Former KFU President Passes Away in February

19 03 2013

By Lauren Claryivanwyatt

Dedicated, believed in family farms, great leader, good mentor, enjoyed politics, activist, very involved….are just some of the words used to describe Ivan Wyatt, former KFU President.
At age 83, Ivan passed away on Feb. 25, 2013. During his over 50 years as a Kansas Farmers Union member, he served as Chase County President, Vice President from 1973-1981, President from 1981-2000, and lobbyist from 1973-2000.

Ivan was instrumental in organizing and chartering the Chase County Farmers Union. He also did a lot to get Kansas Farmers Union reorganized and chartered in 1973, Tom Giessel said.
“He was a true Farmers Union member,” Giessel, who served as Vice President with Ivan, said. “He knew what it meant to be a grassroots organization. You had to knock on doors and invite your neighbors. He was just a natural fit for the job.”
“His, and KFU’s, mission was Kansas agriculture and families,” Linda Hessman, director from Dodge City, said.
“During his career in Farmers Union, Ivan made hundreds of friends and was very well respected,” former KFU Executive Director Emil Mushrush said. “He met leaders in agriculture from across the U.S.and the world. Family farming was in his heart and he worked very persistently to insure its success!”

One thing about Ivan that stood out to most who knew him was his passion for legislation and politics.
“Ivan’s first true love was working the legislative session,” Giessel said.
“He was committed and dedicated to what members stood for in policy,” former NFU President Lee Swenson said. “He liked to be engaged at the state legislature and was very engaged at the national level. Ivan worked to help build links and bridges, and he did a great job.”
“Ivan was very comfortable talking about issues,” former Kansas Governor John Carlin said. “He made sure Kansas’ elected officials were never left thinking there was only one side of an issue, and he was affective.”
The main issue that Ivan worked on was anti-corporate agriculture laws.
“He worked on strong corporate farming laws, so that corporations couldn’t take over family farms,” Mushrush said.

What stood out to Linda Hessman, who served on the Board of Directors with Ivan, was that he never backed down.
“We could always find a way to do something,” Hessman said. “Between him and Emil, they had a way of getting people involved.”

One memory that stood out to her was when Ivan took the Board of Directors to Mexico to meet with international farmers.
“We visited and learned from their farmers and had a wonderful experience,” Hessman said. “After talking with farmers in the communities we visited, I found their need to carry on family agriculture was no different than ours. We left with a better understanding across boundaries.”

Swenson said Ivan attended a number of IFAP conferences with 60-80 different Countries in attendance (now known as WFO-World Farm Organization).
“He was always good at sharing American ag issues in a global perspective,” Swenson said.

Swenson said Ivan also “had a fun side” and was “passionate about issues and life.”
“You could always count on Ivan to be in a positive, uplifting mood,” Swenson said.

What stood out to Swenson about Ivan was “how he reached out to involve people.”
“There was a lot of involvement from everybody, of coarse we had a lot more family farmers back then,” Hessman said.

Giessel said as President, Ivan was a good mentor and very inclusive, especially with the Board.
“Ivan had the skills that make a good leader,” Giessel said. “As a young Vice President, he made an extra effort to let me plow my own way. He was good at delegating responsibility.”
“Ivan was a mentor and leader that was inclusive of his board and members of the organization,” Swenson said.

Both Mushrush and Giessel remember Ivan as a quiet man.
“He was not that great of a speaker, but it was amazing when he got on a subject,” Mushrush said.
“He was quiet, but all of his words were meaningful, no fluff,” Giessel said.

Ivan’s other passion as KFU President was local co-ops.
“Ivan really believed in co-ops and their power for farmers to band together and protect their livelihoods,” former NFU Director of Co-op Development Jeff Moser said.
“Ivan was a strong supporter of co-ops. He understood that local co-ops were important to the members,” Giessel said. “He worked to make darn sure co-ops stayed co-ops and not corporations.”

Mushrush noted that Ivan was “very proud” that he attended all, but one or two, of the NFU Conventions during his career.

He is survived by two daughters: Cheryl Leitnaker of Ottawa and Colette Freeman of Effingham, IL; six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
The funeral was held March 1 in Cottonwood Falls at Brown-Bennett-Aleander Funeral Home.
Memorial contributions, to Kansas Farmers Union, may be sent in care of the funeral home, 201 Cherry, Cottonwood Falls, KS 66845.

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