Mike St. Onge has spent the last 44 years dedicated to helping farm families in the Red River Valley and beyond.
Moving from Michigan to Grand Forks in 1976, he joined Sperry New Holland as a territory manager. With the company for 23 years, St. Onge witnessed its evolution to Ford New Holland, Inc., and global production. He saw Laverda and the Versatile tractor plant in Canada divested when Fiat purchased New Holland and Case Corporation to form CNH in 1999.
St. Onge was involved with the ag engineering team that produced the Genesis tractor, introduced at Big Iron. He worked on New Holland’s last combine before the company merged with Case. His last year and a half at New Holland were spent working on a team responsible for worldwide distribution of products from overseas.
All of those years, St. Onge worked with local New Holland dealerships to bring the latest equipment to Big Iron.
While working for New Holland, St. Onge served on the Farm Credit Board of Grand Forks as an outside director beginning in 1987.
Appointed and asked by farmers to serve, he helped the agency make better decisions during the farm crisis of the 1980s.
“In those days, we tried to get farmers right side up,” he said. “If they didn’t have any capital, basically those farmers were in tough straits, so our job was to try to find those who could make it and help them get better. For those who couldn’t, it was our job to help them get out with dignity.”
He left New Holland when he was 45 years old and the Farm Credit Board, due to a conflict of interest related to his new career. St. Onge was hired as the first rural market manager with First National Bank of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
“My very first day, our bank burned and flooded in 1997,” he said.
Eventually, he was able to develop retirement plans, investments and lending for farmers in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. The bank’s name was changed to Alerus Financial. The years 1997-2000 were difficult times in agriculture, but eventually farmers developed the working capital they needed again to move ahead. St. Onge spent 13 years with Alerus, and at the end was the northern market president.
He joined Titan Machinery in 2010 to manage 16 stores. Farmers were enjoying good prices and high yields and purchasing new equipment.
Farm businesses could see the farm equipment market was beginning to downturn in 2013. Titan had 113 dealerships spread out across the U.S. and foreign countries, but the economics could no longer support them.
“Commodity prices started to drop because people were producing more than we could consume,” he said.
In 2017, he left Titan and asked to serve as manager of the Thief River Falls Hardware Hank and Titan dealership. As hard as everyone worked, the stores were not sustainable and eventually the hardware store was sold. Titan consolidated the Thief River store with their Crookston location.
Now retired, St. Onge is no longer a Big Iron board member, but he still attends the exhibitor picnics when he can.
He’s found important voluntary work through SCORE, the nation’s largest network of expert business mentors. In this capacity, he’s helping people get a start in business, including farming, and he also assists people with business exit plans.
Always looking toward the future, St. Onge has been happy to work with many journalists over the years to publicize Big Iron. He’s never worried about whether he’s talking with a man or a woman, or someone with great success or no success at all. His goal is always to find the common ground and see what can be accomplished ahead.