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FB family loses beloved grump, Cheboygan’s Bill Beethem

Bill Beethem (right) was masterful at avoiding the camera, but at Cheboygan’s 2006 annual meeting was caught honoring Ag Communicator of the Year Rich Adams, then editor of the Cheboygan Daily Tribune.
Date Posted: January 25, 2024

In our Farm Bureau family we have thousands of moms and dads, grandpas and grandmas, brothers and sisters and legions of grandkids. 

Bill Beethem was one of those favorite grandpa figures you couldn’t help but love. His Grumpy Old Man schtick was solid, but it was telling of his truer self that he couldn’t pull it off for more a minute or two.

Bill passed away Jan. 3, aged 90. MFB staff who worked with him remember…

Matthew D. Kapp

Almost 20 years ago I was a fresh college grad starting a new job in an area totally new to me, and about 200 miles north of where I grew up and attended college. It was late 2004 and I was MFB’s new North Regional Representative, a liaison between Michigan Farm Bureau and seven county Farm Bureaus.

Across my first two days on the job I visited all seven county Farm Bureau presidents, in Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Montmorency, Otsego and Presque Isle.

One of them was one of the most loyal Farm Bureau leaders that I’d ever work with, Cheboygan County’s Bill Beethem. Bill could be ornery, rough and — true to his personality — liked to remind me I was young, inexperienced and didn’t know anything. 

And he wasn’t wrong!

At first I really didn’t think Bill liked me. He was always on my case for something I did or didn’t do.

But working closely with him as a county leader, I eventually figured out that gruff personality was a front. The real Bill Beethem was a caring community leader and advocate, willing to sacrifice his time for the betterment of his passions, including agriculture.

Bill often reminded me that Farm Bureau was a grassroots organization, run from the bottom up, and that longtime members like him needed to regularly remind youngsters like me of that very fact.

Again: Bill was not wrong.

After three years in the North I took a new position at home office here in Lansing. Bill would call me once in a while to see how I was doing, and I always enjoyed catching up with him at statewide Farm Bureau functions. 

To this day I think of the many lessons I learned as a field rep, and they always begin with Bill teaching me that Farm Bureau is run from the bottom up.

Rest in peace my friend. 

Sarah Black

Bill brought passion, grit and honesty to everything he did. He was that member who always said it to you straight — you always knew where he stood on issues. 

I had so many wonderful interactions working with Bill over the years in his volunteer leadership roles with Farm Bureau. The best part was you knew you were going to laugh along the way — you knew he really cared and was going to do what he said he was going to do, and that he’d always help in any way he could. 

He will be fondly remembered and never forgotten!

Cole Iaquinto

I remember visiting Bill for the first time, during my first week on the job. He hammered home the importance of county Farm Bureau structure: Farm Bureau is grassroots, not top-down, and I must listen to the members and leaders at the county level and fight for them. 

He never let me forget that, and I think about his words still to this day. He believed strongly in serving his community and served in many organizations beyond the Cheboygan County Farm Bureau.

You could say Bill was a little rough around the edges, and brutally honest. It took a while to realize he was just very passionate about the topic at hand — important issues not to be taken lightly, because they affected people’s livelihood. 

He knew just about everyone in the community, especially those engaged in agriculture because of his own longtime involvement. I would often find him either at the farm or at the gas station up the road, sipping coffee and talking with locals about current events. And hunting. 

Bill was a dedicated Farm Bureau leader, and a great example of what service looks like.

Matt Frollo

Bill was a great guy and was heavily involved in his community. He was a part of many organizations, but it was evident that agriculture and military veteran-related issues were at the top of the list. 

On the Cheboygan County Farm Bureau board, he was a no-nonsense kind of guy who got things done and always had the members’ best interests in mind. 

Bill could be stern at times, but always greeted you with his charming smile and was genuinely happy to see you. 

Jeremy C. Nagel

All the above descriptions are right on target: Gruff and ornery on the outside, caring and warm on the inside, but always, always on the farmer’s side. 

The first time I met him on his own turf: Matt and I pulled up one wintry afternoon and as we’re shuffling inside where it’s warm, Bill asked if we wanted coffee. There was a jug of whiskey on the countertop and Bill — perhaps jokingly, perhaps not — asked if we wanted a splash in our mugs. 

Matt responsibly declined, but it seemed to me ‘yes’ was the right answer. Bill’s eyes lit up and glug, in went the rotgut — just a touch — but I think helped speed the thawing of the man’s sometimes icy shell.

And for the rest of our years working together, it was Bill’s eyes (not the Santa beard) that most struck out at me. 

You may remember the ordeal of the county delegation group photos at state annual meeting that for many years I was responsible for coordinating. What a pain!

Big groups (Tuscola, Ottawa) took forever to arrange on the risers. Small delegations like Cheboygan were far easier, but Bill (like me) hated having his picture taken and grumbled the whole time, slowing his already not-fast pace to a grumpy crawl. 

He’d glare at me like a cat getting a bath — then smirk and chuckle and cock his eyes away from the lens and flash. Finding a decent photo for this article was not easy!

It was the same story every year, but even after we stopped taking those photos, Bill still greeted me the same: glared at me like a cat getting a bath, then smirk and grin his wide, mischievous grin. 

I already miss that.


Portrait of MFB Member Communications Specialist Jeremy Nagel.

Jeremy Nagel

Member Communications Specialist
517-323-6885 [email protected]