“Dale’s an example of a traditional county Farm Bureau board member: Their world is their county — they’re dedicated.”

This article has three simple goals:

  1. Honor the memory of an active Farm Bureau member — one specific man — whose years were recently cut tragically short.
  2. Honor the unsung style of member he was: the strictly local kind, content to do good work in their familiar, comfortable corner of a much larger universe.
  3. Encourage county Farm Bureaus to do more of #2.

The ‘larger universe’ here is the greater Farm Bureau organization, with its award plaques, stage walks and grip-n-grin photos, all in the name of recognizing the indispensable work of outstanding members and counties. In an organization reliant on the efforts of volunteers, recognizing those efforts is essential.

The ‘one specific man’ in this case never saw any of that, simply because he neither sought nor desired it. He is — was — Dale Frisque, who died Aug. 5 at the age of 59, the sole casualty of a fire at the cedar mill where he’d worked his whole adult life.

That mill is in the center of Menominee County, anchoring the south end of Carney, where Dale grew up, attended high school and was the third generation to work his family’s farm. He inherited Frisque Hilltop Farms in the wake of his father’s death, and completed its transition from dairy to beef, hay and oats.

“That was my grandparents’ farm — the farm my mother grew up on,” remembers longtime Menominee leader Pete Kleiman, a first cousin of Frisque’s.

“Dale never did get married; he stayed on the farm with his mother, raised hay, corn, oats to feed the beef… Some chickens, ducks… Sold round bales in the winter to horse people.

“Kind of an old-fashioned farm, really.”

Wasn't Like That

He joined Farm Bureau in 2001, launching an impressive track record of involvement in membership events, annual meetings and other activities central to the organization.

“I was the one who talked Dale into running for the county board in the first place,” Kleiman said. “We were looking for somebody from that area; it’s hard to find folks there.”

With a regular job in town and the farm only a couple miles away, Frisque was busy but always nearby and ready to help.

“He was kind of a homebody and involved in the community as best he could — the Lions and the church and sports clubs.”

And he brought that same sturdy reliability to the Menominee County Farm Bureau board, Kleiman recalls:

“He wasn’t a board member who… Y’know some people come onto a board with an agenda and ‘Once I get done what I want to get done, I’m gone.’

“Dale wasn’t like that. He showed up every month and he was willing to offer his opinion about how to proceed with something and if he didn’t think it was a good idea, he’d say so.

“He was just never going to be that person to serve on a state committee — that just wasn’t something he wanted to do. But when we did Breakfast on the Farm we could always count on him to be there on the weekend to help out.”

Plenty to Do 

The same held true at the mill, where Dale knew every facet of the operation and could always be counted on, even when it meant stepping away for a bit.

“At the mill when things slowed down and they needed somebody to take a week off, Dale was always willing to take a voluntary leave because he always had plenty to do back on the farm,” Kleiman said.

The mill was Peterson Brothers when he started there as a teenager, then Gilbert & Bennet, then Superior Cedar after a group of its own employees bought the place. Over the years it dealt in pulpwood and fence posts and bark mulch — mountains of mulch, feeding city folks’ garden beds by the semi load.

And in an instant, innocent sawdust turned into a lethal inferno.

Most Don't Know

News of Dale’s loss came promptly the next morning, Aug. 6, straight into the gut of MFB’s state staff convening online for an informal weekly meeting. The messenger was Craig Knudson, our seasoned Regional Manager in the Upper Peninsula.

“Most of you probably don’t know him,” he started, before announcing the loss in the succinct, economic way we do when those left behind are still wondering how and why.

That Frisque’s name was unfamiliar even to longtime MFB staffers came as no surprise to Knudson, who’d shepherded Dale’s involvement for almost two decades.

“Dale’s an example of a traditional county Farm Bureau board member: Their world is their county — they’re dedicated,” Knudson said, his voice growing bolder, more insistent.

“You won’t see them at State Annual Meeting, but they’re dedicated to the county Farm Bureau at the local level.

“That’s where Dale fit in.”

Moral of the Story

Our society rewards ambition and glorifies ladder-climbing heroes striving for greatness that skeptical observers may dismiss as out of reach. On the flip side of that, we can overlook those of more moderate aspirations: “Big fish in a small pond” is not a compliment.

The message for county Farm Bureaus is simple: Be sure to support your quiet journeymen, low-profile workhorses and behind-the-scenesters who get things done outside the limelight.

An industry that values humility can’t forget to honor the humble.