The American sheep industry came together to honor its own during the Awards Luncheon and Wool Lunch at the 2024 ASI Annual Convention in Denver, recognizing sheep producers, researchers and wool warehousemen who have left – or continue to leave – their marks on the industry.
MCCLURE SILVER RAM
A sheep and wool festival, a farm, a retirement home and even a funeral. Those are just some of the places that played host in the past year to the American Lamb Roadshow put on by Nick Forrest and his wife, Kathy, of Ohio. There’s literally no place the two won’t go to cook and talk about American lamb.
Forrest first got the idea to create the roadshow after a catering job in Texas.
“I have to thank my friend Alan McAnally from Texas,” Forrest said of feeding sheep producers in the state. “He said, ‘You ought to take this on the road.’ And that’s how we ended up calling it the American Lamb Roadshow.”
Forrest has been an ambassador for American lamb for as long as anyone can remember. A past president and member of the American Lamb Board, he’s best known for his cooking demonstrations. While he tends to travel in the Eastern half of the country, he’s well known as a lambassador who entertains crowds while his wife, Kathy, does a lot of the prep work to feed the hungry masses he’s convinced to try American lamb.
A sheep producer himself, Forrest has previously served as president of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association as well as on the board of the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program – a state check-off program.
Forrest said he was shocked when OSIA Executive Director Roger High called to tell him he’d been selected for the McClure Silver Ram Award. In fact, he thought he was being pranked.
“He said, ‘The first thing I want to do when I see you is buy you a drink,’” Forrest recalled. “Then I knew it was a prank, because he’s never bought me a drink in all the years I’ve known him.” Of course, High wasn’t joking.
“It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of the people who have received this award before me,” said Forrest, who also wanted to thank his wife for being his most honest critic. “If she eats more than two forks full, then I know it’s a good recipe. If she eats just one and walks away, I burn that recipe.”
Montana’s Brent and Tracie Roeder were just as surprised to learn they’d been selected for the Distinguished Producer Award when they got a phone call from ASI Vice President Ben Lehfeldt.
“When Ben called and said we’d won an award, I asked him, ‘For what?’” Tracie recalled during the couple’s acceptance speech in Denver. “When I told Brent, he said, ‘For what?’”
Tracie said she feels like the couple was called by God to work in the sheep and wool industries and feels fortunate that the entire family loves the work.
“The kids are going on this odyssey with us,” she said. “It’s dominated our family and our time, but hopefully we always found joy in our work and working together.”
Raising quality sheep would have been enough to earn the couple ASI’s Distinguished Producer Award, but they took it a step further in developing direct marketing opportunities for both their lamb and value-added wool products. While Brent routinely credits Tracie for handling the family’s successful wool venture, he draws extra praise from producers throughout Big Sky Country for his work as the state’s extension specialist for range sheep production.
“We have this unique life of extension and producer, and it keeps it very real for both of us,” said Tracie. “I get to watch what he goes through with all of the red tape and frustrations, and then when we have a problem on our place he can address it with fellow producers. I’m grateful to all of those folks who have brought us along and shared their knowledge.”
Through the years, members of the Montana Wool Growers Association and Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, as well as Targhee breeders around the country have provided valuable information for the family.
“I did not grow up with sheep,” Tracie said. “Brent did grow up with sheep (in Texas), but he came north to Montana. That group of people that I was constantly asking why and how and when, and they always answered.”
Kyle Farms of New York prefers to keep a low profile, but the work of Matt Kyle and his cousin, Nate Hatch, has been so phenomenal through the years that the American sheep industry can’t help but notice the farm’s success.
The farm is home to approximately 5,000 ewes in the largest commercial, indoor sheep operation East of the Mississippi River. Housed in five massive, technologically advanced barns, the operation lambs every other month to ensure a steady supply of lamb year-round for its many customers.
Kyle had planned to attend the awards ceremony in Denver, but those plans changed thanks to the 1,600 lambs who were born the same week. Longtime friend Keith Stumbo accepted the award on the farm’s behalf.
“I’m happy to accept this award because Matt and Nate go back a long ways with us,” Stumbo said. “They used to help us with the show flock many years ago when they were in 4-H.
“Matt asked me to accept this award for Kyle Farms and to thank ASI and the selection committee for the award. He also wanted to thank the Empire Sheep Producers (New York’s state sheep association) for nominating the farm for this award. In addition, Matt wanted to thank all of the people who helped get the farm put together through the years. They really appreciate this award.”
PETER ORWICK CAMPTENDER
The Peter Orwick Camptender Award – named in honor of longtime ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick – was split between two individuals in 2024. Larry Prager of Center of the Nation Wool shared the award with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Dr. Ron Lewis. The award recognizes industry contributions from professionals in a field related to sheep production.
Lewis is a longtime technical director for the National Sheep Improvement Program who also led genetic and genomic research through his work at the university. Despite retiring from the university this year, he will continue to be involved with the GEMS Project.
“I’d like to thank the several individuals who nominated me for this award,” Lewis told the crowd at the awards lunch. “It was truly unexpected and very humbling. My contribution is entirely because of those individuals and many of you in this room who have given me the opportunity to work in the sheep industry.”
Lewis said the work of a handful of sheep researchers in the past paved the way for his efforts.
“From that, I’m hoping that their legacy is being passed through me to these young people here in front of you who will be the innovators of the future,” Lewis said as he motioned toward three Nebraska graduate students who have worked with him on the GEMS Project.
“I’m hoping we’ve been able to provide you with the next generation of folks who will lead research in the industry.”
Lewis also thanked his wife for her support, mentioning that she was manning the snow shovel back home in his absence.
Prager thanked his wife, as well, adding that the couple will have been married for 60 years this fall. He was appreciative of the producers who oversaw Center of the Nation Wool when he was hired so many years ago.
“They took a chance on me, and it turned out well,” he said. “For all of us sitting in this room, the wool business is truly a business of families. The mission has always been to serve the families that are the backbone of our industry. And that’s been my privilege.”
Prager has been instrumental in his own way in the area of educating sheep producers. Given his position as a wool warehouse manager, it comes as no surprise that he would constantly work with producers, shearers and wool classers on their wool clips. He’s also provided space and resources for collegiate wool judging competitions in an effort to educate the next generation on the qualities of wool.
Lorrie Boyer of Colorado is a longtime farm broadcaster who has covered a variety of agricultural issues with local, state and national implications through the years. Her efforts in support of the American sheep industry were recognized with the Shepherd’s Voice Award.
Boyer used a favorite quote from a mentor to describe her involvement with the industry, and it’s one that sheep producers can certainly relate to.
“Find something you love so much that you’d be willing to do it for free, and do it so well that you’ll get paid for it,” she said. “I’m very blessed to do this job. It’s a very niche industry, and much like agriculture, we’re a dying breed. I’ve interviewed Peter (Orwick) for years and years. It is a pleasure to be able to tell your story and make consumers understand how important agriculture is.
“Thank you for recognizing this work. It certainly is a privilege to work with ASI.”
Boyd is farm director and morning show host at KSIR Radio in Fort Morgan, Colo., and regularly appears on RFD-TV. She’s also host of the Ag Queen podcast.
Presented during the Wool Lunch on Thursday of convention week, the Wool Excellence Award went to Greg Groenewold of Groenewold Fur and Wool Company. Unfortunately, Greg passed away on Dec. 6, 2023, and the award was presented posthumously to his brother, Gary.
“I was very surprised when I found out,” Greg said after learning he’d been selected for the award last fall. “Then, I was a bit emotional because my father (Grant) had won the same award. It kind of took my breath away.”
Wool Lunch host Jason Bannowsky first met Greg in 2004 and said he worked tirelessly to produce a consistent product despite the wide range of wools the company collected from all across the country.
“He’d always say, ‘Is that the best you can do,’” Bannowsky recalled. “It was the hardest – and easiest – trade because it always took awhile to get it done, but I knew what to expect. They put out a tremendously consistent product.”
Darrel Keese had similar experiences when trying to buy wool from Greg.
“He was a unique individual, and not always easy to trade with. But he was very uniform in the way he packaged wool. He was a true friend of the wool industry.”
Before he was even old enough to drive, Greg was accompanying drivers to collect wool for the family-owned company. Eventually, he was the one driving the truck, collecting, sorting and selling the wool.
While he fought the effects of multiple sclerosis for much of his adult life, Greg was always known as a hard worker. He rarely let the disease slow him down, continuing to work until his untimely passing.
“He was a guy who was thankful for his suffering,” Gary said, adding that his brother was a man of faith. “It refined his life.”
Various sheep industry groups taking part in the ASI Annual Convention also recognized those who have contributed to the industry through the years by serving on their boards or otherwise assisting their organizations.
The National Lamb Feeders Association presented longtime wool and marketing consultant Ron Cole of Colorado with an award. Cole has officially retired from the industry.
The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center honored three retiring members in Brenda Reau, Jeremy Geske and Steve Lewis. Reau was the only one of the three in attendance.
The American Lamb Board recognized retiring members Peter Camino, who has served as chair in recent years, and Salle Scholle.
And finally, the National Livestock Producers Association honored Pierce Miller for his longtime service on the Sheep and Goat Innovation Fund. David Johnson also retired from that board this year, but was not in attendance.