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Perrys: Nothing is impossible if you’re willing to work hard

For this 2021 Kansas Master Farmer couple, perseverance is a family trait.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

February 3, 2022

5 Min Read
Phil and Rhonda Perry, Oskaloosa, Kan.,
PERSEVERANCE: Phil and Rhonda Perry of Oskaloosa, Kan., are one of six couples in the 2021 Kansas Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker class. The Perrys built the Perry Ranch from the ground up by taking advantage of education opportunities through Kansas State University Research and Extension, and their membership in organizations like the Kansas Livestock Association and Kansas Farm Management Association.Jennifer M. Latzke

Phil and Rhonda Perry have never let a little thing like hard work divert them from their dreams. For this couple, nothing is impossible if you work hard, keep learning — and most importantly, treat people fairly.

For 33 years, this couple, together with their children Nickie and Nathan, have built and maintained Perry Ranch, of Oskaloosa, Kan., through hard work and perseverance. That Perry family trait is just one of the many reasons why they were nominated for the 2021 Class of Kansas Master Farmers and Master Farm Homemakers.

Building a home

Phil graduated from Oskaloosa High School in 1978, and for the next nine years, he set out working for a few area farmers and ranchers. With each job, he learned more about being a farmer and raising livestock, preparing for the day when he would strike out on his own to build his own ranch.

In 1987, Phil Perry bought 53 acres of his family’s farm, north of Oskaloosa, from his uncle.

“His location has been in the family for a long time, but there was no home here,” Phil says. The home had been lost to a fire years before. “There were just enough outbuildings here to give a young man his start in the ranching business.” He soon built a house and then a pole barn for storing hay. It wasn’t much, but he was determined that he’d have a ranch with his name on the gate.

Around the same time, Rhonda was a single mom with two children, daughter Nickie and son Nathan, when she met Phil at a community meal. Rhonda had grown up on a farm in nearby Perry, Kan., and was working at Frontier Farm Credit. The couple married in 1989, and Phil adopted Nickie and Nathan.

It was the tail end of the 1980s, and Phil and Rhonda knew that to make their dream of a ranch work, they needed to hustle and persevere. The Perrys had a small cow herd, but they soon found their niche in the cattle business by preconditioning calves from sale barns back East.

Rhonda started working as the fiscal officer and human resources coordinator at the Jefferson County Health Department, Home Health and Hospice in Oskaloosa, just five minutes from the ranch.

In the summers and on school breaks, Phil would take Nickie and Nathan with him as he worked around the ranch, which was growing to include several hundred acres of leased pasture ground. No matter the ranch chore, they tagged along with him. Phil says they were a great crew, and it was easy enough to look at the ranch chores and figure out ways that they could help even when they were younger, like helping feed small square bales instead of large bales.

“They might be cutting cedar trees out of pastures all day in 110-degree weather — not something they enjoyed, but they did make good memories,” Rhonda says.

Learning by doing

The Perrys joined industry organizations and attended Extension educational meetings to keep abreast of ways they could be more efficient on the ranch, or be better stewards of the land under their care. In the 1990s they began conservation efforts around their property. And they used that knowledge on their leased land as well, quickly gaining a reputation for being good stewards of the land.

Phil and Rhonda joined the Kansas Livestock Association for the education and networking. Phil ended up chairing the Stockgrowers Council, and in December 2021, Phil was elected president of KLA.

Phil credits the success of the Perry Ranch with what he learned from others in organizations like KLA.

“It’s not only that you have friendships, but there are opportunities that come up by knowing your fellow industry leaders,” Phil says. “We know people from Florida to California, and everywhere in between.”

Phil and Rhonda have been active for 31 years in the Kansas Farm Management Association, Rhonda having served as board president in 2003.

“We learned as a young couple that we needed to get involved, to be able to get connected with our peers, and to learn from and reach out to them,” Rhonda says.

Being involved extended to their local community, too. From volunteering with 4-H, to serving on the local library board and the rural housing board, it’s important to the Perrys to serve.

“It’s important to support your local community so it’s prosperous,” they say. “It’s the place where you raise your family, buy your groceries and supplies.” Its success will help you succeed.

The Perry Ranch

Today, the Perry Ranch has grown to a 400-plus-head, spring-calving cow herd, on a few thousand acres of owned and leased ground. The goal of the Perrys is to use AI and heifer-sexed semen to improve their herd genetics for retained females, and to raise replacement females for other ranches.

“I want a cow with a lot of middle to her, a lot of rib and depth,” Phil says. “I want an easy-fleshing cow or heifer that will turn into a cow that can survive on the feedstuff that I raise.”

Occasionally, they also buy lightweight calves to graze on additional forage, which will be sold as stocker calves or fed on retained ownership. And they still precondition lightweight calves in the fall and winter from the East.

The couple are also now grandparents, and they enjoy all that entails.

Nickie is a dentist with a successful practice in the Olathe, Kan., area. She and her husband, Gary Johnson, have five children between them. They return to the ranch when they can to make memories for the next generation.

Nathan returned to Perry Ranch in 2004 to work with Phil and Rhonda on the custom preconditioning enterprise. Following in a family tradition, he bought his own ranch and started building his own cow herd; in 2015, he struck out on his own. Today he raises cattle and does custom cattle preconditioning and custom hay baling and fence building. He and his wife Lynn have six children between them.

Phil and Rhonda say they’re most proud of their children, and how they have worked for their own dreams by taking calculated risks and being honest and treating people fairly.

You might say that’s a Perry family trait.

Family advice

The Perrys say if they could leave their children and grandchildren advice, they would tell them to “never let anybody tell you, ‘You can’t do it.’ Because you can; you just have to keep moving forward and try.” And, they add, to be honest and treat everyone fairly in your personal and professional dealings.

Local lore

Despite sharing a name, Perry Lake and the town of Perry aren’t named for Phil Perry’s family.  



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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