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Put the civil back in civics

Cowtowns and Skyscrapers: Leadership was the topic of the week, and inspiration comes from many corners.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

August 25, 2023

3 Min Read
Silhouette of two farmers shaking hands next to tractor
CIVIL IN CIVICS: Leaders come in dozens of varieties, but many share a servant’s heart to do good for their communities. shotbydave/Getty Images

She’s sold millions of albums. Her movies are classics. Her style is iconic. And she only needs one name — Dolly.

This past week, Dolly Parton came to Overland Park, Kan., to share the stage with Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and speak about her Imagination Library’s expansion across all 105 counties in Kansas. And she was everything you hoped she’d be.

As I told my friends, “She’s sunshine and puppies and glittery unicorns, and the world just beams when she takes the stage.”

But one thing I didn’t mention — and maybe the most spectacular of all of her qualities — is that Dolly is a leader. We need more like her in this world, to be honest.

Leadership traits

Good leadership has been on my mind this week. At the Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth, we heard that K-State has finalized the plans for the Barry Flinchbaugh Center for Ag Policy. The center will be a jewel in the state’s crown when it comes to agricultural policy education and research. Very much fitting for Flinchbaugh’s legacy in our state.

I still remember his talks to my KARL ((Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership) class about kings and kingmakers, and how the world needs leaders to stand up with integrity, with vision and with guts to say what needs to be said.

Sometimes I wonder what he’d say about the state of our civic affairs today.

Public service came up a lot in my interviews with some of the new class of Kansas Master Farm Families. (Look for that announcement in a Kansas Farmer issue soon.)

Each family has some sort of public service in their backgrounds, whether that’s sitting on a school board, a city council, county commission, water district, or the local Extension council. These Kansas farmers put their names on ballots and agreed to serve their communities to the best of their abilities. Their families accepted that there would be hours of meetings during the busiest seasons on the farm, and they’d just have to fill in. They acknowledged that their service might be controversial, but they tried to do the right thing for the community. They’ve stood the post, as it were.

But it’s getting tougher and tougher, many told me, to recruit folks to step up and take on public service roles every year. The toll it takes on family, on the farm, even the mental toll can turn people away. So, where will the next generation of civic leaders come from?

The takeaway

I think, if there’s anything that these leaders show is that it is first important to have a servant’s heart. Dolly could have used her resources to open up a bar on Broadway in Nashville and rake in the money for herself. Instead, she created a theme park in her home county that employs her neighbors and funds a foundation that puts books in children’s hands to encourage education.

It’s important, too, to hold fast to our integrity and to say what needs to be said when it needs to be said, like Flinchbaugh taught us.

And, it’s really important that we recognize that even if we don’t agree with our local elected officials, they’re still our neighbors. They stood up ran for those posts to do some sort of good for the community. Without them, how do we continue to raise the issues that are important to rural Kansans? How do we have a voice at the table if we make it intolerable for that voice to serve?

We can each do our part by trying to put the “civil” back in civics.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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