March 1, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Don Haverman Looks Back on 44 Years

Don Haverman, shown with his wife Mona, reflects on his 44 years at MaxYield.

Don Haverman, shown with his wife Mona at his retirement coffee this winter, reflects on his 44 years at MaxYield.

Editor’s note: As MaxYield Cooperative celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, we’ll be sharing a variety of stories throughout the year that honor the people and events that have shaped MaxYield into the thriving cooperative it is today.

Don Haverman, construction and equipment coordinator, recently retired from a 44-year career at MaxYield, he shared his remarkable story with us.

I grew up on a farm in Carroll County, along with my parents and eight brothers and sisters. My parents owned 360 acres, rented an additional 160 – 200 acres, and raised hogs, beef, lambs, stock cows, broiler chickens, laying pullets, and 15-35 dairy cows. When that wasn’t enough work to keep us all busy, my parents saw that we were hired out to neighbors, doing custom corn shelling, hay baling, and other chores as needed.

After I graduated from high school in 1970, my older brothers were returning home from the service and were first in line to farm, so Dad advised me to get an education or find work away from the family farm.

Since I always loved farming, I wanted to do something related to agriculture. Some of my greatest childhood memories involved trips to the local Halbur Cooperative for our farm supply needs. I recall thinking how cool it would be to work with grain, feed, and fertilizer someday.

Living the dream
I enrolled at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge in the grain elevator and farm supply management program. After I graduated in July of 1971, I recalled the words of one of my favorite college professors, who said, “Choose a profession you love, and you will never work a day of your life.”

In mid-August, I received a call from the West Bend Elevator at Rodman about operating and managing a recently constructed, 270,000-bushel concrete grain elevator and assisting with the fertilizer plant operations. Darrell Herscher, location manager, gave me a tour and introduced me to Butch Wilderman, assistant manager, and Fred McKim, general manager. That day they offered me a full-time job starting at $1.60 per hour plus overtime. I was thrilled!

I started work on Monday, Aug. 24, 1971, and helped with grain, feed, and fertilizer. I was at the perfect location, and the days went by fast. I recall thinking, “I can’t believe they are paying me to do this. I’d do this for free.”

After working for West Bend Elevator at Rodman for a short while, I met a local gal from the Rodman area, Mona Bruellman, and married her on Dec. 15, 1973. Suddenly the reality of working to build a home and raising a family became very real to me. In January 1974, I gave my two weeks’ notice, since my wife and I were both seeking work opportunities in Illinois. Mona was a licensed lab technician and could transfer to any hospital.

How can I possibly do this?
Soon after giving notice that day, Butch Wilderman called and asked me to visit with him in West Bend. He explained the company’s need for an operations manager, since the previous manager, Tim Klien, had passed away in early December. This job was far greater than any I had ever dreamed of, and I was filled with excitement and gratitude of such an offer.

At that time, West Bend Elevator had a soybean processing plant that operated around the clock, 365 days a year, along with a feed mill, grain elevator, maintenance shop, TBA station, fuel depot, fertilizer business, local coal sales, and two satellite locations at Mallard and Rodman. The West Bend location alone was huge. I recall thinking, “I’m only 21. I’ll be supervising employees much older and more experienced than me. How can I possibly do this?”

Butch must have sensed this and calmly said, “Don, walk and talk softly, but carry a big stick.” I agreed to give this a year to see if I was the right man for the job. It was an overwhelming amount of responsibility. I worked many late hours. As I honed my skills and tried to learn every aspect of the company, I lived in fear of failure. I pressed on, however, and worked side by side with many employees to gain their respect and trust.

This never was the same company
Through the years, I watched West Bend Elevator grow by acquiring more local coops and other ag business to stay competitive and meet members’ needs. I’ve often been asked what motivated me to stay at the same company so long. The answer is simple. It never was the same company as the business evolved and expanded.

When I started, there were two satellite locations (Rodman and Mallard), 19 to 22 full-time employees, eight part-time employees, and annual sales of $15 to $17 million. Today MaxYield has 160 fulltime team members, many seasonal team members, and annual sales soaring to
$300 to $400 million.

This company has always been progressive. In the early 1970s, West Bend Elevator became one of the first cooperatives to ship 54-car trains, later moving to 75-car trains, which are now
110-car trains. During this time, West Bend Elevator also became one of the first ag cooperatives to operate multiple locations jointly as one company now known as MaxYield.

Thanks for the memories
In my role as MaxYield’s construction and equipment coordinator, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to oversee many building and repair projects for grain receiving facilities, grain storage, fertilizer plants, rail sidings, and more to better serve our clients. It has been an honor and a joy to serve one of best cooperatives in Iowa.

It’s now time for a younger generation to help MaxYield see more in your fields. This is not just a slogan; it’s a promise that is lived every day by MaxYield’s exceptional team, management, and board of directors.

I’d like to thank all the team members, managers, and board members I’ve worked with through the years. Most of all, I’d like to thank you, our clients. Serving you at MaxYield has been a wonderful experience I will never forget.

Editor’s note: Don and his wife, Mona, look forward to spending more time with their three grown children and nine amazing grandchildren.

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