People often ask Randy and Suzanne Gilbert how they do it all, and it’s a fair question – the couple seems to be everywhere. Besides running 150 purebred Limousin and commercial cattle on their thousand-acre Tecumseh ranch, as well as three businesses – Gilbert Insurance Agency, Inc./American Farmers & Ranchers, Gilbert & Sons Trucking Company and Tecumseh Tag Agency – they’ve put in nearly 30 years of volunteering with local agricultural organizations, sponsored various youth groups and founded the Tecumseh Family Thanksgiving Dinner that feeds more than 700 people each November.
“When people ask me, ‘Why do you do the things you do?’ I always say I’m paying it forward,” says Suzanne, whose tiny hometown of Indianola stepped up to help her and her brothers in their single-parent home after their father was killed in a trucking accident. At only 10 years old, Suzanne learned the power of the farming community, and the 4-H and FFA opportunities only made accessible because of its generosity. “We probably grew up really poor, but I never knew it,” she says.
That special blend of service and farm values proved a formative influence that drives both her and Randy to this day – especially when it comes to kids, so critical to the future of agriculture.
“When I was an ag teacher in southwest Oklahoma, I had an old farmer tell me, ‘If you can have a true impact on just one child, then you’ve had a successful teaching career.’” Randy says.
Suzanne was also a special education teacher before they married in 2005. Both have served on countless boards and committees including the Oklahoma State FFA Foundation, Pottawatomie County Fair Board and the Pottawatomie County Junior Livestock Show, and each brought a daughter to their union. The girls, Dustie and Annie Jo, grew up riding horses and showing cattle and hogs, and both went on to earn agricultural communications degrees at Oklahoma State University, paid for in large part with 4-H and FFA scholarships.
Randy and Suzanne have three grandchildren already in love with agriculture: twin 4-year-olds, Taycie and Legend, and Bryar – the 2-year-old who won’t take off his cowboy hat for anything, not even the bathtub.
“Kids that are involved with these programs learn so much from their animals. They learn about responsibility, hard work and those 10-degree mornings when they’re out breaking ice, to know that animal is going to live and survive because of what they’re doing for them,” Randy says.
Like any family, they’ve faced their share of hardship, but they credit agriculture for giving them the character and perspective to carry on under pressure.
“There’s always a scenario with an animal that is unexpected,” Randy says. “Both of our girls will tell you about how something that happened with their livestock relates to something they’ve dealt with that day. It gives them that confidence and that resilience to say, ‘You know, we can get through this.’”
Less than two years ago, Randy had some hip pain that turned out to be bone marrow cancer. Through the uncertainty, pain and six months of treatment, Suzanne says the community once again stepped up, feeding and supporting the family – and Randy never missed a day of work.
“There’s calves to feed and work to be done at home, at the office, people that depend on you. You show up, and you do your job. You just keep going,” says Randy, who says the treatment was successful.
During the chemo process, Annie Jo clipped his hair in the backyard like she’d done for countless show heifers, the grandkids taking turns on Pappy’s lap to get their heads clipped, too, in solidarity.
“I always say if you surround yourself with good people, you don’t have to worry,” Suzanne says. “We’re very blessed.”