Illinois pork producers elect new leadership

DeDecker family named 2023 IPPA Family of the Year; Oker selected as the next IL Pork Ambassador.

February 8, 2023

12 Min Read
Illinois Pork Expo 2023.png

The 2023 Illinois Pork Producers Association delegate body recently elected four at-large directors and three new district directors. The IPPA board consists of six district representatives, twelve at-large positions, and representatives from the following organizations: Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Purebred Swine Council, National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council. They meet quarterly to discuss promotion of pork products and meeting the needs of pig farmers across the state.

The newest district directors are Kaylee Hillinger, District #2; Beth Spiekermeier, District #3; and Will Fombelle, District #5. The newest at-large director is Randy Kuker. Three current at-large directors were re-elected to serve another term, including Chad Leman, Rachel Schulte and Cheryl Walsh. Also, recently appointed to fill an at-large vacancy, is Tyler Main.

Kaylee Hillinger—District #2 Director
Hillinger has been working at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health for the past eight years in sales and marketing roles within the swine division. Prior to that, she gained pork industry experience with multiple production systems and university research while completing her undergrad degree in animal sciences and master's degree in animal ag production, both at the University of Illinois. As an IPPA allied industry member, Hillinger has served on a variety of committees, including Production Tech and Research, Expo and Marketing.

Beth Spiekermeier—District #3 Director
Spiekermeier is a finishing records department manager with over 17 years of experience in multiple facets of the swine industry. In 2005, she was a Bronze Tablet graduate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a BS in animal science. Following graduation, she joined the Carthage System and held multiple roles within both Professional Swine Management, LLC, and Carthage Veterinary Serve, Ltd., such as laboratory technician, logistics, manager and training, and education coordinator. In 2014, she transitioned to PIC as a health assurance specialist where she worked with producers and veterinarians in areas such as biosecurity, managing data, event planning and project management. In 2021, she rejoined Carthage Veterinary Service, Ltd. as a junior data analyst and recently accepted the position of finishing records department manager.

Will Fombelle—District #5 Director
Fombelle grew up on a farrow-finish swine farm near Atwood, Illinois, where he was actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the farm. His family converted their farm from sows into a contract finishing operation which continued until his father retired in 2018. Fombelle was also involved in 4-H and showed pigs at local and state fairs for ten years. Currently, he is a veterinarian and a partner in Carthage Veterinary Service based out of Teutopolis. He works closely with clients in Illinois, as well as surrounding states, managing the health of their swine herds, to ensure the success and longevity of their farms.

Randy Kuker—At-Large
Kuker has been working in the pork industry since 1998 after he finished serving four years in The United States Marine Corps. He worked in both large and smaller systems in Iowa, Minnesota and, most recently, Illinois. His background is in both sow and grow/finish production and his passion has always been to develop strong teams so that they can execute proven protocols successfully, challenge one another, and look for creative ways to improve performance. Kuker is currently the director of livestock at The Equity in Effingham. He oversees a team that markets 300,000 pigs annually for four different producers. They provide health and production management, logistics, record keeping, feed and labor services to their partners.

Chad Leman—At-Large
Leman, the newly elected 2023 IPPA president, is a third-generation farmer from Woodford County. He owns Leman Farms, Inc., which includes the production of hogs, corn and soybeans. Partnering with contract growers, they market approximately 100,000 hogs each year while utilizing much of their corn production in feed rations for their pigs. In addition, they have operated a Pioneer seed dealership since 1991. Leman is a shareholder and board member of several organizations that contribute to the livelihood of his core business: raising pigs.

Rachel Schulte—At-Large
Schulte grew up on a farrow-to-finish and row crop family farm, named Bauer Pork and Brooks Farms, in Cass County, Illinois, and met her husband while she was interning for the Maschhoff's in southern Illinois. Schulte services farmers in southern Illinois and Indiana and has traveled to China to teach biosecurity. As an IPPA member, she has served on the Production Technology and Research Committee and the Education and Youth Committee.

Cheryl Walsh—At-Large
Walsh is a fourth generation farmer, and grows corn, soybeans and hay with her family. They also have around 35 calf/cow pairs in addition to 2,200 sows. Their farm is a breed to wean, where all weaned pigs are sold directly to a great group of customers. For the last 10 years, Walsh has conducted the Ag in the Classroom project in Peoria County. The program started with 120 classrooms and has expanded to over 250 classrooms. She also serves as vice president on the Peoria Farm Bureau and was recently voted the 2023 IPPA President-Elect.

Tyler Main—At Large
Main works on his family's grain and swine farm. His family grows corn and soybeans and raises pigs from wean to finish. He earned his associate degree from Black Hawk East and his bachelor's degree from Illinois State University, where he majored in agronomy management. Upon graduation in 2016, he spent the summer on a wheat harvest out west and returned home to the family farm at the end of August. He currently serves as a director on the Knox County Soil and Water board, is active in the Knox County Young Farmers Committee through Farm Bureau, and is a volunteer on the Altona Fire Department.  

IPPA delegates also voted on the following officer team for the 2023 year:

  • President: Chad Leman, Secor

  • President-Elect: Cheryl Walsh, Princeville

  • Vice President-Treasurer: Josh Maschhoff, Nashville

  • Secretary: Thomas Titus, Elkhart

During the annual meeting the IPPA delegate body also acknowledged five retiring directors. 

Dereke Dunkirk - Years of Service: 2009-2022
Dunkirk has served on the IPPA board since 2009 and is from Christian County. During that time, he has served in all officer positions on all committees. He is a fifth-generation family farmer. The Dunkirk operation includes a 10,000 head wean-to-finish operation and a grain farm. He serves on the ILDG board, has served on local pork producer boards, and on his local school board for 10 years.

When asked to give advice to anyone looking to expand into livestock, Dunkirk said, "I always advocate for the expansion into livestock. I think it's the best choice for farmers looking to diversify. Livestock provides opportunities to bring another generation back home, add a full-time employee, fertilizer and income."

Alan Kollmann - Years of Service: 2010-2022
Kollmann is the current past president of the IPPA. During his years on the board, he has served on a variety of committees, including State Fair, Production Tech/Research, and was chair of the Education and Youth committee. He is a third-generation farmer from Effingham County and has a contract barn with 1,000 head in a feeder-to-finish operation, 100 breed to ween sows, and a small grain farm of corn and soybeans.

Kollmann would tell anyone that expanding into livestock is a great way to diversify your operation. He feels that being part of the IPPA has helped him stay in touch with the state and national rules and laws that affect his day-to-day business.

Darren Sims - Years of Service: 2017-2022
Sims has served on the IPPA board since 2017 but has involved with the Western Illinois Pork Producers since 2005. He has served on the PAC and Industry Services and Production Tech/Research committees. He is part owner of a 5,000-sow breed wean operation on his fifth-generation family farm that producers approximately 13,000 pigs annually. He is also a partner in a corn and soybean operation.

Being around livestock his entire life has greatly influenced his work ethic. He encourages anyone interested in livestock to explore the many opportunities surrounding the industry.

Matt Frizzo - Years of Service: 2019-2022
Frizzo served as an IPPA at-large Director for four years and was active on the Expo, State Fair and Marketing Committees.

Tom Wilkey - Years of Service: 2019-2022
Wilkey served as District #2 Director and is from Livingston County. Previously, he served on the PAC Committee for several years. He grew up on a small grain farm and a farrow-to-finish operation. While attending college, he began working for Art and Ken Lehmann, and experienced all areas of production though his 22 years of employment with them. He is currently employed at Stucky Farms.

IPPA Family of the Year

Each year, IPPA honors a pork producing family who has contributed to the long-term success of the industry through leadership and pork promotion on the local and state levels. In 2023, IPPA proudly recognizes the DeDecker family of Cambridge as the IPPA Family of the Year.

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Mark and his wife, Karen, are the proud owners of DeDecker Pork Farm in Cambridge, Illinois where they currently farm 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans and market 7,000 hogs annually with their son, Lance. The DeDecker family history in Henry County goes back over 75 years and spans over three generations.

Mark's interest in the pork industry developed into a career when he started farming full-time in 1973 after receiving his bachelor's and master's degrees in swine production. Once home, Mark entered a partnership with his dad, farming 640 acres and raising 1,000 hogs in a farrow-to-finish operation. While Mark and his father tended to the farm, Karen was employed at Deere & Company.

Throughout his career, Mark has served over 50 years as a director on the Henry County Pork Producers board and, during that time, he held the position of president and scholarship chair. His role on the scholarship committee gave him the opportunity to chair the committee and award several hundred thousand dollars to deserving students interested in pursuing a career in agriculture.

Karen served as the secretary on the Henry County Fair Board and later as a bookkeeper for the Henry and Rock Island County Farm Bureau, splitting her time between both offices. Eventually, she worked full-time at the Rock Island Farm Bureau and retired after 16 years of service. 

Over the years, the entire DeDecker family has remained very active at the county level, and when it was time for the couple's children to pick a career, they all chose agriculture. Their son, Jacob, was named the Illinois Pork State Ambassador in 1998. Later, he received his PhD and spent 15 years at the Michigan State University Extension where he served as a presenter and leader to visiting scholars and partnered with countries around the world. He is currently the director of Extension and associate dean for engagement at the University of Nevada, Reno. 

The DeDecker's daughter, Ashley, also received her PhD and currently works for Smithfield as the director of production research. Throughout her career, she has served on several national committees and speaks at livestock meetings in the United States and around the world. 

In 2001, their other son, Lance, finished his studies at Blackhawk East College and returned to the farm where he started a partnership with his parents.

In addition to Mark’s leadership role serving on the Henry County Pork Producers board, he also served 9 years as a district director for the Illinois Pork Producers Association. During his tenure as board member, Mark served on the Youth and Research Committees, and he also served as the IL Pork Expo chairman when the show made the transition to Springfield after being hosted in Peoria for several decades. After stepping down as district director, Mark continued to remain active at the county level.

In 2016, Mark and Karen were named the Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. This prestigious honor is the longest running farmer recognition in the country.   

Regarding their nomination as IPPA's Family of the Year, nominator Jason Probst says that he can't think of a more deserving family. "The DeDeckers are truly an agricultural family that have worked to improve the Illinois pork industry. Mark and Karen's involvement in local and state activities has not only led to their success but has been the foundation of the successes of their children in agriculture."

IL Pork Ambassador

Each year IPPA awards a summer internship. Lydia Oker has been selected as the next IL Pork Ambassador.

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Lydia Oker is from Sandwich, Illinois and is a sophomore at Colorado State University pursuing a double major in agribusiness and political science with a concentration on global politics and policy.

Oker has served as co-chair for Youth Engagement in Philanthropy, co-chair for the Rotary International Interact Club, an ambassador for the Student Leadership Team, and served on the Leadership Executive Board. She was a very active member of the Millbrook Mighty Ones 4-H club for 11 years and was a member of the Kendall County 4-H Federation. In 4-H, she served in several leadership roles on the local, county and state levels and was part of Speaking for Illinois and National 4-H Congress.

She is currently active on the Illinois Livestock Ambassador Team and has been active with the Kendall County Pork Producers. She has been a junior member of Illinois Pork Producers for several years and attended and worked several Illinois Pork Expo events. In 2017, she was awarded the outstanding county ambassador for the Illinois Pork Producers. She is thrilled for the opportunity to be the 2023 Illinois Pork Ambassador.

"As the 2023 Ambassador I look forward to being an advocate for the Illinois Pork Producers and continue networking with those within the swine industry," says Oker.

Oker will hold the title of ambassador through the 2024 IL Pork Expo and will intern in the IPPA office this coming summer. She will travel throughout the state presenting at Summer Agriculture Institutes and will manage the Birthing Center at the Illinois State Fair.

"IPPA is excited about having such an active individual in this position," says Lana Shovlin, communications director for IPPA. "We are looking forward to welcoming Lydia to #TeamPork and sharing experiences in the pork industry."

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