Tom Rooney thought he would have a long career in agriculture, and he was right. But instead of staying on the path he was taking, Rooney decided to take the fork in the road.
“The farm economy was not good and we had three kids, and I knew something needed to change,” he says.
Early in 1997, he met with Iowa Farmer Today editor Lori Leonard. She offered him a job selling advertising and providing ring service for Midwest Marketer, a publication IFT had recently purchased.
“We talked in February and I started that fall,” Rooney says. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done professionally.”
For nearly 23 years, Rooney has been a fixture at livestock production sales around the Midwest, traveling as far as Wyoming, North Dakota and Kentucky. He will retire later this month, turning his duties over to Austin Brandt. Rooney has been training Brandt since earlier this year.
At first, Rooney continued to farm full-time, growing crops and raising Limousin cattle on his farm near Maxwell in central Iowa.
“I stayed with the row crops, but as Midwest Marketer grew, I stopped doing that after five years,” he says.
After graduating from Bondurant-Farrar High School in 1975, Rooney attending South Dakota State University. After the death of his grandfather in the winter of 1976, his family asked him to return to the farm.
Rooney and his father had purchased two Limousin heifers, and he soon began consigning cattle to the Iowa Beef Expo — something he did for the next 35 years. He has 40 head in his herd.
“Raising Limousin cattle is something I have loved doing, and we will continue to have our cattle even in retirement,” he says.
Rooney estimates he has put roughly 800,000 miles on his vehicles over his career with Midwest Marketer.
He has made many friends in the ag industry over the past 23 years, and Rooney says working with those people has been one of the great rewards of his life.
“You meet these people and you get to know their families,” he says. “You go to weddings, and you go to funerals. You become a part of each other’s family.”
Rooney says since he announced his retirement earlier this year, he has received many calls and texts from people he has meet over the past two-plus decades.
“They’ve reached out and asked if I was staying in the business,” he says. “I will be staying on with Midwest Marketer as an independent contractor, and will still be doing some ring work. I’m looking forward to staying involved for a while longer.”
Rooney says he thought long and hard about retiring, but it was time.
“I’m 63 years old and I just wanted to be home more,” he says. “I have three grandkids and two more on the way, and I wanted to see them grow. I knew I was spending too much time on the road.”
In addition to playing “a lot of golf,” Rooney built a pickle ball court in his shed and plans to work on developing the game in his area. He and his wife Stacey have a condo in Arizona and plan to spend more time there.
Ultimately, Rooney says it was just time to slow down.
“I want to take some time and just enjoy being around on weekends and become re-acquainted with some good friends,” he says. “I’m definitely going to miss the people, but I’m not going to miss the miles and eating alone.”