By Matt Reese
Some people are people-people.
Some people are livestock-people.
Gary Stitzlein has proven to be both, which has served him well in his lifetime spent involved in and serving Ohio’s hog industry. It has also helped earn him the 2022 Ohio Pork Industry Excellence Award, which means he’s good-people, too.
“Gary is very deserving of the award because he has been a leader in the industry and excels in many of the areas, whether it was working at the OSU swine barn, the outstanding job he did with judging, or his involvement with farmers across Ohio as he has worked for the Kalmbach organization,” said Dick Isler, former executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Producers Council. “He displays the leadership, personal qualities and traits of those who have received the award ahead of him.”
Stitzlein received a degree in agricultural education with a minor in animal science from The Ohio State University back in 1971. Upon his graduation from OSU, Stitzlein began his career as an educator at Big Walnut High School. He got his start with hogs at a very young age on his home farm on the north side of Columbus where he eventually gained a reputation around the country for the quality of his purebred Landrace hogs. Urban sprawl surrounding the farm led to Stitzlein pursuing his passion for working with hogs full time at Ohio State, where he began managing the operations of the barn and helped with the livestock judging program, which included judging hog shows throughout the United States. After roughly a quarter century at Ohio State, he started a career at Kalmbach Feeds, Inc. as a production supervisor in 2000.
Stitzlein and his late wife, Diane, had a reputation of willingness to serve, and they often served others together in various capacities, including at the Delaware County Fair and Ohio State Fair.
“Gary and Diana would always come to the State Fair and work together and I would always see Diane with him at company functions. A couple of times they would hold a cookout for our swine finishing team at their house,” said Ken Garee, executive for swine operations for Kalmbach Feeds. “They were so gracious and they brought our whole team there for a team building type of thing. Diana was a very wonderful woman and her and Gary both always enjoyed to sit down and talk and invite us into their home.”
Throughout Stitzlein’s 18 years at Kalmbach Feeds, his leadership abilities and passion for the agricultural industry set the standards high for all those who he encountered.
“When I think about the values of Kalmbach, the very first value is to treat people the way you want to be treated. Gary absolutely embodies that value,” said Paul Kalmbach, Sr., president of Kalmbach Feeds. “He always treated everybody the way he would want to be treated. It did not matter if it was a freshman student at OSU or one of our customers, or one of our swine producers we work with every day. He treated them as if they were family. The other value that pops right out at me is that we want to go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to satisfy our customers. He was always going the extra mile to do what it took to please our customers.”
Stitzlein had developed those skills during his time working with students, faculty and hogs at Ohio State. Former OSU faculty member and current USDA-ARS program leader Steven Moeller fondly recalled his time working with Stitzlein.
“Gary was one of the managers of the swine farm and I was able to connect with Gary and the crew out there on a weekly basis for classes. He had connections all across the industry,” Moeller said. “When you think of Gary and his roles, he was well known before I came to OSU as being a very strong livestock proponent and swine producer. He and his family were engaged in activities that allowed them the opportunity to be involved in the industry on a continual basis. He worked with Extension programs through our work at OSU as well as youth livestock and national shows. I came in February of ‘95 and when I got there Gary was the manager along with Ken Mays and Larry Warnock. Those three were actively engaged in the management of the barns. Gary’s role was to be the top manager and he was involved in a lot of things including the day-to-day operations and teaching the swine production class. We’d set up labs and he’d be actively involved with student learning. He was also the one who was active on the judging side. I watched him judge a number of 4-H shows over the years. He knew his pigs and he was really good with the young people. He had a way of explaining and being genuinely engaged in their process of learning. It wasn’t just about the pig, it was about the young person and the animal and the opportunities to give them advice. Gary was very good at that.”
Stitzlein was able to bring his knowledge of hogs, genetics and judging into his work at Ohio State.
“Gary worked with Dr. Tom Turner, who would have been the coach at that time, and he was pretty effective in the training and teaching of those students on the judging teams. He gave them practical and impactful opportunities to learn about pigs and get involved in the livestock industry,” Moeller said. “He enjoyed the interaction with the students. We would have 3 or 4 undergrads working at the barns and they were an integral part of it. Gary would take them under his wing and he gave them great opportunities.”
Stitzlein also helped guide the swine program at OSU through a time of incredible changes in the industry.
“There was a move to confinement in the late 70s. That changed the way we did business and operations got bigger. The 80s were fraught with high interest rates and challenges across the farm economy,” Moeller said. “As I look back and put it all in perspective, we all went through the challenges of moving to stall housing. As Gary worked to put in modern stalls, there was a need to manage sows individually and do it differently. He was able to overcome some of the obstacles while retrofitting the facilities — they did not build new. The innovation and how we approached that became part of the job. Gary had to be on top of things to continue to manage high quality pigs in an environment that was not perfect and I think he did a good job of that over the years. When you look at the changes to retrofitted facilities and things like managing air flow to maintain health it may be a feed sack here and something else there to cut down on the wind. They all had to learn to adapt and make the best with what was available to them.”
Moeller is one of many who have benefitted from the communication ability, broad knowledge base and leadership of Stitzlein in Ohio’s hog industry.
“I appreciated the opportunity to work with him. For the 26 years I was at Ohio State and continuing to this day Gary has been a good friend. Those friendships lead to lasting relationships. I know I can always call on Gary when I need something. He has helped so many others from the students who worked at the farm to the faculty he worked with. Gary was very well respected for his knowledge and background and ability to get along with people,” Moeller said. “He was always a person who cared about the swine industry. Gary is a good listener and he is able to communicate well with students or employees at the farm. He comes from a background that gave him the appreciation for livestock and he started with that. He has patience. He has a get it done attitude and is willing to help at any time. He did a lot of good for me as a faculty member and he did a lot of good for the industry as a whole.”