Eminent Leader in Agriculture, Family, and Community
A man of vision, Gary Cammack tapped his leadership skills to develop a thriving regional business in the tiny town of Union Center. It succeeds because he serves the needs of ranchers, not just in the area but across the region. He advocates for rural areas by representing his fellow citizens as a state Senator.
Cammack and his wife Amy carved out a paradise for their family among the rolling hills of western South Dakota just outside their town of 250 souls. Three of his great-grandfathers homesteaded in Meade County.
“I had the privilege of knowing all four of my great-grandfathers well. Getting to know them had a bearing on my values as I grew up. They had a reverence for the land and shared advice and wisdom. I didn’t realize the value of what they shared with me until I was out in the world. Their philosophies and truths made many of our encounters teachable moments.”
He met Amy, who grew up 30 miles away at New Underwood, while in high school at Sturgis. They married in 1972. The couple knew they wanted to ranch near Union Center and strategized to make that happen. In 1973, the couple bought what was a small business in Stoneville. They grew it from a $3,000-a-year gross business to $250,000 gross a year. During that time, Cammack worked construction while Amy and hired help ran the Stoneville Ranch Store. In 1975, he and Amy made a corporate decision. “If we wanted to get to full-time ranching and make a living wage, I needed to work on the Alaskan pipeline. It was an incredible experience and paid very well. That paid debts and set us up to get the ranch land we wanted. Since that time, we’ve added on 10 times to the ranch.”
The Cammack’s moved the Cammack Ranch Supply location to Union Center in 1979.
They believe it is important to pass on their love and knowledge of the land, trees, native grasses and plants to their four sons and 10 grandchildren. Their sons and wives include Scott and his wife Jeannie, Ryan and his wife Kristi, Reed and his wife Amber, and Chris and his wife Felicia.
The family has a large cow-calf operation which uses the latest genetics and technology in health care. The town business thrives because he tests the products on the ranch before they are sold at the store.
His vision for the future is evidenced by the planting of 30,000 trees on the ranch which pays off in their cattle operation. The efforts netted the Cammacks conservation awards, including the prestigious Leopold Award, but the biggest payback is in the improvement of the pastures. Some tree groves have pine trees over 40-foot tall. Cammack said, “When the wind is blowing through them, it is like the wind is whispering and provides a real sense of peace. The trees have made a huge difference in the wildlife population. The shelterbelts provide shelter for cattle which makes a big difference in the bottom line.”
He is an advocate for innovation and education and believes in passing down the legacy of stewardship to his family and community. Believing the future of ag lives in the hands of today’s youth, Cammack said it’s never been easy for young people whether it was in the ‘50s, ’60, ‘70s or ‘80s. There are plenty of opportunities presented and it’s up to people to respond. “There has never been a better time in the history of the world than now to do business in a rural area. There is a market for goods and services.
Rural areas provide real quality of life. The world is accessible whether you are in Union Center or Dallas, Texas. Learn the advantages to level the playing field.”
The little town of Union Center has never been better than it is today, Cammack said. Students started classes in a new grade school this fall. Through the years he has worked with others to take an idea and make it happen. Because of the community efforts, they have built a community center, a ball field, a church and even established a cemetery. Most recently, they completed a fire hall which houses two trucks.
Additionally, Cammack is a member of numerous agricultural and conservation organizations.