Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame moves to Calhoun Fairgrounds

Submitted by Kristy Smith

MARSHALL, MI -- The Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame is back among the living. After being discontinued in 2010, it’s being resurrected by a group of local volunteers and moved from Barry County to Calhoun County. This reincarnation will be re-dedicated during the Calhoun County Fair in a special ceremony on Monday, Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. at the Community Tent.

Like a lot of good ideas, the project started as dinner table conversation. In December of 2015, Battle Creek residents Harry and Sharon Pratley were at a dinner party in Plainwell when they began talking with a man who introduced himself as an official from Barry County’s Prairieville Township. That caught Sharon Pratley’s attention.

“Isn’t that where the Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame is?” she asked the man. She explained she was interested because her parents, Roy and Martha Rocco of Ellis Corners, had been inducted into the Hall of Fame several years earlier.

Sadly, Pratley learned the Hall of Fame, which had been ambitiously started in 1982 and operated by Bill Aukerman and his family members, had been discontinued in 2010, due to a downturn in Aukerman’s health.

Recently, the barns which had housed it had been sold to Gull Lake Marine for boat storage. That meant 28 years of photos and information honoring agricultural excellence in Michigan would be lost. Pratley wasted no time in sharing the information with Fredonia Community Grange #1713 President Rich Hazen.

“A few of us paid a visit to Bill and Maggie with the idea of possibly moving the Hall of Fame to Calhoun County,” Hazen said. “We checked out the photos. Some were in pretty bad shape. But we thought we could clean them up and come up with a place to display them.” A few photos were missing.

Hazen spoke with Calhoun County Fair board members, who enthusiastically embraced the idea as a way of promoting Michigan agriculture, which is foundational to both county fairs and granges.

A nine-member board of directors was established the last week of July to oversee the moving to and re-establishment of the Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame project at the Calhoun County Fairgrounds. Harry Pratley will chair the board. The Belcher Building, to the immediate west of the Merchant’s Building, will house the display of photos.

Pratley said both the new board and the original committee members of the Hall of Fame move project are exited at the opportunity to have it re-established at the Calhoun County Fair. Bill Aukerman is especially ecstatic that his dream is being re-cast in a new and promising setting.

“He has a heart of gold,” Pratley said of Aukerman. “He started not just the Hall of Fame, but an annual stretch of days called ‘Farm Days,’ where he had 1,400 people camped out on his property, with Hall of Fame induction occurring during that period of time.

“If we could do just a fraction of that kind of effort, we would be happy. Our hope is to maintain a way to recognize those farmers who have done so much for the areas where they live, as well as the state of Michigan, through their excellent agricultural practices.”

Farming honors were awarded across multiple agricultural disciplines; however the majority of Hall of Fame inductees were farm couples, following the rationale that it takes more than one family member to make a farming operation successful.

During 2016, no farmers will be inducted into the Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame, due to the amount of time and work involved in relocating and cleaning the photos, as well as forming a new governing body to oversee the organization. The Board is handling the transition process incrementally and involving multiple people to prevent the work from becoming overwhelming.

“We have a lot of respect for the work the Aukermans put into creating and operating the Michigan Farmer’s Hall of Fame,” said Rich Hazen. “We want to honor their efforts and carefully preserve for future generations the integrity of this agricultural heritage collection.”

Claude Laing of Marshall spent hours at the Fredonia Grange Hall putting new backs on the Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame photos that are to hang in the Belcher Building at the Calhoun County Fairgrounds.
Harry and Sharon Pratley (left) of Battle Creek have enjoyed getting to know Bill and Maggie Aukerman of Delton during the process of transferring the Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame from Barry County to the Calhoun County Fairgrounds. The Aukermans will ride with the Pratley’s during the annual Fair Parade on Sunday and attend the Tuesday ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly-resurrected Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame.
Bonnie and Jack Rocco of Coldwater are shown working on the clean-up and restoration of over 200 photos of past inductees into the Michigan Farmers’ Hall of Fame.