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Just when you think you have heard everything, you discover that
an amazing story (or ten) waits right around the corner…or on a farm in
Gilbert, Iowa. As the story begins, you feel like you’ve been launched seven
decades back in time. It was a bleak era; farming was beyond tough, and
many people had lost everything during the Great Depression.
Despite the economy and his lack of experience, Harold Upstill
decided that he was going to buy 80 acres and start farming. It was 1936
and many people were still unemployed across the country. Determined
to change the course of his family’s future, Harold paid $75 per acre for
his new land and worked hard to purchase an additional 240 acres, which
included a house, in 1949. The visionary decisions Harold and Mary Upstill
made during this time paved the way for their son, Gene, to one day take over the farmstead and care for the land.
Though he farmed alongside his father and dreamed of
working on the family land, Gene still sought a college education
and attended Iowa State University. “At the time I was
done at ISU, a lot of farm kids wanted to go back to the farm
but didn’t get to; I had that opportunity,” said Gene. “I’m one
of the few people that never looked for a job in my life!”
Now sharing in the family’s decision-making process
regarding the farm, Gene was introduced to the cooperative
world when he attended his first annual meeting of the
Gilbert Co-op in 1961. One year later, he was elected to the
board. “The next morning, the Board President and Secretary
came to my house and said, ‘Now that you have been
elected to the board, you better be a member!’” remembered
Gene. “So there began the next 17 years of my life, serving
three different co-ops through mergers.”
Serving as Board President for many years, Gene
guided members through mergers of the Gilbert Co-op, first
to the Farmers Cooperative Grain Co. of Story City, then
later to the Heart of Iowa Cooperative of Roland. During his
leadership years, he saw the introduction of many products
and services to the Ag industry, everything from anhydrous
ammonia to the evolution of machinery. “I guess my claim
to fame is I am the last surviving board member of the old
Gilbert Co-op,” said Gene.
Today, Gene is still actively making farming decisions,
but he decided long ago that he needed a hobby. In 1991,
Gene bought his first classic car—a 1951 Studebaker. He fell
in love with being a collector, historian and storyteller. After
constructing specific garages for his cars, Gene built up a
collection of 19 classic cars at his home plus a few tractors,
including his father’s first Super M. The “Upstill museum”
is something that has unexpectedly grown over the years.
Gene enjoys giving regular tours and is proud of showing
off his personal collection of history.
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