ESCANABA — Michigan agriculture lost a luminary of the highest order earlier this year, with the passing of Joanne Stefl, a native Yooper and passionate advocate for farmers. Stefl lost a long struggle against cancer March 6, but not before amassing a legacy of service to agriculture stretching back more than half a century.
Born July 14, 1940, Stefl grew up in Escanaba, where her father operated a farm supply store. Later she took to the land herself, operating a dairy and potato farm near Cornell with her husband Lowell. Convinced by a neighbor to pitch in under the Farm Bureau banner, she joined the organization in 1961, beginning a legacy of advocacy and education that would continue through to the final stages of her life.
Her Farm Bureau involvement touched every major program area, from policy development and candidate evaluation to Promotion and Education and leadership of Hiawathaland Farm Bureau, representing hundreds of producers in Delta, Alger and eastern Marquette counties.
In the late 1990s, Stefl urged the Hiawathaland Farm Bureau to help “spruce up” the popular but relatively one-dimensional Miracle of Life exhibit at the U.P. State Fair, sparking an ag-education campaign that would soon see contributions from all six Upper Peninsula Farm Bureaus.
Stefl played a vital role supporting the popular Miracle of Life exhibit at the U.P. State Fair, raising its profile—and its funding—to a point that made possible the permanent pavilion building that replaced its previous tent enclosure several years ago.
She was also a tireless champion for raising the stature of agricultural women and young people.
Just last year Stefl was awarded a special lifetime achievement award for her 50 years of service with the Hiawathaland Farm Bureau. In 2008 she was nominated for MFB’s Promoter of the Year award, and in 2013 was nominated for MFB’s nascent Centennial Task Force—a nomination she declined citing health concerns.
Her service on the U.P. State Fair Board was also hallmarked by the DNR Pocket Park and the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association’s antique village chapel. She was an active leader in 4-H and Michigan State University Extension, and served the greater community through St. Vincent de Paul and St. Anne’s Catholic Church.