Tecumseh farm girl Rosie Wilhelm graduated from Lincoln School of Commerce and got a job in Lincoln so she wouldn’t end up marrying a farmer. That plan went out the window when she met Duane Sugden.
Rosie and her girlfriends were cruising around Tecumseh when they met Duane and his friends driving around in Duane’s new ’62 Chevy and the couple started dating.
Rosie, who’s known as a talker, remembers, “Duane said he dated me because he wouldn’t have to worry what to talk about.” He was rather shy in those days. Rosie would fill in any gaps in the conversation, and still does. They’ve now been married 48 years.
Duane’s family farmed near Adams, but he was working as a hired man when he met Rosie; none of either family’s land was available to the young couple. Rosie continued her job in Lincoln at a real estate insurance firm until they became parents.
In 1969, they were able to buy land from an estate because the executor was willing to work with the young couple to get them started in farming – even though the land could have been sold to someone else for more and with less effort. They’ve now been farming for 42 years, three miles northeast of Sterling in southeast Nebraska. They own over 700 acres on five different farms, spread out from Sterling to Tecumseh, and rent another quarter. They grow corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum and have prairie hay and a little ground in the Conservation Reserve Program, along with a small stock cow herd.
In the mid-’70s, the Sugdens were among the first in their area to install a center pivot irrigation system, a Valley water-drive. Four of their farms are irrigated, three with pivots and one with flood irrigation.
Duane and Rosie had a farrow-to-finish hog operation until the 1990s. They were also among the first farmers to build a confinement building for the hogs they finished in the ’70s. At that time, most hogs were finished outdoors, without the benefits of climate control.
“The hogs kept the cash flow going, but it was a lot of work,” Rosie remembers.
The Sugdens have two children. Son Tim lives on an acreage near them and they’re helping him get into farming on his own. They bought one of their farms jointly with Tim and he will eventually buy their share. He does the family’s farming at Tecumseh and also works full-time as an auto mechanic at Brinkman’s in Tecumseh.
Their daughter Christi is married to Jeff Etheridge. They live in Waverly and Christi commutes to her job in nearby Lincoln at Associated Anesthesiologists, PC. Jeff drives a little farther, to his job in Omaha where he is a train dispatcher for Union Pacific. The Etheridges have two sons: Ryan, 12, and Alex, 9.
Both Duane and Rosie have been president of Johnson County Farm Bureau. Rosie’s father and brother also were county presidents, so Farm Bureau is a family tradition. Today Rosie is Johnson County Farm Bureau’s PKR – Person Keeping Records. It’s like being an office secretary without the office. Part of the job is reminding the county president what to do – the current county president being Duane, who is serving another term. Their son Tim is also on the board of directors.
Duane is a past member of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Board of Directors and served on many committees; he’s also a director of the Nemaha Natural Resources District and a director on the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board. Rosie has served on Farm Bureau’s Credentials, Nominating and Membership Committees, and is currently serving on the Johnson County Farm Service Agency board. They’re active members of Immanuel Lutheran Church near Sterling.
And for the past many years, they’ve been Ag Pen Pals with a city classroom, exchanging letters with the children and explaining what they do on the farm and why. For the last several, they’ve been paired with Nancy Dondlinger and her students at Maxey Elementary School in Lincoln. They enjoy their relationship with Nancy and are able to visit her classroom and attend their annual Ag Fair. The Sugdens provide grain and plants for the students to display at their fair.
The Sugdens explain to the children that farmers do everything they can to conserve water and are careful to apply only the amount of chemicals and fertilizer the crops need.
“They do the best job they can to create the product that they sell,” Rosie says.
“I think sometimes consumers forget where their food comes from and that the price they pay isn’t what the farmer receives,” she adds. “A lot of the cost of food goes for processing, transportation and other things that make jobs for people in towns and cities.”