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The legend in your communityThe legend in your community

My Generation: When someone like Bill Maloney passes away, folks are reminded who the helpers really are.

Holly Spangler

August 17, 2023

5 Min Read
Mark Smith, Nathan Spangler and Bill Maloney
ALL SMILES: Neff Co.’s Mark Smith (left); my son, Nathan; and Bill Maloney lined up for a picture right after Bill bought Nathan’s steer at the 2018 Fulton County Fair. It wasn’t the first or last time he’d do that. “I always remember Bill saying, ‘Well, you keep us in business, I want to help you out, too,’” Nathan says.Photos by Holly Spangler

A few years ago, my husband and son stood in the doorway of Bill Maloney’s office at Neff Co. Brown paneling, lots of John Deere green, a little dust and a view out onto Main Street, Avon, Ill. Bill had owned the place since the 1970s, worked there since the ’50s, and loved talking to kids.

Nathan was maybe 13 years old at the time. Bill was pushing 90.

“Young man,” he said to Nathan, “why don’t you come on in here and sit down? We can get to know each other better. You and I are gonna need to do business when your dad retires!”

It’s my favorite story because it’s exactly how Bill Maloney thought. Always thinking about the future, and always investing his time and talent in the next generation. He never let age overcome his optimism.

Bill Maloney passed away last month at 93 years old and larger than life. He was a redwood — a giant in his community — selling millions of dollars of farm equipment for nearly 70 years and buying hundreds of 4-H and FFA animals.

Bill grew up on a farm south of Jacksonville, Ill., with horse-drawn equipment and without running water or electricity. He married Lois, built roads in Korea under combat conditions, and then in 1956, answered an ad in Prairie Farmer magazine: “Wanted — Machinery Salesman.” He came to Avon, met Clarence Neff and went to work for Neff Co. Bill became store manager in short order, and he and Lois bought the dealership in 1973.

Bill ran his dealership in a few ways that set him apart. For one, he did business the way it was done long ago, cutting through layers of management and offering credit apart from John Deere financing. He was known for taking fantastic care of people, and it showed in his sales. And he resisted the push to multisite dealerships, maintaining a single store for nearly seven decades.

Chad Hensley is a territory manager for John Deere who also happens to farm up the road from Neff’s. He’ll smile and tell you Bill believed in inventory. He carved out a niche renting older used equipment, and everybody for miles knew if they needed a part, Neff probably had it. Bill didn’t care if he carried parts that didn’t sell for years; he wanted ’em on hand so customers could count on it.

“We frequently joke that when John Deere doesn’t have a part, we’ll go to Neff Co. for one,” Chad says, laughing.

Once Bill told my husband he could always tell when he’d accidentally lowballed an equipment price. “There’d be two guys sitting in the office, and I’d give them a price. One would look at the other and say, ‘Well, I guess we oughta just go ahead and do it.’ That’s when I knew I priced it too cheap!”

Bill also hired good people and told them family came first. So they stayed. Folks like Frank Craver, who’s been the service manager since 1994. He started 38 years ago as a college intern.

“So many employers think of themselves first, and Bill Maloney never did that,” Frank says.

Or in other words, he did right by people.

Sold! Over and over

We saw that when Bill showed up at 4-H and FFA livestock sales, bidding on our kids’ calves. He bought my husband’s calves, too, a generation before. I imagine someday he would buy my grandchildren’s calves, too, if he had the chance. That’s who he was.

middle-aged man shakes hand of older man while young boy watches

Frank laughs when he remembers the year Bill bought his daughter’s steer for a whopping $6.40 a pound. Frank went to him after and offered to give half back. Bill wouldn’t have it.

“I bid that because I wanted to!” Bill told him.

Frank’s daughters were 10 years apart and spent 20 consecutive years in 4-H. Bill bought their calves, every single year. “He probably paid for half their college,” Frank says.

Those livestock auctions pump dollars back into young people’s hands, sending them to college or funding a future cattle herd. The fundraisers and the cake auctions make community festivals happen. The St. Jude fundraisers save kids’ lives. Bill and Lois Maloney gave and gave.

They came to town with so little. And the only thing that matched their endurance in the equipment business was their generosity to the community.

Be a legend

There won’t ever be another Bill Maloney. But a lot of communities have a Bill and a Lois — legends in their own time who give back to such a degree they’ll never be matched. Sometimes that’s with money; think of the businesses that give every time the school or ball team or park fundraiser comes calling. Sometimes it’s with time; the folks who serve on the school board or the county board or the fair board. Semi-thankless jobs that make the community better. And in nearly every case, those are people who care deepest about the people around them.

“Bill’s a legend,” Frank says. “Always willing to help out.”

So the question for every one of us: How can you help out?

Comments? Email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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