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Farmers stop harvest to serve community

Whether a fire call or a farm meeting, Don and Steven Schlesselman make time to give back to rural Missouri.

October 17, 2023

4 Min Read
Don and Steven Schlesselman smile for a photograph near a harvested cornfield
GIVING TEAM: Don (right) and Steven Schlesselman, a father and son duo, take time out of their busy fall corn harvest to serve their Lafayette County community and tell agriculture’s story. Photos by Joann Pipkin

At a Glance

  • Rural communities rely on volunteers, like farmers, to survive.
  • Farmers serve in fire departments, on school boards and in churches.
  • Service opportunities allow farmers to tell agriculture’s story to consumers.

by Joann Pipkin

Finding time away from the farm can be tough, especially in today’s busy society. Yet, when the call comes in that there’s an accident on the interstate or when the meeting hits in the thick of harvest and rain is on the horizon, the combine comes to a screeching halt.

“But if it’s something you think is important enough, you make that a priority,” says Steven Schlesselman. “There are school board meetings in the middle of harvest or planting, but my children’s education is more important. That tractor will still be there after the meeting.”

Yes, giving back can be challenging. But the Schlesselman family has been balancing service and farming for decades — it’s a family tradition.

From the volunteer fire department to the parochial school board to church and civic organizations, this Lafayette County family has been helping their community thrive by giving back to it.

Steven saw the heart of a servant in his father — Don Schlesselman. “More than anything for me, it was seeing that example and trying to live your life the best you can,” Steven says.

“What warms my heart is that my 5-year-old grandson says when he grows up, he wants to be a farmer and a firefighter,” Don adds.

So, the father-son duo continues to build a legacy of service in their small west-central Missouri town.

Years of volunteering

A stone’s throw off bustling Interstate 70 east of Concordia, Mo., Don, a fourth-generation farmer, grows corn, soybeans and hay. He also raises cattle on land that was once home to the family’s dairy.

His son, Steven, bought an adjacent farm and runs a similar operation.

Farming in the shadows of the Kansas City metropolitan area, the two realize that giving back to their community is essential for it to flourish. It was instilled in them over the years.

Don’s family members started him on the path to volunteering.

“I credit my parents and my uncles,” he explains. “My dad was always heavily involved in the church; both my parents were always involved. From when I was little, I got involved in church organizations.”

He is quick to point out how the actions of extended family back them affected him for the future.

Don’s late uncle Wilbert Schlesselman was a servant in his community and the agriculture industry. “He always expressed and emphasized that, ‘If you’re raising cattle, if there’s an organization that helps promote that, you need to be a part of it,’” he says.

Just this year at age 97, Wilbert traveled to the Missouri State Fair to volunteer at the Beef House. It was his last time as he passed away at the end of August.

“He still found that it was important to serve there,” Don says, “and so that set quite an example.”

Next generation continues to help

Don’s resume of service would rival that of any true servant leader. He volunteers with the following:

  • fire department

  • road district

  • Extension council

  • 4-H fair board

  • planning and zoning board

  • cattlemen’s association

  • young farmers organization

Don is also the chairman of the MFA Inc. board of directors and a director for FCS Financial.

His commitment to the local area and state’s agriculture industry is not lost on the next generation.

“I try to give back to the community because of the example that my father set,” Steven says. “I feel, especially in a small town, if you want to be proud of your small town and you want your small town to continue and thrive, then you have to be a part of it.”

Steven continues to add to the family’s legacy of giving back. He is a volunteer firefighter, parochial school board member and church trustee. He also takes part in two local civic clubs and is a delegate for MFA Oil.

Advocates for agriculture

Being so invested in the community also gives the Schlesselmans an opportunity to share their story.

With more of today’s population removed from the farm than ever before, both Don and Steven know advocating for the agriculture industry helps protect their livelihood.

Serving on the county planning and zoning board gives Don a chance to help bridge the gap and provide education for people who want to experience the country life, too.

“There’s more and more of a disconnect [with agriculture],” Don explains. “There are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to give their opinion, whether it’s educated or not, on our industry. We must become better advocates for what we do and how we do it.”

A nod of respect goes a long way to helping bridge the gap between agriculture and the nonfarming public, he adds.

“When you go in, no matter what business you’re in or what organization you’re talking to, if you treat them with respect, you hope they’ll treat you with respect as well,” he says.

For the Schlesselmans, it boils down to a familiar motto the family lives by — the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

“You treat people the way you want to be treated,” Don says.

Pipkin writes from Republic, Mo.

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