Farm Horizons, February 2007
From farmer to commissioner: Jack Russek
By Cullen Schultz
From the barn to the county board room, Delano’s Jack Russek has never been afraid to jump right in and get the job done.
Russek was sworn in as Wright County chairman of the board Jan. 2 at the Wright County Government Center. Although this is the first time he has been the chairman, it is not his first time being involved in politics.
Russek grew up on his family’s farm outside of Delano, in Franklin Township. He attended country school for eight years, and then moved on to Delano High School for a year, before tending to his work on the farm.
Russek’s family farm goes back generations; his grandfather, Tom, and his father, John, owned it, before he purchased it in 1961.
“My father was born there,” Russek said.
Tom Russek started the farm in the late 1800s, with 70 acres of land for farming. When John took over the farm, he added an additional 80 acres.
Russek started milking cows at the age of five, being responsible for milking one cow every day before and after school.
As he grew older, his responsibilities grew on the farm. He was given the task of flattening the fields, preparing them for the growing season.
“I walked behind three horses with a drag harrow, to smooth it off,” Russek said.
Russek continued his tasks on the farm until 1957, when he was drafted into the Army, where he would stay until 1958.
“I was drafted right between Korea and Vietnam,” he said.
Upon returning, Russek continued to work on the farm, finally purchasing it in 1961.
“I took over in ‘61 with 20 milk cows,” Russek said.
In 1966, Russek had to make a decision about the farm between having pigs or cows. He decided to go with cows, and built a barn which held up to 40 dairy cows, putting an addition onto the barn in 1972, adding 10 more stalls, and cows, to the operation.
“I liked working with the cows. That is why I stayed with them instead of the pigs,” Russek said.
He continued to add to the farm over the years, renting and building on as needed. He rented 75 acres from his brother, as well as added a silo, and additional sheds to the farm.
Russek started in the dairy industry by selling manufactured milk, which is bought for making butter and cheese, and sold for $2.96 per 100 weight.
For every 100 pounds of milk, Russek would receive just less than $3. With time and additions to the farm and the cow herd, he moved up to selling grade A, which is bottled milk. Prices went up to $5, then to $10, per 100 weight.
“Dairy production kept going up all the time,” Russek said.
Looking back, Russek recalled when he took over the farm, there were 10 farms with cows on the main road between Delano and Watertown. When he retired in 1995, his was the last farm left.
“I was the last one to go,” he said.
Russek attributed the demise of the small herds and farms to a squeezing profit margin, which started in the mid ‘80s.
If farms wanted to survive with the profit margin, they had to grow, and keep growing. This is the reason why there are a growing number of big farms, and a decline in small family farms.
“When I started, expenses and income grew the same. Now, expenses are growing faster than the income,” Russek said.
Memories from the farm
Speaking of his farm, Russek said, “I have so many stories that have happened, I could write a book.”
Russek recalled many stories, such as when his wife, Renata, was pulling an old hay rake around the corner way too fast, almost tipping it over in the process.
“I waved my hands at her to stop; she just waved back at me and kept going,” Russek said with a laugh.
He also remembered an instance when he was kicked to the ground, while milking a cow.
“My wife asked me if I was going to hit it now, and I told her, if I can get up, I might kill it,” Russek said.
Russek ran the farm for 44 years, until retiring in 1995.
“The cows were shipped out in May ‘95,” Russek said.
He had lived on the farm with his wife of more than 47 years, and their two daughters, who are married now, Debra Marketon, and Denise Stewart.
After retirement, Russek lived on the farm for 10 more years, before building a house in Delano in 2005.
“We moved there in May 2005, and it seems like we have lived there forever,” he said.
Farming gave Russek his first opportunity to be involved in diplomacy, working as a delegate in the Mid American Dairymen Co-op. Russek was a delegate for seven years, going to annual meetings and giving feedback and suggestions to the co-op.
“We talked about what direction the co-op should be heading,” Russek said.
Russek’s next adventure brought him onto the Franklin Township Board, where he served for eight years.
While Russek was on the board, his most memorable moment was when it approved having the township blacktop its first road.
“It was a good experience,” Russek said.
Russek remained on the Franklin Township Board until 1993, when he ran for, and won, the position for District 3 on the Wright County Board.
“When I won, I had to resign (from the township board), because you can only be on one board at a time,” Russek said.
Russek represents District 3, which includes Buffalo City Precinct 3, Delano City, Franklin Township, Rockford City (Wright County part) and Township, Waverly City, and Woodland Township.
Russek’s first real challenge after joining the Wright County Board was the decision on the county compost facility.
The facility was opened in 2002, and operating costs were far greater than expected. It came down to two choices create a levy and keep it going, or shut it down.
“If we would have done the levy, more people in the county would have had to pay the fee,” Russek said.
Russek and the board decided against the levy, and it shut down in 2004. It is now used for collecting hazardous wastes such as paint and scrap metal.
“We decided it had to pay its own way, or shut it down,” Russek said.
As everyone knows, not everyone enjoys paying taxes, and taxes are an ongoing challenge for Russek and the board. They try to require as little tax as possible, while still functioning to their full potential.
“The biggest challenge is taxes. We try to be conservative, but at the same time, we have to have money to pay for staff, etc.,” Russek said.
Now that Russek is the chairman, he runs the board meetings, signs checks and bills, as well as keeping all of his former duties.
“I have the privilege of signing everything,” Russek said with a laugh.
Looking on to 2007, Russek said the board’s main goal is to get the new county jail and law enforcement center ready for construction.
The board is focusing on bidding for the site preparation, so it can start in March, and construction, so it can start sometime in the summer.
“The jail will be by the public works building in Buffalo, and it will have 348 beds,” Russek said.
The construction is planned to be done by February or March of 2009.
In order for the county to plan and organize such projects as the jail, the board looks to committees.
The committees are set up to find projects and solutions to various problems. Then the committee brings their recommendations to the board, and the board responds by voting on their proposals.
“The county board is functioning with a lot of committees,” Russek said.
Russek is no stranger to these committees. Even before he was a board member, he was active in various committees. Over the years, he has joined more and more.
Russek has done a lot for Wright County, and 2007 looks to be yet another year of getting things done.