Since Indiana Farm Bureau’s founding in 1919, only eight individuals have held the office of president. Because that number will increase to nine on Jan. 1, we thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the individuals who have held the organization’s highest office.
As the first president of the Indiana Federation of Farmers’ Associations (INFB’s original name), John G. Brown helped turn a coalition of individuals and counties into “An organization of the farmers by the farmers, to protect the interest of the farmers, and by education, legislation and other honorable means, to promote the largest good for all the people” (a quote from the federation’s creed).
Before acquiring his White County farm, Brown worked as a day laborer and tenant farmer. His most outstanding qualities were reportedly caution and prudence. After four years, he stepped down as president to return to his farm.
William H. “Bill” Settle, a Chester White breeder from Wells County, was a talented lobbyist at the state and federal level. One year he convinced Gov. Harry Leslie to call a special session of the General Assembly that established a tax levy limit on real property and saved Indiana farmers $30 million annually.
After a devastating tornado in southern Indiana, Settle signed a contract with State Farm Insurance that allowed INFB members to purchase insurance from the Illinois-based company. The agreement generated $30,000 in annual revenue for INFB. Over time, members expressed interest in INFB starting its own insurance company, but Settle rejected that idea.
Although he had worked in the gold fields of Alaska and as an attorney in Evansville, farming was Lewis Taylor’s his first love and he eventually came back to Warrick County to farm. He’d been involved with INFB from the beginning, serving as secretary, treasurer, first vice-president, and head of the tax and legislative committee.
The issue that propelled him to the office of president was the establishment of an INFB-owned insurance company, which he favored and the incumbent opposed. Taylor won, and the insurance company was established in 1935.
After only a year in office, he died of a heart attack while visiting Pasadena, California, for the AFBF convention.
Hassil E. Schenck owned Whisp’rin Pines Farm in Lebanon. He rose up the ranks of local Farm Bureau leadership before being elected vice president in 1934. Upon Taylor’s death in 1936, he moved to the top spot.
When Schenck learned that INFB was borrowing from the state co-op to meet payroll, he reached an agreement with employees who were making more than $3,000 to take a temporary pay cut. The pay cuts and increasing dues from $5 to $10 resulted in a treasury sufficient enough to never again require borrowing.
George Doup farmed in Bartholomew County with his brother, and he had a long history with Farm Bureau, starting as with Indiana Rural Youth. He was appointed vice president in 1952 when the incumbent, Larry Brandon, retired mid-term, and was subsequently elected to the position. He became president in 1958 after Hassil Schenck retired.
Among his achievements was overseeing Farm Bureau’s long, but successful, campaign for significant changes in Indiana property tax law, which were enacted in 1973. He was also at the helm during a tumultuous period of farm labor unrest, and he visited what was then known as “Red China.”
He retired mid-term in 1976, saying he was ready to step down.
Marion Stackhouse, a hog and grain farmer from in Westfield, became president upon George Doup’s resignation.
His extensive ag background included years as a vo-ag teacher, INFB field representative and commodity department director.
Under his leadership, INFB had the largest Farm Bureau membership of any state in the country in 1977 and 1978. He was active in INFB’s lobbying effort, especially at the federal level following the 1980 grain embargo against the Soviet Union and was instrumental in the creation of the Indiana Farm Bureau ELECT PAC in 1983.
He died in 1987 of a heart attack while on his farm.
Then-Vice President Harry Pearson of Blackford County was chosen by the board to fill out the remainder of Stackhouse’s term. He was elected president in December 1987.
Pearson helped pass AFBF policy language that opposed federal legislation that allowed public access to private property without the owner’s permission. He was also president when Farm Bureau relocated to its current location, formerly home to the Indianapolis Rubber Company. Renovation was completed in 1992.
Pearson took an active role in supporting elimination of the death tax and the passage of NAFTA, and he also led the state Stop Taxing Our Property effort.
Don Villwock became involved in Farm Bureau through the Young Farmer program, serving on both the state Young Farmer and AFBF YF&R committees. He was then Knox County president, District 7 director and vice president before becoming president in 2002.
He farms in Knox County, where he raises white corn, soybeans, seed soybeans, and seed wheat.
Among Farm Bureau’s notable achievements during his tenure was the repeal of the state inheritance tax and the successful – but continuing – effort to delay implementation of proposed soil productivity factors, an effort that has saved farmers an estimated $687 million. He is also particularly proud of the role Farm Bureau played in the passage of one of the nation’s toughest “right to farm” laws.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2016
Randy Kron has served as vice president during Don Villwock’s entire tenure, but like so many Farm Bureau leaders, he got his start in the Young Farmer program.
Prior to his election as vice president, Kron served as District 9 director and was also president and vice president of the Vanderburgh County Farm Bureau and chairman of the IFB political action committee for Congressional District 8.
He also serves as his township’s assessor. Other leadership positions include acting as INFB’s representative on the U.S. Grains Council and on the Indiana Corn Marketing Council.
He farms near Evansville, raising yellow corn, white corn, soybeans and wheat.