By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
FORT WAYNE, Ind. — When Gary Kuhlmann’s son Shawn was told his father would receive a dairy service award at last month’s Indiana Milk Quality Conference, he said he wasn’t surprised. He knew how well-loved and respected his late father had been based in part on the more than 5,000 cards and letters he received after his father passed away last year.
“I don’t want to sound conceited but there was such an outpouring from people who said how much he helped them, how much he meant to them,” Shawn Kuhlmann said. “He was there equally for everyone he worked with. They were either friends or they were family.”
Gary Kuhlmann, of Springfield, Ill., died in June 2012 of cancer at age 64. He had been a field services supervisor for Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc., for 35 years. He was named recipient of the 2013 Steve Atkisson Indiana Dairy Service award April 9 during the conference in Fort Wayne.
The award is given annually by the Indiana Milk Quality Professionals (IMQP) in memory of Atkisson, a former milk quality specialist and dairy farm and plant survey inspector with the dairy program of the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
“Dad knew every single producer on a first name basis,” Shawn Kuhlmann said. “He knew their schedules, where they were going to be. Every person he met in the dairy industry was a friend of his.”
Gary Kuhlmann grew up on a dairy farm in Illinois and served in the Army during the Vietnam War. After leaving the military, he returned to the dairy industry as a dairy farm inspector with the Illinois Board of Public Safety and Health. He joined Prairie Farms in 1977.
If his father were still living, Shawn Kuhlmann said he’s not sure he would have shared the news of the award with the family. “I think he would have been humbled and very appreciative,” Shawn Kuhlmann explained. “But he never bragged and he never liked drawing attention to himself. He never did anything to boost his own ego.”
For years, Gary Kuhlmann operated the milking parlor at the Illinois State Fair. He was involved in the Young Cooperators program, which seeks to promote second generation farming, Shawn Kuhlmann said. The program connects younger farmers with other farmers and promotes the dairy industry, he added.
While Gary Kuhlmann lived for the dairy industry, he made a point to be at home as much as possible as Shawn and his brother Chris were growing up, Shawn Kuhlmann said.
“He was a very simple person, he drove a plain truck and he wore plain clothes,” Shawn Kuhlmann noted. “If he wasn’t working, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He was a family man, a workaholic and he loved woodworking.”
Gary Kuhlmann helped to develop the Indiana Milk Quality Conference in 1999 and the Kentucky Milk Quality Conference two years ago. He served two terms on the board of directors of the IMQP. He was actively involved in the Illinois dairy industry.
The award was given to Gary Kuhlmann for his contributions to the dairy industry in Indiana, according to Michael M. Schutz, a professor of animal sciences at Purdue University.
“Gary was a regular contributor to dairy policy decisions in Indiana, but was at his best helping dairy producers solve milk quality problems on the farm,” Schutz said in a statement.
“While proud of his Illinois roots, Gary always considered Indiana his ‘home away from home’, and was equally comfortable on dairy farms in the Hoosier state,” said Schutz, also a member of the conference advisory committee. “His many contributions to Indiana’s dairy industry will be greatly missed, for he was a true gentleman and consummate professional.”