Class of 1955
Bill Lenschow’s whole life has featured agriculture. His early years were spent living next door to Grandpa and Grandma Lenschow on their farm. Each day he tagged along with Grandpa, listening as Grandpa told him, “Someday you can run this farm.” Grandpa Lenschow taught him the love of farming and became his first role model in agriculture.
Early school years were spent in the one-room Charter Grove School where, in nice weather, he pedaled his tricycle down Plank Road to school. In second grade he and Dave Wirsing were given the job of hanging the American flag outside on the flag pole. County Superintendent of Schools Marjorie Leinauer was driving down Plan Road and noticed the American flag was hanging upside down – a symbol of distress during the era of World War II. Quickly she turned around to be of help in their classroom. Little did she realize then, she would become his mother-in-law twenty years later.
In fourth grade, Bill’s family moved to Brickville Road. He began raising and showing pigs in 4-H. Because he was a farm boy, he could receive his driver’s license at the age of 14. He would load the truck with his pigs and head to Sandwich – or Oregon – or Springfield – or wherever the next fair was. In his junior year Bill was elected president of Sycamore High School’s FFA chapter as Mr. Robert Howey began his tenure as head of the Agriculture Department of the high school. As Bill tells the story, “Juniors know everything in high school so our class was going to train this new ag teacher. It took us about 10 seconds to find out that we were not in charge.” Mr. Howey taught by “hands-on experience”. The Sycamore Board of Education purchased the farm that the current high school building stands on today. It was agreed that the ag department would operate the farmland until the new school was ready to be built. Mr. Howey sent three FFA officers – Bill, Glen Johnson, and Bob Munson, to the bank to meet with Mr. Danielson to borrow money to operate the farm. What a lifetime memorable experience for three teenage boys! Mr. Howey quickly became Bill’s 2nd role model in agriculture. “He taught me leadership – motivation – parliamentary procedure, traits that I have used for a lifetime.” As a high school senior Bill could have represented Sycamore FFA at National Convention but he also was to lead the Homecoming Snake Dance that weekend. As he now regrets, he chose the snake dance.
After high school graduation the draft was beckoning so Bill, along with five of his friends, went to Chicago to enlist in the Army, serving two years in Germany. After his return and marrying his high school girlfriend, he realized the tenant on Grandpa’s farm was leaving. And his memory of Grandpa saying, “Someday you can run this farm” still remained. So 60 years ago, September 15, 1969, he moved back to Grandpa’s farm!
Grandpa’s farm was a dairy farm so as Bill and Kathy’s family grew, they, their daughters – Sue, Sandy, Lynn, Kim and Debbie – and a variety of neighbor boys and girls all worked together to establish the Lenschow’s dairy herd. A dairy farm offers jobs for all ages and abilities! While the farm came with a stainless steel bulk tank (a “refrigerator” for the cows’ milk), Bill added newer technology to make his dairy more productive. A stainless steel pipeline carried the milk directly from the cows to the bulk tank assuring that the milk was never exposed to air until the consumer poured milk into their glasses.
Two blue Harvestores – one to hold high moisture shelled corn and one to hold haylage – along with a mechanized feed bunk and a TMR (Total Mixed Ration) mixer were added to assure the cows had all the proper nutrients in their diets. One day Bill was approached by five medical doctors from Europe and the United States who were anxious to work with the techniques of embryo transplants. They started experimenting with a dairy cow from Bill’s herd. After successfully perfecting their technique with the dairy herds, they opened a clinic to offer embryo transplants to women on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Today genetics are shared around the world with frozen embryos.
Bill became active in the Farm Bureau and as a 4-H leader. The Lenschow girls became the third generation of Bill and Kathy’s families to attend Sycamore schools. They have hosted numerous school and 4-H tours and bonfires. FFA brought their first exchange student to live with them. As Allen Shearer, a high school neighbor who worked for Bill, went to Denmark as an exchange student, Esben from Denmark came to live on Bill’s farm, followed by Marc from Switzerland, Annalise from Switzerland and her friends Heinz and Gerhart, and finally Kaija from Finland who was the AFS student at Sycamore High School from 1983-1984.
In the fall of 1968 a carload of neighboring dairy farmers drove to Bill’s farm to ask him to run for election as their district director for Pure Milk Association, the dairy cooperative that covered dairy farmers in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. This began an era of over 30 years of Bill representing and working for fellow dairy farms. Pure Milk Association soon merged into Associated Milk Producers, Inc., covering the center section of the United States from Minnesota to Texas. Bill served as Vice President, then Corporate Treasurer of AMPI. This gave him the opportunity to serve in many other areas of the dairy industry, including National Milk Producers Federations, Central Milk Producers Cooperative, Dairy Council of Wisconsin and Texas Bank for Cooperatives. Bill has testified at hearings in Washington D.C., judged at National FFA Conventions, visited LBJ’s ranch, and a highlight was sharing memories with Barbara Bush of, the Lenschow’s daughter, Sandy and the Bush’s daughter, Robin, on an invitation visit to the White House – memories that will last a lifetime!
Back home, Bill worked with fellow Sycamore FFA Alumni to establish the Howey-Guilinger Memorial Endowment Fund in memory of our former FFA advisors. As president of Sycamore Farmers Club, he worked with young people at the Junior Fair, held in conjunction with DeKalb County 4-H Fair. As Sycamore Farmers Club held a fair charter, DeKalb County was eligible to establish a County Exposition Center Authority. Monies from the State of Illinois to this authority allowed the renovation of DeKalb’s Egyptian Theater and the Sandwich Opera House. Bill’s family has taken cows to dairy promotions at Wrigley Field, Ravinia, and the opening of the new Chicago Historical Society building, among others.
Grandpa’s farm is still home. The cows are gone now but Bill still farms the land. He is enjoying working with the history of DeKalb County at the new DeKalb County History Center. DeKalb County is full of agricultural history and opportunity. “If we do not share stories of the past, we will lose our history.” Bill will always be thankful that he and his family were able to grow up, attend school and share experiences with the support of the community of Sycamore.