake is their son.
Jake and the former Vicki Bunch, a native of Crawford, were married in 1972 while they were attending the University of Wyoming. After graduating the following spring, they joined Jake’s parents on the Montrose homestead. Five years later, they moved to Dawes County when they purchased the Swede Ahl place three miles north of Crawford.
Jake and Vicki, their son JR, his wife Billie and their four children live on the Ahl place while one of Jake’s many distant cousins, Wade Wasserburger, and his wife Lynn manage the Montrose unit. Altogether, they run about 500 cows, retain the calves and also buy others that are placed in feedlots at Crawford and sold the following fall.
The Wasserburgers are innovative. Years ago, Jake’s dad built several dams on the Sioux County property to catch runoff that is used to irrigate hayland. Jake also has devised ways on their Dawes County property to make the most of the water from White River, allowing them to raise alfalfa that goes into the rations for the calves in their feedlot.
“Jake is always searching for new ways to make us more efficient,” Vicki said of her husband. “He uses the internet to keep up on the latest technology. He’s always looking and learning.”
Jake is a past member of the Dawes County Planning Commission and is president of the Sugar Loaf Grazing Association. He and Vicki spent several days this month in Omaha where he served on the nominating committee to select board members for Farm Credit Services.
Vicki is a registered nurse who worked at the Crawford and Lusk hospitals before becoming totally involved in the ranching operation.