Our Voice: This year's Ag Hall of Fame inductees part of industry's backbone

We make time as often as we can to remind folks about the importance of agriculture in our community.

The industry creates jobs, food and more that sustain the Mid-Columbia.

Another entity that has spent years educating us about the effect of agriculture here is the Pasco Chamber of Commerce and its Ag Hall of Fame. The group will mark its 14th year when it inducts its newest members in January at the annual banquet.

Those earning a spot in the esteemed Ag Hall of Fame were announced Monday at the chamber luncheon.

They are Willetta and the late Bob Burns, Lyle Holt, Larry Olberding Jr. and Dorothy Schoeppach.

The Burns family is a fixture in west Pasco, where the family has farmed and lived for generations. Bob and Willetta Burns raised crops and kids there, growing mint and sugar beets while bringing up eight children.

The Burns were active in 4-H, the Grange, the Benton Franklin Fair, the Franklin County Park Board and Franklin Fire District 3. Willetta continued with these activities after Bob's death in 1980. She was a volunteer firefighter and certified as an emergency medical technician. Her father, Glenn Walkley, was inducted into the Ag Hall of Fame posthumously in 2003. This year, Bob and Willetta Burns will be honored with the Pioneer Award.

Retired teacher Lyle Holt will receive the Agriculture Mentor Leadership Award. He taught vocational agriculture for 34 years, with 20 of those at Connell High School. Many of Holt's former students are successful farmers and agribusiness people, as well as leaders in our community. Several are also Ag Hall of Fame members. Holt was instrumental in the founding of the Columbia Basin Junior Livestock Show, and he continues to volunteer there each September.

Though he is retired from teaching, Holt continues to farm in the Columbia Basin and is active in the Washington Association of Agricultural Educators. He is also a member of the Washing State Hay Growers Association.

Larry Olberding Jr. -- one of Holt's former students -- is this year's Young Agribusiness Man of the Year. He was an orchard manager for 15 years before returning to the family farm after his father's death in 2008. Olberding and his family raise cattle, his true passion.

A man who has been around cattle all his life, Olberding still marvels at the birth of each calf, posting photos on Facebook as each one is born. He is a leader in the cattle industry and served as the Washington Cattleman's Association president in 2011-12. He also volunteers at the Benton Franklin Fair and Farm Fair, helping the next generation develop an appreciation for cattle.

With the Visionary Award, the Pasco Chamber of Commerce honors one of its own, Dorothy Schoeppach. Dorothy and her husband Roy settled here in 1957 and owned Tri-City Irrigation. Shoeppach has provided her time, money and expertise to support many agricultural endeavors in our community.

She has served as the past president and executive director of the Greater Pasco Area Chamber of Commerce. She has worked with the Pasco Downtown Development Association, served as co-chairwoman of the Fiery Foods Festival and worked tirelessly to establish and manage the Pasco Specialty Kitchen. She was instrumental in the development of the Ag Hall of Fame.

We look forward to hearing the stories of our community members each year with the Ag Hall of Fame announcement. The stories are even better told in person and in depth at the banquet in January. The banquet will feature local produce and wines at 6 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Pasco Red Lion. For information and tickets, call the chamber at 547-9755 or visit www.pascochamber.org.