A Man of Principal and Dedication

posted on Tuesday, July 11, 2017

“Take pride in what you do and treat your farm like it’s your own.” Those are the wise words of manager Harry Sponenburg, who after today will only have two days left before heading into a well-deserved retirement.

While Harry managed Sow 6 for 16 years, most people don’t know that Harry has raised hogs for over four decades. Harry is originally from northern Illinois and pursued a farm management degree from Hawkeye Tech in Waterloo. After earning his degree, the first chapter of Harry’s life took him to Kentucky, where he started his career managing a 250 sow, farrow-to-finish operation. It was there that Harry was active in the Kentucky Pork Producers Association serving as President of the Union County Pork Producers, and was one of the first producers in the US to become Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) certified. “It’s just made sense to do it, and it is good for our industry,” said Harry.

In fact, during his time living in Kentucky, Harry also earned the highest distinction from the Kentucky Pork Producers—Pork All-American—for his production performance, industry involvement and commitment to doing things right.

After weathering several years of volatile hog markets, in 2000 Harry and his family moved to Iowa where he pursued a more stable career in swine production. Harry applied with Iowa Select Farms. After interviewing with sow supervisor Brian Hermann, he joined the Sow 10 team as a sow tech under the leadership of then farm manager Don Hunt (now the senior supervisor for the southern Iowa region). In less than one year, he moved to Sow 6 where he took the role of farrowing department head under the leadership of John Hoffmann. When John left to manage Sow 26, Harry took the reins of manager where he stayed for 16 years.

“There wasn’t much we had to train Harry on, he jumped right in and was an excellent caregiver, he instinctively knew animal husbandry, recordkeeping, maintenance and overall how to manage a farm,” recalls Hermann.

And Hermann’s decisions to make Harry a manager was spot on—Harry managed the farm day in and day out for 16 years, consistently producing good results, taking challenges head on and adapting to constant changes and new technologies. 
“Harry is a tenaciously hard worker,” said Gustavo Alvarez, Sow 10 manager. “He never gave up no matter what; he was a good manager for Iowa Select Farms.”

Shawn Chaplin, Sow 12 manager, agrees. “Harry ran a tight ship, you always knew what to expect from Harry and his farm,” said Shawn. “He always got the most out of his people and never left something for the next day—when he said the job was done you knew it had been done to the best of his ability.”

On September 22, 2016, Harry told his crew he wasn’t feeling well and was going to go home—something that almost never happened. “It felt like indigestion,” said Harry. As he was pulling on his shoes in the entryway, Sow Supervisor Chris Nydegger was walking in to grab routine blood samples to run to the diagnostic lab. Chris fortunately made the firm decision to instead drive Harry to the hospital—a move that quite possibly could have saved his life.

After admittance to the hospital in Clarion, doctors told him he was having a heart attack and made the call to rush him to Mercy Hospital in Mason City where he had immediate bypass surgery. After being released, he spent his time fully recovering with his family in Florida while Angel Richardson took on the management of Sow 6. In Florida, his daughter, Robin, happens to be a nurse at the cardiac outpatient center at the Mayo Clinic located in Jacksonville. It was during that time he made plans to “slow down a little more,” as Harry puts it. After a five-month recovery in Florida, he returned to Sow 25 to fill in as Breeding Department Head and wrap up his lifelong career as a pork producer.

After Friday, Harry will be moving to Jacksonville once again, this time permanently. He’s looking for a home near Robin and his grandchildren, Corbin, age 12, and Lane, age 10. Harry also has a son, John, who lives in southern Indiana and works for Toyota.

“Harry will be greatly missed,” said Nydegger. “He was always a man of principal and was always dedicated to doing what is best for the animals and the company—he was extremely committed.”

“This company has been good to me,” said Harry. “I appreciate everything they have done for me over my 17 years. I’ve met a lot of interesting people and, being a producer for over 40 years, I have seen a lot of changes for the better.”

“Biosecurity is better, worker safety is better, the environment where we raise the pigs is better—and 17 years ago I would have never believed we’d see a wean average of over 11 or 12 pigs in a litter,” said Harry. “Back then we would jump for joy if we saw a litter of 10.”

“I’m going to really miss raising hogs,” said Harry. “I’m not on Facebook to follow everything going on at Iowa Select Farms, but my daughter is, and she can keep me looped in,” laughed Harry.

And as for his team at Sow 6, Angel says he will never be forgotten. “Harry left some big shoes to fill,” said Angel. “Everyone misses him, but we also know he deserves nothing but the best because he’s earned it.” #billionplus