The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Farmers, Ethanol Industry, Bankers, Neighbors, Community Minded Individuals Mourn Loss of Raymond E. Defenbaugh

by Dessa Rodeffer, Hancock-Henderson Quill Publisher/Owner

Raymond E. Defenbaugh, 73, of rural Biggsville, IL, passed away at 8:20 a.m., on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at the Great River Medical Center in West Burlington, IA .

Energy, quick wit, and a way with people has been a big part of Ray Defenbaugh's life since he has been a young lad. He would have no way of telling when he was young, that like storm clouds gathering which produced enough energy to make a lightning bolt, he would witness dark clouds gathering again and again in his lifetime that would produce energy in such magnitude that would literally knock him off of his feet and affect his world in tremendous ways.

Ray Defenbaugh was an energy entrepreneur, instrumental in the development of Big River Resources LLC, a 190 million gallon ethanol plant with 10.61 million bushel capacity grain elevator sites. He was CEO and President, producing generous dividends for his investors, adding value to his community and fellow farmers corn crops, and offering renewable fuel locally and across U.S. boundaries.

Big River Resources has not only returned 100% plus back to its investors, but has expanded in a negative marketplace where many ethanol producers, including giants in the business, have gone "belly-up" and have been forced to sell their ethanol business.

Yet, Ray had a gift of seeing the positive and the negative in storm clouds and has grabbed hold of the positive force and literally sailed through almost every situation.

His oil competitors wanted to know why?

The grain companies wanted him to be their partner.

The National Corn Association elected him to their board.

The Agriculture leaders in Brazil wanted him to move to their country.

The Grain Association Board in India wanted him to be on their board.

The Renewable Fuel Association in the United States elected him as their President.

The Chinese government was trying to stop him.

The Mexicans were wanting to learn from his success.

And the Grocery Manufacturers were scratching their heads working on more storm clouds to blame ethanol for the high cost of food.

Meanwhile, Ray Defenbaugh, with his country common sense, patient, sure demure, calmly gathered wisdom and force and stood firm looking through the storm clouds to the bright and shining future of a better tomorrow.

He saw more than a glimpse into tomorrow. It's almost like he had been in the future, then came back with a confidence unlike any other, bringing him a strength to forge through risk management meetings that may have sent board members reaching for the "Tums".

Maybe we should go back to that beginning and find out where this energy comes from.

Raymond E. Defenbaugh was a humble, loving family man, a great listener and genuinely cared about people and their plight in life. He was always willing to help a person out.

The loss of this man is deeply felt across the Midwest and by all who came to know him and who worked with him. He was a man of wisdom and of great influence.

There are plenty of stories going back to Ray's upbringing outside Streator (13,700), a city situated on the Vermilion River 81 miles southwest of Chicago in the prairie and farm land of north-central Illinois known as Streatorland.

The Defenbaugh family had farmed in the United States since 1710 for over 300 years, since the Revolutionary War and through the Civil War starting in Pennsylvania and moving to Ohio, and into Illinois.

He had the family stories and others of local interest such as Al Capone's gangsters, who fled from Chicago to Streator in 1931 after Capone's indicted and FBI agents came to La Salle County to arrest them.

Ray was aware of how corrupt things could get and the need of good strong people to stand against storms that hit society.

He paid attention, and was an avid reader of history, farming, and of current events. He had no television in his home. He was aware of his surroundings and of what people said and did, and he enjoyed visiting with people from all walks of life and of all ages.


Ray was born March 8, 1946 in Streator Hospital and was raised on a farm in rural Manville outside Streator.

His public education started in a one room school house until 3rd grade when he attended Woodland Elementary and High School graduating in 1964 at age 18 as a Senior.

He was a tall strong farm boy who played football at Woodland High and who wanted to be a farmer.

At 17 years old, his Junior year, Ray was offered a job with a farmer. The farmer was going on vacation and asked Ray if he wanted to go along, or stay and wait on his return, or if he wanted a job while they were gone. Ray opted for a job, as he said he wasn't much for vacations or for sitting around.

So the farmer got Ray a job working for a neighbor farmer who sold sweet corn to a canning factory.


Tragedy occurred when the farmer had his employee pull the corn picker under a high line wire and had Ray unload the corn. Standing on the ground, he pushed the lever up to empty the corn when it hit the hot 2400 voltage wire and he was unable to get off and was electrocuted.

The good friend working with him, came over to pull Ray off by grabbing his arm, but instantly was killed. It wasn't until after the electric company turned off the power, that Ray was released from the voltage and said to be dead.

He was being taken in an ambulance when he came back to life, kicking and yelling, "scaring the shimmies" out of the drivers.

He was treated at the Streator hospital, enduring much pain, finally getting gangrene which required amputation of his right arm if Ray was to survive.

Ray consented and he was moved to a Chicago hospital for surgery and healing from his arm and the loss of parts of both feet.

proves them wrong

Ray proved the doctors wrong after they told him that he would never swim, walk, shoot, or be able to farm. It was the day John F. Kennedy was shot and the hospital was in a turmoil. Ray had his brother come take him out of the hospital in a wheel chair and drive him to the Vermillion River in Streator and he would see for himself. When he swam and found they were wrong about that, Raymond wondered what else they were wrong about.

They found some government land with pheasants, and must have been quite a sight, Ray thought, with one arm, a gun and in a wheel chair, but he proved them wrong once again.

Ray returned to the hospital to finish healing and got busy thinking of how he was going to accomplish his goals of paying off his mounting medical bills and buy farmland.

He devised a plan to finish his Junior and Senior year at high school, attend Southern Illinois University and take top honors, and then become the best Ag teacher in the state. Then he thought, a bank would hire him. And he would be the best banker, and then be able to buy farmland and farm. Along the way, he would pay off all his doctor and hospital bills and save up money to buy land.

And that is exactly what Ray did. Before Ray went to the University, he picked the perfect woman to marry, Alice Norris, the daughter of one of his teacher's Ardith Norris.

He would always get in trouble in class for talking too much, Ray said, so he told Mrs. Norris he was going to get even with her by marrying her daughter. Alice said her mother was trying to teach him the art of being quiet in the library.

Alice and Ray both went on to college at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, holding jobs along the way.

Ray graduated with honors from Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture Education and an M.S. Degree in Agriculture Economics, with emphasis on Agricultural Finance.

He returned to LaSalle County where he became a very successful high school Ag teacher, filling the gymnasium with farmers as he conducted popular agricultural events.

He was approached by a retired banker friend who asked if he was serious about what he said, wanting to work for a bank. He had been offered the job buy didn't want it, but if Ray wanted it, he would recommend him.

Ray had some doubts about moving that far away, but as he drove to the National Bank of Monmouth, (now The Midwest Bank), and saw the rich farmland in Warren-Henderson County, he knew he could live here and make this work. He interviewed for the job and he was hired.

He and Alice purchased a modest home in Kirkwood, paid off his hospital and doctor bills and soon was able to move from town out on a farm where they raised their four children.

Since then, Ray has served on almost every board imaginable and has made an immeasurable impact in business, jobs, the farming industry, local communities, his church, in community service, and in many individuals' lives.

His ideas and insight, his hard work, ethics, dependability, and ability to work with others and his faith in God are responsible for many successes in ethanol.

Defenbaugh, chair of Growth Energy's Prime the Pump initiative which required hours of fundraising and phone calls to encourage large fuel service station chains to put ethanol and E-15 in their stations by offering them help with grant funding to do so.

As a result, hundreds of gas stations are offering ethanol in their pumps across the United States including Caseys, HyVee, Kum and Go, Cenex, RaceTrac Petroleum, and new markets on the east and west coast with more coming.

Defenbaugh has served on many state and national farm related boards helpful to the industry.

Defenbaugh is a man who talks passionately about strong farmer values. He and his wife, Alice, who he described as always being supportive, have four children who live within five miles and eleven grandchildren. His two boys run the family farm, one daughter is an emergency room registered nurse at Great River Medical Center and his other daughter works at Big River. He described himself as blessed.

"During those times of farming, one thing was lacking," Ray would say.

"Ag wasn't really profitable. I could hear a sucking sound, sucking capital out of the communities, and I could see farmers working hard but the rewards were being captured by others."

Determined to find a way to add value to farming, he became convinced that ethanol was a good solution. He was part of board of directors formed with the goal to build a 40 MMgy ethanol plant always planning for hard times.

The story of his accident is an important part of how he got into the ethanol industry, he said, because it taught him that a driven individual with a goal won't give up easily.

It also made him the kind of person who would always help others, as often as he could, an attitude which is incorporated into Big River's mission and motto.

Today, Big River is a successful business (with the help of all staff and a good board of directors) that has never had a loss year and has never failed to pay dividends to its investors. The company has grown to include four Big River ethanol plants in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, nine grain delivery locations, selling DDGs into the livestock industry and corn oil into the bio-diesel and feed industry.

The Renewable Fuels Association described what his life meant to the agriculture industry in their statement upon his death written by Ken Colombini:

"We mourn the loss of longtime board member Raymond Defenbaugh, who was a founding member, president, CEO, and chairman of Big River Resources, with facilities in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

"Defenbaugh served on the RFA board since 2005 and was a member of its Executive Committee.

"Ray's contributions to rural America, the ethanol industry, and RFA are truly immeasurable, and he tirelessly endeavored to improve the lives of farmers and the livelihood of communities across the Midwest," said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper.

"He leaves behind a legacy of uncommon wit and wisdom. We will miss Ray's jokes and clever stories, which usually ended with a valuable moral or lesson.

"Ray also had a special talent for uniting people and stimulating cooperation, and his leadership always helped the industry get through trying times."

In addition to his service at RFA and Big River Resources, Defenbaugh also held leadership roles at


Ray's accomplishments and the people he has touched are too many to mention and he's been on too many boards to know or list them all, but some of the highlights are:

American Fuel Award Services:

Consultant of Summit Farms, LLC, Investment Arm.

Advisor of Summit Ag Fund.

Founding Member, President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman at Big River Resources West Burlington, LLC.

Member of the Board of Managers at Absolute Energy, L.L.C.

International speaker and respected authority on agribusiness in the United States.

Vice Pres. of Agri-Business and Director of Western Illinois Bancshares Inc.

He served on the board at the Warren County YMCA

Headed the Pattee Foundation which awards funding to benefit Warren County in parks, swimming pools, buildings, airplanes, etc.

Member of the Gideons International an Association of Christian business and professional men and their wives dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments. Has led Bible studies, taught agriculture in Russia. Entertained farm groups from China, Brazil, and other countries at his farmhome.

His employment has included work as an Ag teacher, FFA Advisor, Farm Loan Officer, Trust Officer, and Farm Manager at The National Bank of Monmouth. He serves as Chairman on the Board of Directors of the Midwest Bank of Western Illinois.

Ray's most important work he would say is giving his life to Jesus Christ.

Ray's constant strength of conviction, he would joke, came from his "Norwegian blood," but his philosophy was simple: "Keep your family close, keep a few friends close, keep God as your guide, and work hard and you'll be alright."

Whether at home or in business:

"Treat other people how you would want to be treated",

"When you say you'll do something, do it."

"Be a man of your word."

"Build bridges, not walls." Ray would also warn that, "Holding on to resentment can ruin relationships. What a shame it is to let one hurtful act ruin a lifelong relationship."

Ray also said it was important to keep on working as a board member with people you disagree with, and try to solve problems. You never will be able to better a situation by turning your back on it or by quitting but by sticking it out and fighting on. Your best advantage is to be on the board.

Ray's last award came in September in Washington D.C. when he was named the 2019 bio-fuel champion for outstanding and distinguished service in promoting ethanol.

His last words of advice to Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor and fellow Growth Energy board members was relayed through his friends and BRR leaders Andy Brader and Gene Youngquist who accepted his award.

Brader said, Ray wanted to pass on the message- "to never have a battle on your hands, but never give-up!'"

No matter which politician Ray was being visited by at Big River Resources he always had a box of framed motivational poems he would send home with them as a gift. One of his favorite poems to hand out to people he kept hung on his office wall. It is called "Battered" and it basically says that it's the tough times that molds us into stronger people, and if you haven't struggled, you probably don't realize the strength that is inside you that struggle can instill.

Farming keeps families close. In his final days, Ray found great comfort with their constant presence, bringing meals, eating together around the extra large table Ray had built, telling stories about their day, caring for their dad's needs, helping Alice with the added chores, making the tough times more bearable.


In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to Dr. Kasi Pancreatic Cancer Research.

Dr. Pashtoon M. Kasi, is a Medical Oncology Specialist in Hematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation. He affiliates with University Of Iowa Hospital & Clinics and cooperates with many other doctors and medical groups.

Dr. Kasi cared for Raymond with utmost professionalism and knowledge after July 18, 2019 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer. Dr. Kasi communicated with Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston almost daily and would research, using the latest treatments.

The cancer had gone undetected too long and had taken too great a hold when it was found, although Dr. Kasi was able to get the Pancreatic cancer stabled in those 6 months, but not the liver cancer.

Dr. Kasi's research interests are in gastrointestinal cancers with a recent primary focus on colorectal cancers. He can be contacted at: