LOUDONVILLE — Roger Stitzlein didn’t plan to return to his hometown for his career or stay in his job as long as he did.
“But it worked out for me,” said the longtime general manager and CEO of the Loudonville Farmers Equity. “I have had opportunities to move and work at other places, but I preferred it here. This is a very nice place to live and work.”
After 42 years at the farm service business, Stitzlein is retiring, effective May 1. Now using up vacation time, Stitzlein actually worked his last day at the Equity in early April.
“Other reasons for me staying here include that I have always had good people to work with, a very supportive board and great customers, all of whom, with their help, let me build the company the way I felt was best for it,” Stitzlein said. “For the most part, things have worked out very well.
“One of my favorite pastimes on workdays was to take my motorcycle out for a spin through Mohican State Park on my lunch hour, and enjoy the beauty,” he added.
Stitzlein, who grew up on a Loudonville area farm the middle of seven children of Clovis and Ruth Stitzlein, started with the over-century-old Loudonville farm service business in May of 1978, coming from the Agriculture Technical Institute (ATI) in Wooster, where he both taught and mentored students working on their agricultural practicums. He graduated from Ohio State in 1975 with a degree in ag economics and animal science.
“My dad ran a general farm and livestock operation while also driving school bus for 38 years and serving as a Green Township trustee for over 30,” Stitzlein said. “My mom, meanwhile, was an elementary school teacher in the Loudonville-Perrysville Schools, teaching fourth, fifth or sixth grades, mostly at the old Perrysville Elementary School.”
Leadership in the agricultural community of the Loudonville area started for Stitzlein while a student at Loudonville High School (he graduated in 1971).
“I was involved in all of the youth farm groups here, the FFA at school, the Loudonville Livestock Club and 4-H,” he said. “That involvement continued for me as I worked here, serving in positions for the Mohican Area Community Fund, Chamber of Commerce and Mohican Area Growth Foundation. Starting in 1989, I was asked to serve as an agricultural community representative on the Farmers and Savings Bank board of directors, a position that continues today on the First Knox Bank board. More recently still, I helped to form the Mohican Basin Landowners Association, which advised landowners on leasing property for natural gas drilling projects.”
When Stitzlein started, the Equity had 17 total employees in Loudonville and at a branch mill in Lakeville.
“At that time, virtually every small town had a feed mill — Lakeville, Nashville, Perrysville, Butler, Fredericktown, and so on — about one across the state, every 10 miles or so,” he said. “But with changes in the business and new technology, it became more and more expensive for mills to continue to operate. They centralized, and the smaller mills, like ours in Lakeville, closed.
“Another example of how technology has changed our operation comes in financial figures,” he added. “My first year, 1978, we had 17 people on staff and did $2 million in business. Last year, with 21 people, plus part-timers in peak planting season, we did $15 million in business.”
One of the technology changes Stitzlein was referring to is size of equipment.
“When I started, we had three feed trucks with a total capacity of 25 tons; today one truck carries that much, and we have three.”
Another technological change involves a service the equity provides today.
“Today we provide feed and agronomy services, doing custom work planting, fertilizing and spraying for farmers,” he said. “The equipment needed to do this today is so expensive it is more cost effective for our farmers to have us do this work.
“Last year, we provided custom application services for 64,000 acres of farmland in a 25- to 30-mile radius of Loudonville,” he said. “Doing this takes a lot of people, so each spring we add eight to 10 people to our staff to help, including internships for students at ATI, local high school students and even retired farmers and truck drivers.”
As with the national farm scene, Stitzlein said the number of farms in the area has decreased, while farms have gotten both larger and more specialized.
“There are very few general farms left,” he said. “Today it is mostly specialized, grain, dairy, livestock.”
But in serving these farms, Stitzlein said the Equity has striven to provide diverse services.
“We try to do it all — seed, planting, fertilizing, spraying,” he said. “By balancing our services, we avoid down years.”
What are his retirement plans?
“A few years ago, kind of on a whim, wife Connie and I went to an open house for an area farmhouse in northern Green Township that we had admired from a distance,” Stitzlein said. “Ten days later, we purchased it at auction, and we are enjoying it today as our retirement home. We spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the beauty of this area.”
He said “Connie has a couple of horses, I raise a few calves, and we both like the outdoors. We are just enjoying our time here.”
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