The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Adventures In Leadership

By: Miriam Rutzen

Ray Defenbaugh

Father, grandfather, farmer, banker, teacher, businessman, Mr. Ray Defenbaugh's life offers yet another unique approach to leadership from many different angles.

When asked about his background, he began his story in the hills and fields of the Lower Rhineland area in what eventually became Germany in the late 1800s.

Past family members accepting the offer to farm "Penn's Woods" in present-day Pennsylvania and 300 years of farming later, Mr. Defenbaugh can trace back his lineage through an incredible amount of history and heritage.

Born in central Illinois, east of Henderson County, Mr. Defenbaugh was raised on a livestock grain farm with his five other siblings. The Defenbaugh family came over to America as farmers in 1710, and two years ago at their family reunion, the family celebrated 300 straight years of farming (not a single generation had missed a year).

They have fought in thirteen wars for America, and in World War II there were even war bonds under their name, tagged with the line, "The Fighting Family".

As Defenbaugh described his past and background, he then began to look towards the future of his children and grandchildren.

In retaining young people and preserving community, Defenbaugh expresses his passion when looking toward the years ahead.

In hopes of retaining young people and preserving the community, as well as adding value to agriculture, Defenbaugh became the CEO of Big River Resources in 2004. His hope is that by offering multiple sources of income, more young people will stay involved in agriculture and thereby continue to foster and promote rural community.

His track record of leadership roles within the agricultural world both on a local and international basis makes him the perfect candidate for a discussion on long-term leadership and community development.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?A: It means being humble and listening to others and giving them an ear to toss around [their] ideas...Helping [others] to focus on their goals and their opportunities. Leadership is self-sacrifice as much as anything.

Q: To whom did you look to as a role model or leadership figure while growing up?

A: Raised in a rural community, there were mostly farmers. They were hard workers and they provided me the example of what you needed to do to get ahead.

Q: Can you tell me about your background and resume?

A: (When I first asked Mr. Defenbaugh about the leadership positions he has held in the past, he listed a few things from high school.

By the time he warmed up, I could not write them all down fast enough. Needless to say, I think Mr. Defenbaugh sets an excellent example of getting-and staying-involved in the community about which he is so passionate.

Not all of his accolades are listed here, nor did he think they ought to be; instead, he put the emphasis of discussion on the last few lines which can be seen below...) Class President, Student Council member, Captain of the football team, Future Farmers of America member; Scholastic Achievement Award from Woodland High School.

Bachelor of Science and Masters in Agriculture Economics, Agriculture Finance, and Farm Management, as well as advanced studies, all from Southern Illinois University.

Agriculture Education degree, and at various times was an agriculture teacher, banker, farmer, and ethanol co-op CEO. Taught for Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs in the nation of Moldova and in Russia teaching co-op development and business plan development.

Member of the Lion's Club in Kewanee; Extension Council member; Riverland FS board member for over 30 years; member of various other co-ops.

Serves on Renewable Fuel Association, Chairmen of the Bank Board at Midwest Bank of Illinois; President and Chairmen of Big River Resources, and President of Big River Resources Co-op. Member of the Grains Council and serves on the board of the National Feed and Grain Association.

Traveled extensively outside of the United States primarily in Europe, China, and Mexico, promoting agriculture products. Prairie Farmer Master Farmer Award in 2010; 2004 Warren County Farm Bureau Agriculture Service Award. Inducted into Woodland High School Education Foundation Hall of Fame; 2003 and 2004 listed as Businessman of the Year; FFA Honorary Chapter Farmer:

"I don't put much emphasis on those awards because they are kind of a temporary thing. [Those awards] and 25 cents won't buy you a cup of coffee.

I am humbled by the fact that they gave me those awards and I don't belittle them for doing that, but I also don't think people should do things for awards nor should they sit on their laurels.

I think you should do things to help others.

How do you live your dash? Your dash is the time between when you were born and when you die. If you have helped people and are not ashamed of what you have done, that is the best you can do."

Q: What are three things you would say to someone about life?

A: 1) Quote John Wesley: "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. In all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can."

2) The Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. When making a decision in leadership, church work, community work, or when buying from or selling to another person, how would I want to be treated if I was in that person's place?

3) Another quote: Try in as much as possible to show love: be slow to suspect and quick to trust, slow to condemn and quick to justify, slow to offend and quick to defend, slow to expose and quick to shield, slow to reprimand and quick to forebear, slow to belittle and quick to appreciate, slow to demand and quick to give, slow to provoke and quick to conciliate, slow to hinder and quick to help, slow to resent and quick to forgive."

It was my pleasure to talk with a man who cared so much for heritage, community, family, agriculture, and the future.

He is one of the many humble heroes we are blessed with in our community.

His focus on where he comes from and where he is going provides an excellent example of stability and consistency for all of us in a world that constantly throws us curveballs and surprises.

Mr. Defenbaugh's conclusion sums it up much better than I could:

"Those are not [life lessons or sayings] unique to me. Over the years of experience I have picked those up and had them shared with me. I liked them well enough to commit them to memory. There are people who appear to be self-made and seem to be successful, but in reality there is no such thing as a self-made person.

"Each person has always had help, whether it was a smile, pat on the back, or listening when it was needed. With that [history of receiving help] comes the obligation to help others when the opportunity presents itself. With success comes the obligation to help as many others as you can. Some people will help you and then your opportunity will roll around to help others.

"Those quotes all fit together. As many people as possible should commit their lives to that goal, for it is better to have a community that is unique and where visitors are impressed by the reality that the people care about each other and look out for each other. I like to think we have that right here."