The NEBRASKAland Foundation has made its annual selection of individuals they’ll honor at the 2020 Statehood Day Banquet Feb. 29 at the state Capitol building in Lincoln. Keith and Doris Olsen of Grant have been selected as winners of the foundation awards this year. The awards honor people who have done outstanding things to help promote the state.
The NEBRASKAland Foundation first came into existence in 1962.
“Our goal is to promote Nebraska,” said Roger Lempke, NEBRASKAland Foundation president. “One of the biggest events we have during the year is the Statehood Day Dinner, which takes place on the Saturday closest to the date that Nebraska officially became a state. It’s the only dinner event that can be held in the Capitol.
“We’ve honored a lot of Nebraskans over the years for their service in promoting Nebraska. This year we’re honoring Keith and Doris, as well as David Brown (Nebraska Chamber of Commerce president) and Jim and Susanne Blue for their hard work in helping needy Nebraskans.”
Keith Olsen said he was very surprised when the foundation called him last fall to tell him he’s one of the 2020 honorees.
“There are a lot of other deserving people in Nebraska who are doing great things for our state,” he said. “When you look at the list of past honorees and know you’re being included in that group, it’s very humbling and surprising.”
Olsen spent nine years as the Nebraska Farm Bureau President, as well as 18 years on the state Farm Bureau Board of Directors. He also worked for many years at the county level on various Farm Bureau committees and the national level for the American Farm Bureau Federation. Looking back, he talked about why he got involved in the organization.
“I joined the Farm Bureau right after graduating college,” he recalled. “My dad was involved in Farm Bureau at the county level and I remember him going to many state conventions. When I started going to the county meetings, they asked me to be their Young Farmer and Rancher participant. Things just got going from there, up to the point where I was elected president.”
Lempke said the foundation makes a big effort to “diversify” who wins the award, noting that it would be easy to pick winners every year from Omaha and Lincoln. However, that’s not the goal of the award at all. It’s about promoting the entire state and all the aspects of living in Nebraska, a big part of which is agriculture.
“Keith and Doris have been very involved in activities that help promote Nebraska,” Lempke said. “They’ve connected with local, state, and national leaders to promote the state’s agriculture sector. (Keith has) helped to promote agriculture-focused state legislation, as well as taken part in trade missions to several countries, including his most notable trip to Cuba back in 2005.”
While Cuba might have been one of his more notable destinations, Olsen said he’s made a lot of overseas trips to help promote Nebraska, as well as U.S. agriculture.
“I’ve been on several trips to the far East,” he recalled. “Some of the countries included Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. A couple of the more interesting destinations were Turkey and Russia, because their farming practices are similar to what we do in western Nebraska. I saw a lot of wheat, as well as corn, and even some sugar beets growing in Russia.
“Some of the neat things you can run into overseas took place in Turkey, where they grow a lot of dryland wheat. I visited with a wheat farmer in Turkey and he was so excited to have a wheat farmer from the United States visiting his operation.”
The first trade trip he took to help promote Nebraska included a stop in Cancun, Mexico.
“We met with a several officials from Cuba during that trip,” Olsen said. “At that time, they couldn’t come to the United States because of sanctions. Many officials got together to open up trade possibilities in spite of the limitations.”
What was the first thing he noticed getting off the plane during that first trip?
“The climate,” he recalled with a laugh. “It took some getting used to.”
Olsen graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1967 and came back to join his father working on their family operation. At that time, he described their farm as a “wheat-fallow-wheat” operation.
“Today, we’re still a dryland farm but we no longer till the ground,” Olsen said. “Everything is no-till. We raise a lot of corn, yellow peas, and the wheat acres are going down. It’s a lot different ballgame than when I started 50 years ago.”
When it’s time to select the next crop of award winners, the Foundation’s Board of Directors comes in with nominations and then they vote for three winners.
“It’s all about advertising and promoting Nebraska,” Lempke said.
Chad Smith can be reached at email@example.com