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After two tornadoes, Hinkeldey carving a new future

Looking around Willis Hinkeldey’s farm, it’s evident he has built a beautiful life.
His children and grandchildren live around him, working the land he himself worked for many years. The Hinkeldey farm is the last dairy farm in Jackson County, and still going strong. He’s got a carpentry shop, herds of cattle and beautiful pastures.
Yes, Hinkeldey has worked hard to get his family to where it is today, and that work didn’t come without its fair share of adversity.
“In high school, I had an ag instructor that got me all fired up,” Hinkeldey said. “After that, I never quit.”
He served with the Minnesota National Guard for years, and beat polio without knowing it. He battled health problems and Mother Nature to make his family and farm succeed.
But, as Hinkeldey tells it, the community was always a source of help along the way.
At no time was that support more apparent than in 2000, when a tornado hit the Hinkeldey farm for the second time (the first being in 1983).
“We were down in the basement, and there was no warning,” Hinkeldey said. “When you come out and look, and everything is just gone, you wonder.”
The 2000 tornado was the worst, but Hinkeldey and his family rose to the challenge, and so did their neighbors, who came in from all around to help.
“We had such good neighbors,” Hinkeldey said. “No sooner was it over than our neighbors were out on the yard.”
The Hinkeldeys had so much help that the sheriff eventually had to turn people away to prevent overcrowding.
“The next day we had a lot of people on the yard,” Hinkeldey said. “There were so many there that they had to send some of them away,”
While most of the help was local, some people came from a long way away to support Hinkeldey and his family.
“There was one guy who came from west of the Twin Cities,” Hinkeldey said.
In the end, each volunteer found a way to help, with many bringing tools, vehicles and know-how to lend a hand.
“Everyone found a job to do,” Hinkeldey said, with a smile. “In the end, we got the job done.”
It still took a long time before the Hinkeldeys were able to live and work normally, but they managed.
“A shed was our main headquarters,” Hinkeldey said. “We worked out of that thing during mid- to late   fall.”
In the end, with some help from their insurance plan and the community, the Hinkeldeys were able to rebuild their farm.
The Hinkeldeys have always been involved in community and national organizations, among them the American Dairy Association and the Associated Milk Producers Inc.
“I was regional chairman for the American Diary Association for many years,” Hinkeldey said. “We traveled to so many places for our meetings.”
Willis currently heads up the American Dairy Association branch in Jackson County, but has taken a step back from milking cows due to health issues.
“After so many years of doing it, my body just couldn’t take it anymore,” Hinkeldey said.
In retirement, he’s stayed active, building signs for the Jackson County Fairgrounds and 4-H; creating paintings to give away to family, friends and others; doing projects for and with his family and showing off his creativity in a myriad of other ways.
It’s gotten him pretty far, too; his list of things to make is just about a mile long.
“Now, my job is playing in the shops,” Hinkeldey said. “Some people complain that they’ve got nothing to do, but me? I’ve got too much to do.”
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On the Auction Block with Keith Elbers

Keith Elbers grew up on a farm near Steen and Hills in Rock County and attended his first auction around the age of 5 or 6 with his father, Gilbert, who went to buy cattle.
Elbers said he enjoyed going to auctions and being around people and that he grew fond of the auction method of marketing. His appreciation of auctions would eventually lead to a career in the business.
In 1983, he started working part-time as a livestock broker for Adams & Dougherty Livestock Brokerage Co. at the Sioux Falls Stockyards. He started working full-time for the company after earning a degree in agriculture business from Jackson Vocational Technical Institute, now Minnesota West, in 1986.
It was his boss at that company that pushed him into becoming an auctioneer and even paid for his schooling to become one.
“I do need to give all the credit of my getting in the auction business to my former boss Clair Vollan, who owned Adams & Dougherty, as it was he who encouraged me to become an auctioneer and told me it would be useful the rest of my life,” Elbers said. “He was right and here I am today.”
Elbers earned his auctioneer’s license in 1988 and started Elbers Auction Service in Hills. He also started doing auctions for the Sioux Falls Stockyards.
Today, Elbers Auction Service has offices in Hills and Luverne. His wife, Annette, and step son, Tyler, help with the business. He is the only auctioneer, but said he works closely with Clark Ahders of Rock Rapids as well as other auctioneers.
Elbers said his company does all types of auctions. According to, that includes farm equipment, personal property, land, real estate and benefit auctions. The company does around 25 or 30 auctions a year, primarily in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, but Elbers said he also works beyond that area.
‘‘My service area is as far as I’m asked to go,” he said.
The biggest change he’s seen in the auction business over his 30 plus years of experience is online actions. He said Elbers Auction Service can do online auctions, but he hasn’t done many of them. Another significant change is the value of farm land since he started in the business. Elbers said land sold for $1,750 an acre at one of the first land sales he did. About five years ago, he sold land for $19,000 an acre.
In addition to Elbers Auction Service, Elbers is co-owner of Real Estate Retrievers. That company has offices in Hills, Luverne and Pipestone.
Elbers and his wife live in Hills. They have three grandchildren from Tyler and his wife Kala, who also live in Hills.
Elbers is a member of the Minnesota State Auctioneers Association and, outside of his work, he is actively involved in his community. He is the mayor of Hills and serves on the Luverne Hospice Advisory Board, Luverne Area Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Development Board and Sioux Valley Energy Advisory Board.
“I like being involved in the community and I like trying to better the community,” Elbers said.


Pieper has nearly 40 years in the auction business

Melvin Pieper, of Gary, S.D., started working in the auction business in his early 20s and launched his own business, Pieper Auctions in Gary, S.D. in the early 1980s.
“I always kind of enjoyed going to auctions regularly,” said Pieper, who is now 64.
Pieper recalled a Sunday afternoon many years ago when he was out working with his cows and saw someone stopped on the road, looking at his pasture. He discovered it was the owner of the local sale barn, South Dakota Livestock Sales in Watertown, and he was out looking for cattle for the sale barn.
The two chatted and the man ended up asking Pieper if he wanted to work for him at the sale barn. That was Pieper’s start in the business. He ended up working for South Dakota Livestock Sales for about 15 years, he said. He was still working for them when he launched his own business, doing mostly farm and land sales. Eventually, he became too busy with his own farming and auction business and left South Dakota Livestock Sales.
“It got bigger faster than I thought it would,”Pieper said of this auction business.
During his nearly four decades in the auction business, Pieper has seen many changes. Among them is the way clerking is done at the auctions. When he started in the business, the clerks used to write down everyone’s name and address. Then they switched to a number system and then about seven years ago the clerks started scanning licenses to get all the information they need.
A big improvement for Pieper came in the form of an auction topper on his pickup. Pieper described himself as “kind of short” and said he used to stand on the equipment so everyone could see him. Then he purchased an auction topper that made him more visible and also sheltered him from the cold and wind on blustery days.
The equipment he sells has also changed. Today’s equipment is far bigger and has far more horse power than the equipment he sold years ago.
Another change is who serves lunch during the auctions. Pieper said churches used to provide the lunches, but today the meal is often provided by a local nonprofit or the family holding the auction.
“I believe we’ve got to have lunch with the farm sales,” Pieper said. “I think people feel a little more comfortable with something in their hands.”
He said food is also important because farm sales can last several hours and people often come from far away.
Like other auctioneers, Pieper offers online auction services, something that wasn’t an option when he started out.
“I’ve been doing that for probably five or six years,” he said.
Pieper said he usually does auctions in-person and online simultaneously, but that he lets the customer choose how they want to do it. He said the online and in-person combination has been particularly common this year due to the pandemic.
He said he’s encountered things through online auctions that he’d never encountered at in-person autions. For example, someone once told him they purchased something from one of his auctions using their phone while walking through a park in another state. On two other occasions, he said, he had a buyer from another state and had to find an interpreter to help with the sale because the buyer spoke another language.
“With the internet, you’re all over,” Pieper said.
The company does about 40 to 50 sales a year in recent years, although Pieper noted that this year has been a bit slower due to the pandemic. Pieper said that while the company might have fewer auctions this year, the sales they’ve had have gone well.
Pieper Auctions does most of its auctions in the South Dakota and Minnesota counties of Deuel, Codington, Grant, Hamlin, Brookings, Clark, Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lac qui Parle, Big Stone and Yellow Medicine.
Pieper Auctions has three other auctioneers in addition to Pieper, including his son Eli, who started working with him about three years ago, Cory Borg and Dan Farmer. Pieper’s wife Tawne, his daughter Elle, and Matt Bear also work for the company as clerks.
Pieper said the community has been good to him over the years. People keep calling and he keeps selling. That’s likely to be the case for Pieper Auctions for years to come with his son Eli having joined the business and his daughter Elle considering going to auction school.

Koob goes border-to-border on cross-state bike trek

Paul Koob used to ride his bike from his home in Lakefield to work at AGCO in Jackson.
Last month, he rode his bike across the state of Minnesota — the long way.
Koob, a material handler for AGCO Jackson Operations, said he got the idea to ride from the Welcome to Minnesota sign south of Bigelow to the Canadian border just north of International Falls while riding his bike from Lakefield to Jackson.
“This riding bike across the state came to me back in the ’90s when I used to ride my bike back and forth from Lakefield to Jackson for my job at what was then Ag-Chem,” Koob said. “I still work over in Jackson, but I’ve lived in Worthington for years, so it’s a little bit far to ride my bike to AGCO.”
Koob started his cross-state ride July 11. Five-plus days and 450 miles later, he reached the Canadian border.
Koob rode his GT road bike, but threw his Cannondale in the pilot car driven alongside him by his wife, Sue, as a backup. His initial destination that first day was Morton.
“And that’s where I ran into a terrible rainstorm, about three miles from there,” Koob said. “At that point, I jumped into the car with my wife.”
After the rain passed, he mounted up again and rode into Morton.
“My second day was the toughest of my entire bike ride,” Koob said. “I made it to Cold Spring, which is about 82 miles, but the route was very hilly and it was very hot that day.”
On the third day of his bike trip, Koob headed for Brainerd. On the fourth day, he rode to Grand Rapids.
“On the ride from Grand Rapids to my next stop at Big Lake, I traveled through the Chippewa National Forest where I did get a chance to see a black bear,” Koob said. “That was pretty exciting. Then I finished up my last 38 miles into International Falls by noon on Thursday, July 16.”
On that last leg of his trip, Sue Koob stopped about 10 miles outside of International Falls at a gas station.
“In talking with the manager about our trip, the manager said, ‘We don’t get stories like this up here,’ and insisted that we talk to the newspaper in International Falls,” Koob said. “And that is how they got our story.”
Koob said he took county roads most of the way on his long bike trek, adding the farther he got north and past Grand Rapid, the fewer road options there were — not to mention cars and people.
In addition to his cross-state ride, Koob has also participated in 40 marathons — and all of this while suffering from cerebral palsy.
“It is a condition that you are born with, so as far as that goes, I don’t know any other way of living,” he said. “I just like the sense of adventure biking and this bike trip gave me that.”
Next on his to-do list?
“I am getting ready to ride across the state from west to east in a couple of weeks,” he said.
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Long involved in agriculture, Honnette now involved in MARL program

Chelsea Honnette has lived in Jackson for 16 years with her family. In that time, she’s managed a family farm with her husband, worked with cutting-edge agricultural technology at AGCO Jackson Operations and served the community in a myriad of ways through various community institutions.
“I moved to Jackson in December 2004,” Honnette said. “My husband is originally from Jackson and he grew up here.”
Honnette and her husband, Ryan, came to manage the family farm owned by Ryan’s parents.
“When we moved here, we had the opportunity to get involved in farm production with his family,” Honnette said.
Honnette has been at AGCO Jackson for almost seven years and has been involved in agriculture since 2014.
Her favorite part of agriculture is planting and watching the crops grow.
“Everything starts fresh every year and it’s a whole new opportunity every year to see your harvest come to fruition,” Honnette said. “My favorite part of the crop cycle is planting and as the crops are maturing and popping through the ground, watching the rows and seeing everything come together.”
Honnette was recently selected to participate in Class XI of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program.
For Honnette, it’s the realization of a long-held ambition.
“MARL has been something that I’ve been looking to do for almost 10 years,” Honnette said. “I’ve kept up with who’s in each class and seeing the programming they had to offer all along. A lot of MARL is focused on learning not only about the areas of agriculture you’re accustomed to, but also all of the agriculture production opportunities that occur in the state of Minnesota.”
She’s most excited about the leadership development aspects of MARL, which she will use to benefit the community.
“I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer on a wide variety of committees and projects within Jackson and I’m excited to be able to learn another set of tools as it relates to leadership with other people,” Honnette said. “I want to take what I’ve learned and bring that back to my family, to my volunteerism and to my employer, as well.”
As a volunteer, Honnette serves on the board of directors of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, the church council of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and the Tri for Health board. She’s also helped work to bring the splash pad to Jackson.
Honnette enjoys spending time with family and friends. Because she farms with her husband, they’re able to spend a lot of time together on the job. She loves volunteering and outdoor activity as well.
“We find fun ways to spend time together, whether it’s helping him in the shop with something or riding along and just enjoying checking the crops and things like that,” Honnette said. “I enjoy volunteering and being outside and active.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges for her family, Honnette said she feels blessed to have the time with her family and added the crop season looks good this year.
“We’re spending time together as a family,” Honnette said. “We’ll never get this opportunity again to just buckle down and focus just on us.”
Honnette’s message for the community and especially for young people is to keep pursuing their ambitions and dreams, even and especially through adversity.
“Make sure if you identify an opportunity that you want to pursue at some point, you stay focused and keep it at the forefront of all the things that you do,” Honnette said. “MARL is that for me; it’s one of those things that I’ve watched go over time and I feel very honored to be part of Class XI.”