A national honor for Delavan’s Gene Paul
Okay trivia buffs, here is a new question for you.
What do former president Jimmy Carter, former senators George McGovern, Tom Daschle, Robert Dole, and Delavan farmer Gene Paul have in common?
The answer is all of them have been awarded the Meritorious Service Award to Humanity by the National Farmers Union (NFU). It is only the eighth time this award has been given since 1986.
The award is given to those who have made particularly noteworthy contributions to family agriculture, humanity and Farmers Union at the state and national levels.
In a statement released by the Minnesota Farmers Union, MFU President Gary Wertish said, “If the world had more Gene Pauls, the world would be a better place. Gene has always been unselfish in his commitment to family farmers and rural communities.”
Paul is a second-generation farmer. He began operating his grain and livestock farm in 1959 which is the same year he got married. Paul, and his wife Jane, raised six children on their family farm.
The Pauls have been blessed with 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Paul began working with the National Farmers Organization (NFO) in 1962. He became the state president of the organization in the early 1980s and served as national president from 1995-99. The NFO is involved with the marketing of production whereas the NFU is more involved with legislation affecting agriculture.
It was during his tenure as NFO state president he also began working with the NFU.
He started going to Washington in the early 1980s. The NFO had offices in the nation’s capital until 1992.
Paul’s association with the two groups led him to become involved with working on the farm bill legislation in Washington D.C.
It is a challenge working with members of congress when very few of them have an ag constituency, Paul explained.
“Yet, agriculture affects our national security, rural infrastructure and trade,” Paul says. “And everybody needs food.”
Paul also points out the majority of the farm bill goes to non-farm interests.
Recent articles covering the farm bill state 80-82 percent of the cost of the farm bill goes towards food stamps.
“Once the farm bill is passed, you feel a sense of accomplishment, “?Paul states. “You wish it was better, but that is part of our democracy and how it works.”
His involvement in politics has given Paul the opportunity to meet three presidents.
He met President Jimmy Carter at the White House. He got to meet President Ronald Reagan when then congressman Tom Hagedorn invited Paul to Mankato during a Reagan visit.
He was in a meeting in John Podesta’s office when he met President Bill Clinton. Podesta was Clinton’s Chief of Staff. The door opened and in came President Clinton with a diet-Pepsi.
“The president asked if he could join us,” Paul explains. “Well, what are you going to say to that?”
So, the president joined in and took part in the meeting.
He also met a rather famous foreign dignitary, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the last leader of the Soviet Union.
Another memorable moment occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. Paul was in the Senate Office Building next to the Capital when the Pentagon was hit by the hijacked airplane.
“They cleared out all of the buildings and there was a mass of people in the street,” Paul notes.
The flights were all shut down so a bus drove straight through from South Dakota to come and get everyone in the South Dakota and Minnesota Farmers Union delegations and take them home.
Paul has rented his farm out for over 10 years but still finds time to have some sheep, chickens and a peacock on the farm.
He has also been an ordained deacon since 2005 and serves the Tri-Parish cluster of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Easton, St. John the Baptist Parish of Minnesota Lake and St. Casimir Parish of Wells.
Paul sees the future of agriculture tied to the need to address climate change, whether they agree with it or not.
“Companies and consumers are demanding food be produced in a certain way,” Paul says. “I believe it is in the farmer’s best interest to be proactive and do things they can reasonably do to alleviate some of the demands which others might place on them.”
Even after all of his years of service, he still enjoys his involvement in politics and in helping to formulate policy.
“I have had the opportunity to work for family farms and on agricultural issues which affect rural infrastructure and national security,” Paul explains. “I consider it a real privilege to work for those things and for the family farmer.”