It’s a record of service most likely never matched serving agriculture producers in one county of Kansas.
Mike Holder, longtime Chase County Extension agriculture agent, officially retired on November 20, 2020.
In recent years, Holder has also served as director of the Flint Hills Extension District including both Chase and Morris counties.
Holder visited during his final days of Extension service at his office in Strong City.
“Helping Flint Hills farmers and ranchers make management decisions has been the best career one could ever want,” he declared.
While Kansas has had Extension agents with 50 years of service, no others are known serving one county 47 years.
“There’s speculation it’s a record, but that’s not official and doesn’t matter. I’ve had opportunities for Extension positions in other counties, but I preferred to stay in Chase County,” Holder said. “It’s my home. No better place to raise a family while working with Flint Hills farmers and ranchers in the great rural communities.”
Growing up in south central Kansas attending school most years at Derby, Holder has lifetime ties to agriculture.
“I grew up working with race horses for Kandy Anderson, a leading Kansas horseman,” Holder appreciated. “He was my mentor and I learned a lot not only about horses but about life from Kandy Anderson.”
While Holder’s family had limited farming operations, they depended on off-farm income.
“Dad worked at airplane factories in Wichita, and had some crops and cattle,” Holder said. “I also worked for other farmers in the area during high school.”
Destined for an agriculture career, Holder attended Kansas State University upon demanding encouragement from Kandy Anderson.
“I enrolled in the animal science curriculum but always had a job to pay my way through college,” Holder said.
Working both at the bus depot and for the Kansas Artificial breeding Service during college, Holder graduated in 1971.
“I stayed in Manhattan two more years while my wife completed her teaching degrees,” Holder said. “Cheryl Dall and I had been going together since high school and got married when we were both 19-years-old.”
After his wife received her Master’s Degree, the couple began searching for career opportunities.
“There was an Extension agent position open in Chase County,” Holder said. “I applied for it and was accepted. Fortunately the high school also needed a teacher and hired Cheryl. We moved to Strong City and it became our lifetime home.”
Holder became the Chase County Extension Agriculture Agent in February 1973.
“It was just what I wanted with the cattle, horses, native grasslands, ranchers, farmers, and fine rural communities,” he assured.
Serving not only Extension, Holder became involved in all of Chase County.
“Our children, Kellie and Scott attended school, took part in so many activities including 4-H club work,” Holder said.“We became members, attended and assisted at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
“Cheryl taught school for 34 years until she passed away after a stringent battle with cancer in 2013. That has really been a hardship on our family,” Holder said.
Daughter Kellie is married to Jake Tindle, Burdick native, and they live at Severance, Colorado, with their three children. Son Scott and his wife Amanda now live at Wichita. With such a long career of service, Holder has seen a lot of transitions in agriculture.
“The biggest change is in the size of operations and number of producers,” he said. “When I started there were a lot more farmers and ranchers in Chase County. Today, farms and ranches have increased in size and there has been a large decrease in the number of operators.
“Perhaps not as much reduction of those ranchers who do custom grazing compared to other segments of agriculture,” Holder added. “Still vast technology advances have had a major impact on all of Chase County.”
While the agriculture industry suffered nationwide, Holder pointed out, “The 1980s were tough on Chase County producers.
“With high interest and low prices, there were more bankruptcies from 1979 through 1987 than ever,” he said. “The Dust Bowl in the 1930s may have been harder on all of agriculture. But instead of taking bankruptcies, operators somehow just kept on going.”
When Holder started his career, Extension emphasis was largely on conservation.
“There was concern about taking care of the grassland, burning, and stocking rates,” he said. “That has not changed but landowners and operators have become more dedicated to grassland management, better caregivers of the land.”
However, those in urban areas have continued to have little knowledge of agriculture production.
“I have spent a lot of time visiting with city dwellers about Flint Hills operations,” Holder said. “That has been the most enjoyable part of my work explaining the Flint Hills to those unfamiliar with the area. So many people still just don’t understand the value of efficient cattle production and care of these remaining native grasslands.”
Close work with the 4-H program has been an additional important part of Holder’s Extension career.
“It has been a privilege to work with 4-H members learning leadership skills and now serving our communities," he said. “The 4-H program is very important to Chase County and to all of rural Kansas.”
While he’ll be officially retired, Holder, 71, has no intention of moving from Chase County or quitting service to others.
“I had intended to spend more time with my grandchildren, but the pandemic has put a hiatus on that,” Holder said. “I have several tasks I want to do around my home and acreage here at Strong City.”
Noting that his mom retired when she was 78-years-old, Holder said, “She had home projects lined up too. But after three months, Mom had them all done and decided she wanted to get a job. I may be the same way. Time will tell.”
Economic development is especially important to keeping rural counties alive.
“I have been involved with several groups assisting those in need and working to build our communities,” Holder said. “I plan to continue serving on those boards.”
With so many years in development of the Chase County Fairgrounds, Holder said, “I’ll still help with the fair. It’s one of the oldest in the state and a celebration is being planned. “Of course, I’ll help at church. There’s always plenty of upkeep there,” said Holder, who’s responsible for church hall rentals.
Shy about getting recognition for his service, Holder opposed a public celebration now due to coronavirus concerns. However, those in the community are planning to honor him in a gathering hopefully next spring.
A lifetime assisting agriculture and rural America, Mike Holder sets a high standard 47 years in the Kansas Extension Service.