Roland Leonhardt, 77, became an Eminent Farmer for South Dakota in 1981. Although “retired,” the Oldham, South Dakota, man still farms about 600 acres besides enjoying a full schedule of public service activities.
Leonhardt says the most satisfying public service work in his long career has been aimed at conserving the soil.
His interest in this valuable natural resource began at a time when “…our top soil had the habit of changing locations every few days,” and he remembers well the dark afternoon of Sunday, November 11, 1933, when dust changed day into night.
“People used to think we had such wonderful soil that we’d never be able to wear it out and never need to fertilize it,” he says, “but that was at a time when people only had to move onward if fresh land was necessary.”
A second important trend in Leonhardt’s life has been his interest and aptitude for mechanical innovation. Blacksmithing, for example, was one of his childhood interests, and it led him to attend South Dakota State College for two years of training in mechanical arts after graduation from high school.
He put those mechanical skills to good use in all the years which followed his training, and he has developed a number of labor-saving devices, many of which are still in use on his farm. Among these are a Farmall tractor converted into an effective hay-mover, a device for rolling up barbed wire which is tractor-mounted and powered, and, earlier, a milking machine.
Leonhardt found the chore of hand-cranking his conveyor-elevator tiresome, so he re-cycled an old set of gears and quite simply mechanized the entire process with tractor PTO power.
Still active despite his 51 years as a farmer, Leonhardt views the future of agriculture with some caution because of current inflation levels and high interest rates. He is especially sensitive to the impact these forces have on young farmers attempting to start operations of their own.
But that interest in the public good is just one of many concerns which occupy his time and thoughts. He explains that his decision to serve his fellow man crystallized with an experience he had as a young man growing up in the Cavour, South Dakota, area.
A speaker appeared one night at a meeting of a young persons’ Christian association of which he was a member. “And I can quote that speaker even yet,” he said.
The speaker told Leonhardt and the other young people that “…service to your community is the price you pay for the space you occupy.”
Literally dozens of causes and rural organizations have since benefited from the impression made on that young man who now has become South Dakota’s 1981 Eminent Farmer.