By Allison Cloo
How do you take the measure of your own success? For Tom Wimmer, success is less about your own gains and more about what you’ve made possible for others.
“It’s really important to me that everyone around me is successful,” he says, “Because if they’re not successful, I’m not successful.”
This attitude of generosity and concern for his clients helped Tom Wimmer become a familiar name among Willamette Valley farmers over his thirty-eight years at Marion Ag Service, first as a bookkeeper and now as Chief Operating Officer. The success of others around him is reflecting back stronger than ever this season.
In November, Wimmer will accept the Agriculturist of the Year award at Oregon Aglink’s 21st annual Denim and Diamonds dinner and auction sponsored by Wilco.
Far West Business Association executive director Jim Fitzgerald echoes and expands on the idea of success: Wimmer might take account of his own accomplishments and be a little competitive, but that’s not his defining characteristic. “It’s not just what he does but it’s how he teaches, how he instructs, how he supports the people that work around him. That’s what makes Tom unique.”
So what exactly has Tom Wimmer done to make such an impression? How can someone who isn’t a farmer or rancher by trade be nominated for “Agriculturist of the Year”?
A lot of it has to do with the agriculture that he supports through his career at Marion Ag. According to his coworkers and clients, Wimmer is normally at work by four in the morning—that’s quite a head start on the day.
That routine is especially apparent during lime season, says Alfred Pohlschneider of Pohlschneider Farms. Not only is Wimmer phoning farmers first thing to help them schedule their spraying or spreading, he brings the knowledge of the science and of the local farming community.
“He understands the plants, the soil. He understands fertilizer, how they’re made up and how they’re mixed together. What you can do and what you can’t do,” says Pohlschneider. “He’s not a BS-er. He just tells you what it is and he’s a great person. He knows a lot of people. He knows where everybody’s farm is. He knows where everybody’s road is. He knows everybody’s name.
Pohlschneider thinks we should recognize Wimmer for one reason above all:
“He makes the farmer what the farmer is. The farmer wouldn’t be able to do some of the things that he does today without Tom’s advice or the business that developed to help the farmer.”
That support for agriculture and community extends to other organizations where Wimmer has served. He was on the board of the St. Paul Fire District for seventeen years, sits on the Oregon Department of Agriculture Fertilizer Research Committee, and worked through various seats on the board of the Far West Agriculture Association until his stint as president in 2015. Through his teenage son, David, Wimmer also got involved with local groups like the Salem Youth Symphony and the Whiskey Hill Jazz Band.
And then there are the fairs.
Every year, Wimmer tries to make it to multiple fairs in order to support the local 4-H and FFA students. After growing up in a large family that relocated from Iowa to a small farm outside of Woodburn, Wimmer spent his teen years working at a local farm picking beans and berries as well as, you guessed it, coming up through the FFA.
These days, he’s visiting the Marion, Polk, and Yamhill county fairs to scope out the livestock brought in by the 4-H and FFA groups. He’ll buy some each year, he says, but it’s not just about marketing and selling. “There’s other areas of agriculture to focus on, too. So I try to encourage them to do other things within these organizations: bring in plants, do performing arts, give a speech. Do whatever you can to develop yourself as a person.”
While Tom Wimmer grew up to spend more of his time helping farmers than farming himself, he understands their business and comes from a background that many in Oregon agriculture would find familiar.
In those early years after his family had moved from Iowa and his father passed, Tom and his ten siblings had to work hard on their 30 acres to help their mother make ends meet. They raised cattle to market weight and took jobs at nearby farms.
In the relatively small world of the Willamette Valley, one of Wimmer’s former bosses, farmer Pat Johnston, used to have coffee a few times a week with the current owner of Marion Ag Service, Bob Hockett. While Hockett never knew Wimmer directly as a teenager, he heard about the boy’s work ethic and saw him out in the field. According to Johnston, at least via Hockett, the teen’s only fault had been “his big feet stepping on the bush beans.”
Wimmer went on to study Agricultural Engineering at Oregon State University, where he minored in Business Management and graduated in December of 1979. It was only a few months before he signed on as a bookkeeper at Marion Ag Service. In Tom Wimmer, Hockett had found a local college graduate with knowledge of agriculture and a gregarious personality.
“He wanted to get married before he went to work,” Hockett remembers. “And so, he took time off and went to North Bend and he married Meliah. I think he took a week off maybe.”
You might think that Wimmer would show signs of strain or boredom after so many years, not to mention the quick turnaround from college to his job at Marion Ag Service. That’s never the impression you get from the people who know him, though, and certainly not from the man himself.
At Marion Ag, Bob Hockett doesn’t mince words: they’d need four people to do the work that Wimmer manages by himself. “If there’s something that needs to be done, he’s going to take it on and he’s going to do it.” And yet the pride that motivates Tom Wimmer is never for his own sake: he is proud of the business, of Oregon agriculture, of the community around him.
Once, while riding in Wimmer’s pick-up near Woodburn, Jim Fitzgerald took note of a hazelnut orchard that was looking a little worse for wear.
“Tom apologized for what that looked like. He said, don’t — I see you’re looking over there, don’t judge us by that. That particular orchard, it’s going through some transformation. There’s been some attention that hasn’t been taken there and they’ll get it back.”
“I didn’t even ask Tom if it was a customer,” continues Fitzgerald. “I don’t think it was. I think he takes such a pride in what his area looks like. I didn’t say anything, but if he saw me looking at something that didn’t look right, he assumed some responsibility for it, you know. He looks forward to when that looks better. “
With Tom Wimmer’s work ethic, it might not take that long.