Making a Difference one Community at a Time
As such, employee owners log many hours of service every year, provide leadership to various organizations and service projects, contribute to the agriculture industry, and use their passions to make a positive difference.
Focusing on the next generation
One of those employee owners is Bob Hagenow, Vita Plus sales manager, who has served on the school board for Rio Community Schools in Rio, Wisconsin, for about 11 years. His involvement in the school district started when his oldest daughter was a second grader. He thought it would be good to learn more about the school and the decisions that impact students’ experiences. He was also just curious about how the school district functioned compared to other businesses, so he attended a few school board meetings. A little while later, a vacancy opened on the board and the superintendent approached Hagenow to see if he would be interested in joining the board. Hagenow decided to give it a try.
“I pretty quickly could see that our small school district was a unique and vibrant district,” Hagenow recalled, “and it was also clear that a school district needs the community and parents to be involved to remain vibrant.”
In his role, Hagenow said he dedicates about five to seven hours a month to the school board, which provides governance and oversight for administration and faculty who make the day-to-day decisions. The goal is to give students everything they need to prepare them for the next phase of their lives. Hagenow said not many of the school board members work in the private sector, so he is glad he can contribute to the conversations from a business perspective.
Naturally, this volunteer role has required a bit more of Hagenow’s time in the last six months as the district works hard to provide both a safe environment and a good education to all students during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the board has based all its decisions on three premises:
- Be safe.
- Ensure a high degree of adaptability.
- Provide as normal of a journey for students as possible.
Hagenow said this approach is similar to how he uses the Vita Plus Values to guide his daily professional activities or how farms use their mission statements to guide their work.
Hagenow also recognizes the need to “pass the torch.” When his second daughter graduates from high school, he’ll likely move on from the role so someone else can bring in fresh ideas and energy. From his perspective, the strongest communities thrive because many people are willing to do their part to make it happen.
“If you don’t have people stepping up, if you don’t have vibrant organizations adding to a community, you don’t have a community,” Hagenow said. “It’s that simple.”
Serving the dairy community
September 2020 has been very different for Jon Rasmussen, Vita Plus dairy technology specialist. Usually, after the rush of corn silage harvest (or in the middle of the rush), he balances his normal responsibilities with a major volunteer project. For nine years, Rasmussen has served as the Jersey cattle superintendent at World Dairy Expo. He essentially lives at the show for about a week and a half, leading a Jersey team of about 20 other volunteers.
“I like working behind the scenes,” Rasmussen said. “I prefer doing what I can to help others rather than being in a spotlight.”
Rasmussen’s involvement in World Dairy Expo traces back to his days as a University of Wisconsin-Madison student and member of the Badger Dairy Club.
“When I started at UW, the Badger Dairy Club was looking for Expo help from the freshman class,” he explained. “As a freshman, that meant some extra cash in the middle of the semester.”
But his involvement quickly expanded as he chaired a lot of the Badger Dairy Club activities. Other Expo volunteers noticed his efforts and asked him to continue volunteering post-graduation. Now, as a superintendent, Rasmussen has a chance to help students build their networks.
“If you see a student with a lot of potential, you try to get them involved and build up their network,” he said. “You never know if that could turn into their next job.”
Rasmussen said he’s proud to serve the dairy community in this role because it gives him the opportunity to work with a lot of great people as they all come together with similar goals. He said it reminds him of his experiences as a farm kid growing up and what he still sees in a lot of farming communities today.
“If someone’s in a bind at the show, you see other exhibitors lend a hand, just like what you would see neighbors do for each other back home,” he said.
While this is an abnormally quiet week for Rasmussen compared to other years, he said he’s kept in touch with several members of the Jersey team and other superintendents. They continue to brainstorm ways to make the show – and exhibitor experience – even better next year.
“It’s all about the people,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting the team back together, healthy and strong.”
It takes a village
Trace Lopez is a member of the Vita Plus Gagetown production team in Gagetown, Michigan. At age 15, he was the youngest person to join the Elmwood Township Gagetown Fire Department as an “explorer.” Today, he is a captain and 17-year member of the department. Lopez said his firefighter roots run deep as both his father and grandfather served as volunteer firefighters.
This past spring, as the COVID-19 outbreak began to hit the Midwest, Lopez saw a need for safety equipment in his local community and leveraged his connections to meet those needs.
“You can’t help people if you’re just sitting on the couch,” he said.
Lopez spoke with the emergency services director in Tuscola County and mentioned the need for face shields for emergency responders and healthcare workers. Lopez then used his personal connection with employees at Ford Motor Company to secure a donation. At this point, 12,000 face shields have been provided.
In addition, Lopez had heard about distilleries throughout Michigan that had begun manufacturing hand sanitizer. He was able to coordinate the delivery of 150 gallons of hand sanitizer for emergency workers as well.
“People count on emergency workers to take care of them,” he said, “so we just wanted the whole county to be as safe and prepared as we could be.”
Throughout the summer months, Lopez and his family have continued to support local food pantries to provide food to those in need. Like Hagenow, Lopez emphasized that communities thrive when people come together. He said he often thinks of the words his grandfather said shortly after the September 11 attacks.
“The true meaning of the United States is that we come together and we are united,” Lopez said. “We should stay focused on helping each other.”