The saying, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” seems to apply to Doug Godke.
Godke, 65, will retire from his career as Tazewell County Farm Bureau Manager on April 30 after 35 years in this position. Prior to that he was the Stark County Farm Bureau manager for seven years. Godke’s replacement will be Emily Rogier, who will take over on May 1. Rogier is a 24-year-old University of Illinois graduate from Highland, Ill. She grew up on a farm with beef cattle, corn, soy beans, wheat and chickens. This will be the first time she has managed a farm bureau.
“I hate to retire, because I like my job,” he said. “I like the people I work with, but it’s time for me to get out of the way and let someone else take over. The biggest thing has been the people. Tazewell County has been recognized with a lot of awards over the years. It doesn’t just happen. People work hard.”
There are some items on his to-do list after he retires. One of those is taking more guitar lessons and learning to play the banjo. He would also like to go fishing, do some woodworking and help his brother with the family farm. Godke also has painting, both his deck and on canvas, on his list.
His sons, Steve and Ryan, are happy he is retiring.
“He spent so much time doing so many things for everyone else including his work, that now he needs to enjoy doing what he wants,” Ryan said. “He can go fishing and enjoy an upcoming grandbaby without having to worry about due dates for reports and deadlines.”
Steve was always impressed with his dad’s hard work.
“He always put in the extra effort needed to make sure things were done and done right,” Steve said. “He also always made time for Ryan and I, even when he was so busy. We would come to the office with him occasionally in the evenings and on weekends. He always included us and made it fun when he didn’t have to. So many things I learned from him have helped me become successful in my career. He’s got a new role of being a grandpa. Now is the time when Monday mornings should feel like the weekend.”
Godke became interested in his line of work in college. As a member of the agriculture fraternity Alpha Gamma Rho, Godke had two fraternity brothers who were farm bureau managers, and they told him they thought he would do well in that career.
When he first started, there were still rotary phones in the office and they used manual typewriters for correspondence.
“I remember when we purchased our first electric typewriter here,” said Godke. “We had someone from Bloomington come to our Stark County office looking for a fax machine. I didn’t even know what that was.”
When the office bought its first computers, Godke recalls wondering if they really needed one. He had been accustomed to writing letters and mailing them and was not sure if he would ever use the computer.
He soon learned that computers were here to stay. Technology has changed farming. Godke said he remembers when farmers would need to leave meetings at 10 p.m. to go turn on their irrigation systems. They waited until then because the price for water usage decreased at 10 p.m., which saved farmers money. Now there is an app for that. Farmers simply pull out their phones and with a touch of a button are able to start their irrigation systems from anywhere.
“Apps have made a big difference for the younger farmers,” said Godke. “Emily will be much better with social media than me. If I have a problem with my (cell)phone I give it to (my son) Ryan.”
Godke thinks farming equipment has gotten safer over the decades. He said when he began working at the Farm Bureau it would not be uncommon for farmers to have parts of or even entire fingers missing, but with the safety features in place now, accidents do still happen but not as often.
The way farmers receive news has changed over 42 years. Godke said his father would listen to the grain markets at noon and make decisions based on that report. Today, farmers can make marketing decisions from the cab of their tractors after pulling up the reports on their phones. It does not take time away from planting or harvesting seasons.
“We can get news 24 hours a day now,” Godke said. “I used to read the newspaper for ag news and watch the news reports at noon and (in) the evening. I don’t have to wait that long now. I think farmers are better informed and can make better decisions because the information is instant.”
Farming itself has changed. Gone are the days of farmers being on a tractor and at the end of the day going home and being done with work, Godke said. Farmers deal with issues that go along with farming, such as grain markets, herbicides, spraying, choosing seed variety, keeping up-to-date on government regulations and keeping in contact with legislators. He said a college degree is beneficial in this career field.
“A good majority of my farmers are college grads,” Godke said. “Farming is big business, and they’re dealing with a lot. People have made comments to me that farmers farm because they like farming. It’s a business. If it isn’t making them money, they can’t do it.”
The time to start networking is in college, Godke said. He and the Tazewell County Farm Bureau Board members have always had a strong Young Leaders Program. It is comprised of people in their early 20s. They strive for strong professional development not only in farming but in the community as well. Some of the current board members were once in the Young Leaders Program.
While the number of Tazewell County Farm Bureau members has doubled from approximately 4,000 to 8,000 since Godke started working as the manager until now, the number of farmers themselves have decreased.
There are fewer farmers, but they are farming more acres. He said the average amount for a Tazewell County farmer to have is 1,500 acres. There are more corn and soy bean farmers than livestock farmers in Tazewell County.
“We have good farm ground here. It’s pretty flat,” said Godke. “When I first started a lot of farmers had livestock, and they were diversified. Someone might have chickens, dairy cattle and pigs. Now those who have livestock typically have the same type of animal and that’s all he raises.”
While farming has changed over the years, Godke’s job has not changed much. The issues he faces now are similar to when he started.
“A lot of what we run into are the same issues over and over,” he said. “We want to increase farm profitability. I get calls about government regulations and taxes. Towns are expanding, which leads to a loss of farmland.”
During his years in his career, Godke drew a cartoon each month for the Farm Bureau newspaper. He has kept a copy of all of them. He also wrote a story called “Remembering When” each month in the “Tazewellite” publication. When he retires, the collection of stories will be put in a book to sell.
There will be an open house for Godke from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21 at the Tazewell County Farm Bureau at 1505 Valle Vista Boulevard, Suite 5, Pekin. It is open to the public.