By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The year was 1953, when Glen Brandt returned from military service in Korea and started a new business venture to supplement income on the farm. Borrowing a tractor from his father, Glen set out custom-applying anhydrous ammonia for local farmers.
As the operation took off, he called on his sister, Evelyn Brandt Thomas, to run the administrative side of the business. In the early days the “office” was their father’s chicken house.
Thomas is a pioneer who helped create an agricultural empire. “There were not many women in agriculture back when I started,” she said.
Working a couple days a week in the office, business continued to grow. In 1954 their first real office was at the Brandt and Gardner Gas Station, located at the junction of Farmingdale Road and Route 125 in Pleasant Plains, near Springfield. According to company history, Thomas’ office was a 6-by-10-foot room in the back of the station, “where she crunched numbers using only a hand-cranked adding machine.”
As Brandt expanded, their younger sister, Shirley Brandt Hagen, also joined the family business. Today, Glen’s son, Rick, is at the helm, with Glen and Thomas still having offices and remaining active in the business. Although they winter in Naples, Fla., Thomas keeps a computer and fax nearby to keep her finger on the pulse of the business she helped start more than six decades ago.
Brandt has since expanded to an international company with products that include liquid and dry fertilizers, suspension fertilizers, limestone, agricultural chemicals, soil testing, micronutrients, agricultural chemicals, turf and ornamental products, feed, seed and technical support in the United States and 45 other countries.
Brandt has more than 400 employees, and its office is still undergoing expansion today.
Now, Thomas focuses primarily on philanthropic activities. She goes from one event to another, spreading her good cheer and enthusiasm for agriculture. She advised, “Learn all you can about agriculture. I very seldom have time to read fiction after reading the trade magazines. I want to know what’s going on.”
“I am very invested in scholarships; I have them all over.”
Thomas has funded scholarships for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U of I for Women in Business, Lincoln Land Community College agriculture, FFA at Brown County High School, the National FFA and more. Along with assisting students, she has a scholarship with the Illinois Agri Women to assist farm wives with education.
Thomas has been named the Security Bank Woman of Influence, won the Athena Award for her encouragement of women to reach their goals and been involved in countless other groups and received many other accolades, but she is quick to remember the farm was where it all began.
“I will be 90 this August,” she said. “I was born and raised on a farm. We farmed in Salisbury Township my first 12 years, then in the Pleasant Plains area.”
After being active in 4-H Thomas joined the Rural Youth organization. It was at a Rural Youth Banquet in 1948 that she met her future husband, Gordon Thomas, from Mt. Sterling, Ill.
She studied business at Illinois Business College and worked in a variety of office jobs before teaming up with her brother to start a company that is now a global entity. To learn more about it, visit www.brandtconsolidated.com