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Deep roots, high accolades illuminate alumnus winner's lifetime of involvement
By Steven L. Miller, Senior Editor
Office of Communications and Technology
The baby boy who spent his first summer in a sheep wagon on the Wyoming range later drew a straight course back to the ranch after serving as a navigator in the U.S. Air Force.
"Nearly five years as a navigator convinced me the sooner I got back to the ranch the better," quips Don Meike, who manages Meike Ranch Inc. with his brother, Pete, in Johnson County near Sussex.
A 1951 graduate of the University of Wyoming with honors, manager of the ranch for more than 50 years, and with a list of ag industry and community involvement items that could cause list envy, Meike is a College of Agriculture Outstanding Alumnus Award recipient
"Don and his brother have operated a successful sheep and cattle ranching enterprise through some of the most difficult times faced by our industries," says Jim Magagna, a producer and also executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He says Meike has been a mentor, a colleague, and friend nearly 40 years. "Don was always able to seamlessly move from the lambing barn to the highest of political circles," Magagna says. "He firmly believed that service to his university, his industry, and his state were a responsibility and a privilege."
The nomination letters for Meike are filled with references to selflessness in sharing expertise, time, and involvement in commodity associations and politics.
Gerald Fink of Buffalo has worked with Meike in various ways for more than 40 years. "I have found Don to be an exceptional leader in his community, county, state, and industry," he says.
The Meike Ranch is one of the most progressive commercial ranching operations in the state and possibly region, he adds. "Don's leadership and management style is to thoroughly evaluate new agricultural practices and quickly implement those that have positive application to the ranch. The positive and cooperative attitude demonstrated by Don has served as an inspiration to others in the sheep and cattle industries both locally and regionally."
Meike's grandfather, Emil, was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States as a baby. He came to Sussex in 1901 looking for a new start in the cattle business. Meike's father, Peter, was born in 1901 in Colorado. "Granddad, along with H.W. Davis and others, saw the future of irrigation in the Powder River valley and started the Sussex Irrigation Company," says Meike. "Meikes have been the major stockholder and prime mover ever since. Granddad did as many ranchers of that era and expanded his holdings whenever possible."
Meike was born to Peter and Naomi, whom he calls his mentors. His dad was the sheep person in the family, so Meike spent his first summer in the sheep wagon. He attended Sussex grade school, often being the only student in his grade. He attended Johnson County High School in Buffalo, where he lived with an aunt. He received his bachelor's degree in general agriculture in 1951 and was a member of the livestock judging team and the Sigma Nu fraternity.
He was selected as an International Farm Youth Exchange delegate to Denmark for six months his senior year, was drafted shortly after his UW graduation, and enlisted in the Air Force Cadet program. He flew combat missions, including Korea, served five years, and returned home.
"After graduating with honors from the University of Wyoming's College of Agriculture in 1951, Don has exhibited outstanding leadership throughout the entire ag industry as well as being a pillar in his community," writes J.W. Nuckolls of Hulett.
Meike says during his first meeting with the Johnson County Wool Growers he was put on the board as treasurer, common for any new prospect, he says.
"From there on, I just kept getting involved and worked my way to the top as national president," he says. "I had always been interested in politics, but actually working on the state and national level was very rewarding. I first met Dick Cheney when he was President Ford's executive director and worked with him a lot after that. I also a had a meeting with President Reagan, along with six other national ag officers."
His selflessness in helping has made him a mover on the local stage, too. "This has been the standard for the Meike Ranch always there to help whenever they could," writes Ginger Curuchet of Kaycee. "If Don knew of anyone or any organization in need, he would make it a point to get involved, and everyone knew they could count on him. Young people in agriculture seek Don out for advice, and he always has time for them."
She adds, "Don is a pillar in this community, giving advice, but never pushing his knowledge and experiences unless asked."
Frank Moore of the Spearhead Ranch near Douglas says Meike has distinguished himself as a rancher, sheep man, and Wyoming businessman. "His positive attitude, willingness to help, and mentoring abilities have served our state well," he states. "There are many leaders within the ag community Don has mentored, prodded, and supported. I have looked for Don for guidance on a number of occasions and credit him with pushing me to step outside my comfort zone and follow his footsteps through the state and national sheep associations."
Meike is always knowledgeable about new practices, "and his willingness to try new ideas is amazing especially when knowing the potential risks," says rancher Bob Innes of Gillette. "There are so many who reach this stage in their operation who would stay within their comfort zone and not participate in new challenges and opportunities, but Don is at the forefront of progress."
His leadership style has influenced countless others in positive ways, he adds. "I, along with so many others, am truly a better person and a better agriculture operator because of Don Meike, and I thank him for those gifts to all of us."
Meike and his brother are currently involved in a project to establish a senior housing facility in Kaycee to be dedicated to their grandparents and parents.
As for the future of agriculture, Meike says, "Agriculture will survive and will probably still be a tough life, but if you like it, what more could you want?"