Oakland County Farm Bureau’s 2023 Annual Meeting marked the end of an era as Phil Elkow’s 63-year run on the county board came to a close.
A member since 1957, the once dairyman joined the board a few years later, around 1960.
“When I first got on the board I was a dairy farmer — we milked Guernseys,” Elkow said. “My dad had migrated from Wisconsin in 1937. The family farm here was about 160 acres, and my folks bought another 200 acres.
“We quit milking when our daughter graduated high school and went to Michigan State,” Elkow recalls. “That was 1978. We sold the dairy herd and went to cash crops.”
Like most former dairy farmers, he doesn’t miss milking cows.
“It’s eight days a week, and come Christmas time when everybody’s in the house at my folks place, come 4 o’clock I had to leave the party and milk cows!”
He was 21 when he attended his first MFB Annual Meeting, which made a big impression on him — especially the organization’s priority on always building up a new generation of young leaders.
“I thought, y’know, these people have to be pretty good to be thinking of us younger people,” he said.
It was a tenet that would inform his decades of service on the Oakland County board: “The real love of representing people.
“I’m not a great person to have a lot to brag about,” he said. “I just did what I thought was right throughout the years.”
Elkow exemplifies an unheralded quality common among the quiet journeymen and -women who show up and make Farm Bureau work: embracing his exclusively local role.
“I never wanted to be the chair. I was vice president and third member on the board — that was what I enjoyed, but I didn’t want to be in charge.”
It’s a lesson we see all the time in the organization’s most experienced mentors and role models: Not everyone wants to be or is cut out for high-level leadership. Find your own comfort zone and excel there — serve the organization and industry at the level that’s appropriate for you.
“We have to be involved. Farm Bureau is looking out for us, and we have be looking out for Farm Bureau.”