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CLARE, MI -- In a few short years, the state's largest and most enduring farm group will mark an auspicious milestone, when Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) celebrates its centennial in 2019. Planning for that occasion began in earnest recently with the first meeting of a small group of volunteers at the Doherty Hotel in Clare.

MFB's fledgling Centennial Task Force consists of a short roster of choice organizational leaders—past and present—most of them tapped by the company's current board of directors. Ultimately they'll serve that board in an advisory role, steering the form and content of the organization's 100-year anniversary celebration.

Current members include Barb Radewald and Barb Kolm (Berrien County), Betty Thalmann (Barry), Bill Spike (Shiawassee), Ron Wood (Mason), Jim Spink (Jackson), Wendy Wieland (Charlevoix) and Matt Schwab (Arenac).

"I was real happy with how things came together this week," said Spink, whose involvement spills over Farm Bureau's edges and into 4-H, his county conservation district and local government. "We've got an imposing task ahead of us, but this preliminary course we've set I think is a good one."

Among their earliest goals is to inventory MFB's substantial historical archives—documents, correspondence, photographs, films, scrapbooks and decades' worth of promotional material through which it coached and communicated with multiple generations of Michigan farmers.

A small, random sampling of that material was spread out before the group at its first meeting. Thalmann found herself absorbed by a 60-year-old scrapbook documenting Junior Farm Bureau activities in the early 1950s.

From its inception in the mid-1930s, Michigan's Junior Farm Bureau was focused on leadership development, education and community service. It prospered for decades and laid the foundation for MFB's current Young Farmer program.

Thallman eventually came across her own photo in the scrapbook, then that of her sister, then more and more familiar faces. Eventually, halfway through the tome, she paused and caught the group's attention.

"I haven't seen this book since—since I made it," she said, skipping ahead to the inside back cover and pointing out where she'd autographed her handiwork more than six decades earlier. "Now I'm getting shivers!"

It was one of several instances throughout the two-day agenda in which participants acknowledged the almost familial member network Farm Bureau has fostered since its inception.

With their preliminary conversations continually returning to that social theme—and words like 'glue,' 'fabric,' 'network' and 'fellowship'—Task Force members agreed it should be a central theme to the forthcoming celebration.

"This is one of the most pervasive, but least-talked-about facets of this organization," Spink said. "Obviously Farm Bureau focuses primarily on its core missions—leadership development, policy, agricultural advocacy, etc. But none of that would be possible, or very effective, if it wasn't for the community this organization has built among its members.

"If our work can help illuminate the human side of this organization, I like to think we'll better understand how we've been able to accomplish what we've accomplished—maybe even light a path into the next 100 years."

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