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Fruita farmer awarded for dedication to growing agriculture

Story and Photos by Kathleen Goddeyne | Grand Junction Free Press Correspondent
Omer Burenheide and his son Charles operate a cattle calf operation in Fruita where they grow and bale their own hay.
Kathleen Goddeyne |

Omer Burenheide has dedicated his life to growing Fruita’s agricultural community.

The Colorado native spent 31 years teaching agriculture classes and advising the local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter at Fruita Monument High School; and last week, he was recognized for his efforts.

The Mesa County Cattlemen’s Association (MCCA) named Burenheide the 2015 Mesa County Cattlemen’s Stockman of the Year at the organization’s annual banquet and ball last month.

Although it was a surprise to Burenheide, who spent 31 years of his life educating high school students on everything agriculture in Fruita schools, the choice seemed simple to the MCCA board.

“We try to nominate someone who has given a lot to our community,” MCCA President Bill Martin said. “We especially focus on someone involved with agriculture and cattle. There were a few candidates this year; and when it came down to the vote, it was a unanimous one for Omer.”

The former FFA advisor grew up on a wheat farm in Fleming, Colo., and graduated from Colorado State University, where he met his late wife Phyllis, in 1955. Burenheide — a U.S. Army veteran who served a two-year tour in Japan after college — got his start teaching in Las Animas, Colo., where he taught for a year and a half before relocating to Fruita in 1959. He taught at Fruita Junior Senior High School and eventually Fruita Monument High School.

“It seems like (my time teaching) was short,” said Burenheide, who retired in 1990. “The programs teach a lot of life skills, especially through FFA participation and contests. It’s good for someone who may not have been involved with agriculture, too.”

As an FFA advisor, Burenheide prepared his students for annual FFA State Conventions, stock shows and the state fair. One year, one of his livestock teams even qualified for the FFA National Convention, where they placed 14th.

The former Mesa County Fair board member and president has been a Fruita Lion for 55 years and a MCCA member for 42 years. He’s been a member of the Colorado Agricultural Advisory Board, and he was awarded the Honorary American Farmer Degree along with being named Colorado State Agriculture Teacher of the Year during his lifetime.

Burenheide has spent the last 25 years as an active member of the agricultural community. He volunteers his time with the Fruita FFA and he has donated heifers for the MCCA Catch-A-Calf program. He has also been known to sell livestock to kids in the area and allow them to pay him back after a show, where the animals are auctioned off. For some students, that generosity makes or breaks their chance at showing at the Mesa County Fair.

“We asked Omer’s former students to stand up during the banquet and about 40 people stood, which is pretty remarkable,” Martin said. “The man gives back so much to this community.”

Burenheide said he was honored to receive the award and “got a little emotional” when his peers stood and cheered for him.

He and his son, Charles Burenheide, work together to operate a cattle calf production business in Fruita. He said Charles does most of the heavy lifting and he handles much of the bookkeeping, but he still does some irrigating and runs hay equipment during the summer.

He said he’s glad agriculture continues to grow in his small town.

“Without agriculture we’d all be walking around homeless, naked and hungry,” Burenheide said with a smile.

For more information about Mesa County Cattlemen’s Association, search for it on Facebook.


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