Wackerlin Memorial Fund announces grant recipients

5 entrepreneurial business awardees were selected

The Board of Directors of the Wayne Wackerlin Memorial Fund announced the recipients of the third annual grant cycle.

The Wayne Wackerlin Memorial Fund was established by his siblings to continue Wayne’s love for agriculture and his entrepreneurial spirit.

On Oct. 31, 2017, Wayne, of Ottawa, lost his life in a tragic work accident, falling to his death at the grain facility he managed. Not only was Wayne a plant manager for a major grain facility, he co-owned a firewood business and plowed snow in the winter; he grew up helping his dad on the family farm: baling hay, raising livestock, and growing corn, soybeans, and wheat.

At the age of 24, Wayne cash rented farmland also growing corn and soybeans. It was his dream to buy land of his own (23 acres of which he had under contract at the time of his death). In 2016, he purchased a brand-new John Deere tractor, having owned several other pieces of machinery since the age of 11. While Wayne’s time in this life was short, his impact in his 25 1/2 years was tremendous. Wayne’s legacy will live on through the memorial fund for years to come.

Five diverse entrepreneurial business awardees aged 19 to 28 were selected to share in a total of $25,000.

Bekah Pearson, 24, is the co-founder and co-owner of a hair salon operation in Ottawa, along with her business partner, Riley Bongartz, 26. Their salon is expected to open next month, July 2021. Embarking on their small business venture the $4,000 grant award will help with startup costs, funding their initial R+Co product line investment. Wayne was a few years ahead of Bekah and Riley in school and was close friends with several of their older family members; he would be proud to support young women using their passion and talents to live their dreams in true ‘work hard, play harder’ fashion.

Ben Acheson, 19, of Delevan, Wis., was granted $3,000 to expand his Acheson Agriculture LLC business by helping to offset the cost of a four basket Kuhn tedder. Ben is a WWMF success story who tripled his business in just three years progressively posting profit after being awarded WWMF grant funds in 2020. Having started his baling business in 2017 with just two pieces of equipment and a few acres of hay, Ben has now incorporated his expanding business specializing in the production of small square hay and straw bales; from custom baling to self-production, Ben is able mow, rake, ted, bale, and market his products now with over 12 pieces of equipment and an operation of 100-plus acres. Ben is a student at UW-Platteville and an intern in the agronomy industry; and just like Wayne, Ben’s dream is to be a full-time, self-employed farmer.

Connor Brown, 19, of Elizabeth, is the owner and operator of Brown’s Baling and Hay. A welder and carpenter by trade, Connor grew up on a family farm and quickly realized his passion for baling. In 2020, he started his own baling business and began acquiring used equipment. Just two years into his operation, this $6,000 grant will assist with the purchase of his own baler, needed tractor repairs, and other variable costs such as twine, fertilizer and fuel. Like Wayne, Connor is generous, and his goal is to build and maintain a successful ag business for years to come, allowing him to mentor and give back to aspiring young agricultural entrepreneurs by remaining connected to his FFA chapter.

Benjamin Curtain, 23, owner and founder of Curtain’s Creations in Stonington, is a young Midwestern agriculturally driven entrepreneur like Wayne. He holds a BS in Agricultural Engineering, and in April 2020 he left his design engineering job to take his small business full-time building off a passion he has exhibited since childhood. Curtain’s Creations is a regional, full-service CNC plasma cutting and sheet metal fabrication company tackling everything from design to fabrication, purchasing, delivery, service, repair, and troubleshooting with a focus on agricultural clientele. The $6,000 grant will help offset capital startup costs, particularly equipment, needed to run his business efficiently and to optimize profit margins while facing rising material costs. Benjamin’s dream is to be a successful business owner eventually employing others and using his talents as a creator, innovator, and designer to afford a better quality of life for him and his daughter.

K&D Cattle is a purebred Charolais and crossbred cow/calf operation owned by Kelly Koester-Parks, 25, her brother, Devin Koester, 21, and her husband, Justin Parks, 28, in Milledgeville/Elizabeth. Kelly started her business when she was a freshman in high school via a 4-H and FFA project. Each year she has increased her cattle herd and buyer base; her brother and husband are now partners in the operation. Kelly and Justin are both in their third year of teaching high school agriculture and serving as FFA advisors, and Devin is a college junior majoring in crop science. The $6,000 grant funds will be used toward purchasing more head of cattle and funding capital improvements to their farmette. Kelly’s, Justin’s, and Devin’s dream is to continue their family legacy of farming by purchasing a farm of their own just like Wayne.