Franke family recognized as Family of the Year by Rocky Mountain Farmers Union | TheFencePost.com

Franke family recognized as Family of the Year by Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Bridgett Weaver

Chad Franke remembers a time when rumors flew about farmers' wives calling neighbors to ask them to check the barns for their missing husbands.

The wheat market crash in the early 1980s caused a fall in almost every corner of agriculture. It left farmers deep in debt and their families nervous of what they might find when their loved ones went missing for a few hours.

That's why Franke's father, Vernon, worked with the Colorado Coalition to Save Rural America to create a hotline to help struggling farmers. The hotline provided farmers with resources to prevent situations from becoming desperate, such as access to legal and financial help.

"Overnight people went from being in a stable financial situation to being beyond bankrupt," Chad Franke said. "There were hundreds of foreclosures."

At that time, Vernon and his wife Joan farmed in Akron, a small Colorado town on the plains. Kaprice Franke, one of their four children, said they had financial struggles of their own at that time and sold off a lot of non-vital equipment to make ends meet.

"Farmers who were good operators were forced out of business and for reasons that were not really their fault," said Bob Kjelland, communications director for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. "Farmers were killing themselves. Farmers were killing ag loan officers. Farmers were losing the land homesteaded by their great-grand parents. And families were being torn apart."

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The hotline is just one example of how Vernon and Joan lifted up the farm community, and their efforts — along with the efforts Chad is putting in with the organization today — has earned the Frankes the Family of the Year award from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

Kaprice said her father was not a super hero — he was just doing what he thought was right. He would be honored and humbled by this award, she said, which she believes came to the family because of his work.

"He was just a big proponent for this way of life," she said. "For other people as well — not just for his own family. He fought to help every farmer and rancher make it."

The award was presented in November at the Farmers Union annual convention to Joan Franke and Chad Franke along with his siblings Van, Kaprice and Sharel.

Because of the stress on so many farmers, Vernon, who has since died, helped to start the Colorado Coalition to Save Rural America, the parent organization which headed up the hotlines. The family's involvement in the coalition led to years of involvement in the Farmers Union. Vernon took on many leadership roles in the Farmers Union throughout the years, and Joan continued that work after her husband died in 1997.

Chad and his siblings remember growing up with the organization. They went to the Farmer's Union youth camp every year, and he helped organize fundraisers and galas. Now his own kids, Tim, 14, and Brooke, 11, do the same in between helping with Chad's small pig farm in Roggen, Colo.

Tim is coming up on the age when Chad first started to understand the importance of the Farmers Union. Chad remembers his dad being elected to the board of directors in 1984, and he remembers his dad deciding not to run when the time came in 1995. He was elected by a write-in vote.

"They wouldn't let him quit," Chad said with a chuckle.

That was when it all started to click for Chad.

"I was a senior that year. At that point you start seeing what actually happens."

Joan still lives on the homestead in Akron that was settled by her ancestors. She helps Kaprice run a cow/calf operation on the land.

Throughout the years Kaprice has been involved with the Farmers Union, but lately she's focused more on the farm. She served an internship with the National Farmers Union office in Denver and participated in fellows programs.

Vernon father died at the age of 56, when Chad was 20, so Chad said he's had to get a lot of the stories from his mom and others, but he already knew the importance of the Farmers Union from watching his father as he grew up. That's one reason he's now president of the Weld County Farmers Union. His wife, Carolyn, is the county youth leader and education director.

Chad said he is focusing on growing the active membership in the farmers union.

"We're trying to show that there's benefits to being an active member instead of just being a member," he said.

The Farmer's Union gives its members information on important legislation and represents their causes to the legislature. The organization also offers educational opportunities as well as networking opportunities, which, Chad said is important because "we're so spread out here."

He believes encouraging new farmers is vital to the industry. Farmers make up only about 1 percent of the population, he said. They need new, young blood joining the industry.

"At 39, I'm a young farmer," he said. "You go into any other industry and someone who is 39 is tenured."

That sometimes makes him worry.

Carolyn said there isn't enough encouragement for young farmers to join the industry.

She married into the farming life, but now that she's in it, she understands the significance of carrying it on.

"It makes you appreciate community and family more," she said. "You really depend on your community and your family." ❖

Frankes Family of the Year

The Family of the Year award was presented to the Franke family by Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President Kent Peppler during the general farm organization’s annual convention held Nov. 13-14. “When I look at the families who have received this award in the past, I think this organization has been blessed with great people,” Peppler said in a Facebook post.