PCCA Director Among Honorees
By Lyndy Stone
The Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council (TACC) during its annual meeting in Fort Worth, TX, recently honored individuals from the Texas Panhandle and High and Rolling Plains for their efforts and dedication to the cotton and cooperative industries.
Edgar L. “Junior” Follis was named TACC Cooperative Ginner of the Year, and Distinguished Service awards were presented to Raymond Althof and Russ Nelson. Joe Artho of Hereford Grain Corporation was named Cooperator of the Year.
Follis, who is described by those who know him as thorough, innovative and intelligent, was hired as the office manager/ bookkeeper at Farmers Cooperative Association of O’Donnell, TX, in 1979. He attained his current position as the coop’s general manager 11 years later.
During Follis’ tenure as manager, the coop frequently has been in the top five or 10 largest volume gins in the state, competing with several other independent gins in the area. The operation consists of two offices and three gin plants. David Booth, an account manager with Triangle Cooperative Service Company summarizes Follis’ accomplishments.
“There were those who thought that he could not make the change from bookkeeper to general manager, but he more than proved his skeptics wrong,” Booth says. “It would be very easy to write an essay on the qualities that Junior possesses, but it is not necessary because the success of his gin speaks for him.”
Van May, president and CEO of Plains Cotton Cooperative Association (PCCA) adds, “Follis’ involvement in Texas cooperatives goes back many, many years, and he has not been a bystander but has been involved every step of the way. In fact, he is not only involved with his local coop, which is very successful, but also regularly involves himself with matters of the regionals.”
Follis’ service extends beyond his cooperative. He has spent the past several years working with John Deere supporting educational programs for farmers like increasing awareness of machine preparation and maintenance. He also provides producer-awareness programs for his members on topics like boll weevils and seed varieties.
In his community of O’Donnell, Follis has served as Rotary Club president, taught Sunday School for the past 10 years, is involved in the Masonic Lodge and is a supporter of various other community causes and activities. His other leadership positions include being involved in or serving on the board of PYCO Industries, Farmers Cooperative Compress, Triangle Cooperative Insurance Company, the Texas Cotton Ginners Association and Consolidated Bearing and Supply Company.
Along with his extensive work and service, Follis enjoys making time for his family – his wife Shirley, eight children, 16 grandchildren and two great- grandchildren.
Long-time PCCA Director Raymond Althof received TACC’s Distinguished Service award for his leadership and service to several Texas cooperatives. Althof, a resident of Roscoe, TX, has served as chairman of the board of Rolling Plains Coop Compress committee for 17 years. He also has been on the board of Roscoe Coop Gin since its beginning in 1981 and has held the position of board chairman the last six years. Other organization boards on which Althof has participated are the former Lone Wolf Electric Cooperative and the former ACME Gin Association.
Vern Highley, a former PCCA employee and head of his own government relations firm in Washington, D.C., describes distinguished service award recipient Althof as a “personal hero.”
“He is an extraordinary human being and one that not only took his personal problems to bed with him at night, but also those of his coop,” says Highley.
“Raymond is tireless in his dedication to cooperatives in the cotton industry,” says Mike Alexander, a fellow director on the Roscoe Coop Gin board. “He has endured much and has guided our coop gin through short crops five of the past six years.” While Althof is described as caring, innovative and respected, his coop members attest to his sense of humor and love of practical jokes.
“I have seen him teasing and playing tricks on the kids and adults that visit the coop on a regular basis, but then, he also enjoys playing bigger tricks on the employees!” explains one member.
Althof has farmed all of his life, surviving the drought of the 1950s when he continued to farm 1,270 acres of cotton, milo and wheat. He also served his country during World War II and was honorably discharged with numerous achievement awards.
Althof says his family is the most important part of his life. He and his wife, Ina, have been married for 56 years and have two daughters, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Involved in his community, Althof is active in his church, served on the county Farm Bureau board, is a past president of his local Lions Club and is a director at Roscoe State Bank.
Russ Nelson also received a Distinguished Service award for his impact on TACC and the Texas cooperative community. Through his long-time employment with CoBank, Nelson has been in touch with many Texas cooperatives and the cooperative council.
“Russ Nelson doesn’t fit the stereotypical role for what he does,” says Charles McQuhae, general manager of Lockney Coop Gin. “He’s a throwback, a level-headed individual. He provokes you to think about what you are doing and he preaches to always think outside the box.”
Nelson, involved with cooperatives for most of his life, often helped his father, who managed a local coop, during his high school years. In 1976, he graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in accounting and business administration and began his career with CoBank in Omaha, NE. Today he heads the cooperative’s office in St. Paul, MN that covers six states.
Among Nelson’s contributions in time, effort and dollars to TACC, he has acted as a key player in starting the TACC South Texas Cooperative Manager/ Director Conference, reforming TACC’s educational programs and bringing about changes in the Joint Cooperative Meeting. Nelson has served as a past board member of both TACC and the Kansas Coop Council.
“In my opinion, he has done more to shape the direction of TACC and cooperatives in the last four or five years than anyone else, and he has done it in a quiet kind of manner,” says Humberto Vela, TACC past president.
Nelson and his wife, Linda, have been married for 24 years and have two children.
The TACC Cooperator of the Year, Joe Artho, is described as a man of “great patience who always has the desire to do the right thing.” One of Artho’s most impressive accomplishments is turning around the financial state of the Hereford Grain Corporation.
When Artho became general manager of the coop in 1965, it was nearly bankrupt, had two locations and a grain capacity of 1.3 million bushels. Today the coop covers multiple counties, has a grain capacity of nearly 20 million bushels and 20 locations in the Texas Panhandle. Nine additional fertilizer locations also were added across the region.
Even more inspiring, the coop has had no long-term or short-term debt since 1984, and nearly $28 million dollars have been returned to stockholders during Artho’s tenure. Frank Brorman, board chairman of Hereford Grain Corporation, describes Artho’s accomplishments.
“Joe has dedicated a lifetime to building our business into a ‘model cooperative’ that can serve as an example and be looked upon with pride by the entire cooperative system,” explains Brorman. “Joe has pulled the organization from near failure to a cooperative with the ownership in the hands of its users.”
Others who know Artho describe him as a proponent of honesty, integrity and good government policy, known to take on those who try to abuse their size and push their way around.
“Joe has been an important part of keeping the business life of a smaller community alive and well,” says Bill Johnson of Plains Insurance Agency in Amarillo. “He has insisted that as much business as possible be kept local. He is an outspoken advocate of progress and works for the community with steadfast determination.”
Artho’s family includes his wife of 44 years, Theresa, six sons and eleven grandchildren.