Editor’s note: This article is the next in a series of articles featuring the leaders of the Association of Women in Agriculture Benefit Corporation.
Maureen DeBruin remembers her parents telling her, “If you’re interested in something, go after it and do it well.”
And Maureen DeBruin’s advice to young women seeking careers in agriculture is, “Whatever career you choose, do a better job than you need to so that women following you will have an easier time.”
When she graduated in 1977 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, DeBruin was in a small group of women with a dairy-science degree. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in vocational agriculture. After graduating she was the first female to work in the field of artificial insemination, she said.
And today she is the only female classifier for Holstein Association USA. She has worked as a classifier for 33 years, evaluating phenotypic traits in Holstein cattle. Scores from classifiers are entered into a database so dairy producers can better evaluate their genetics.
She said she inherited a strong work ethic from her parents, William and Mary Alice DeBruin. The couple raised seven children on their 100-cow dairy farm near Juda, Wisconsin. The family raised both Brown Swiss and Holstein cattle.
Also contributing to her work ethic, she said, was support from fellow members of the Association of Women in Agriculture. She joined in 1974 while a student at UW-Madison. She continues her involvement with the organization, serving as co-chair of the house-management committee.
After graduating from UW-Madison she worked in the artificial-insemination industry for two years. She then taught vocational agriculture for six years before joining Holstein Association USA as a classifier.
Jerome Meyer, general manager of East Central Select Sires of Waupun, Wisconsin, is a former co-worker of DeBruin’s at Holstein Association USA. Both also volunteered for many years planning post-secondary dairy judging and practical contests at World Dairy Expo.
“I’ve had the opportunity and great pleasure to work with Maureen for more than 10 years in both a professional setting and as a volunteer at World Dairy Expo,” Meyer said. “Maureen has always prioritized working with youth as a coach, teacher and mentor, sharing her knowledge and passion of the Holstein breed and dairy judging. She and I have served as co-superintendents of the post-secondary collegiate contest at World Dairy Expo where she has spent countless hours planning and preparing for the judging contest to ensure students participating from around the country have a fun and memorable experience.”
DeBruin has served as a volunteer at numerous youth programs around the country in her travels as a classifier for the Holstein Association, he said.
“From judging and classification demonstrations in California to volunteering as a judging coach in her home county of Jefferson in Wisconsin, Maureen has passed on her knowledge and enthusiasm to countless youth,” he said.
DeBruin’s job requires a great deal of traveling. She travels about 20 days of each month. Being able to co-chair with Barb Lee on the Association of Women in Agriculture Benefit Corporation’s house-management committee enables her to still contribute to the association and its student-chapter house on the UW-Madison campus.
“Managing the house is a two-person job and we’re a tag team,” Lee said.
As an example DeBruin will contact roofers or window installers to arrange the work. Lee will visit the house to ensure the work is being properly done.
In the years since graduating from college DeBruin has seen career opportunities blossom for women in agriculture.
“There are no limits now,” she said. “Young women can pursue whatever they’re interested in – whether it’s teaching, artificial insemination, genetics, biochemistry, landscape architecture and much more.
“Pick a career you enjoy and one where you feel like you’ll make a difference. And lend a hand to others.”
She practices what she preaches.
The Association of Women in Agriculture Benefit Corporation’s mission is to advance the education of women in agriculture. The organization also supports the student chapter of the Association of Women in Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Visit awamadison.org for more information.