By Jeremy C. Nagel
HESPERIA — One of the highlights from my recent performance evaluation was the part where my supervisor praised my members-first approach to my job. I take pride in that. It’s important—imperative—that Farm Bureau staff know and remember who we work for: you.
That mindset has roots in many sources, but foremost among them was a gruff old cuss named Pat Lause. We lost Pat last week, and I’m one of hundreds of Farm Bureau members and staff mourning his passing.
Now, with some Pat-worthy bluntness, understand that he and I were not close friends. There surely are scores of people with hundreds of great Pat Lause stories worth sharing—people who knew him better than I did, cohorts who worked alongside him far longer, and members whose farms he probably knew as well as his own.
When I started in late 2003, Pat had been entrenched as the west-central regional rep for decades. As MFB’s most seasoned field staffer, he wasn’t bashful about sharing his hard-earned wisdom with yet another newbie. That said, we got off to a rocky start…
Fourteen years ago I was still very much the New Guy and I, emphatically, Did. Not. Get. It. My then-boss was pushing me to get out in the field on ride-alongs. My first was in Pat’s west-central region: Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola counties.
“Ride-along” is internal MFB lingo for when a home office staffer spends the day riding along with a regional rep, visiting members and county Farm Bureau offices in their region. It’s an absolutely essential activity.
All I knew going in was that we’d be visiting members on their farms, and one who worked at a grain elevator. It was my first time in the field and I was still learning the company’s somewhat fuzzy dress code, but I dressed accordingly: jeans, boots and chore coat.
The day went well, or so I thought until I got back into the office the following morning. My boss immediately called me into his office.
“I want you to hear this,” he said, closing his office door and putting his phone on ‘speaker’ so I could hear the long message Pat Lause had left the previous evening.
Pat had called to rip me up one side and down the other, questioning my boss’ judgement in (a) hiring me in the first place and (b) sending me out into the field dressed like I worked in a grain elevator. He ranted about my unprofessional appearance—jeans!?!?—and what a poor representation I was of the company his members fund, etc.
It was excruciating.
I was terrified and didn’t know what to do.
“Should I call him and apologize? Should I apologize to the members we visited?” I said, desperately. “I mean Pat’s a big deal; he’s been here forever.”
I was shaking. My boss just smiled.
“No, no, no—that’s just Pat,” he said, chuckling. “Just nice it up one notch—khakis and a logo shirt and you’re good. I just wanted you to hear that because I got a good laugh out of it.”
Pat came off as an ornery curmudgeon and nobody reading this—nobody who knew him even a little—is likely to contest that. Being my father’s son, however, I know a thing or two about ornery curmudgeons, namely that they tend to be pretty soft on the inside.
And such was the case with Pat. I quickly grew to respect him and admire him, and eventually I earned some of his respect as well.
And I never forgot his zeal for serving Farm Bureau members with professionalism and commitment and respect. It’s Pat to whom I feel most indebted for learning, preaching and practicing my it’s-all-about-the-members approach.
It has served me—and our members—well.