Wally Hildebrandt reflects on years of service

KENYON, Minn. - Wally Hildebrandt didn't know much about the Soil and Water Conservation District when he was recruited to serve on the board of supervisors back in 1959.

Wally Hildebrandt retired from the Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors in 2010. Hildebrandt was appointed to the board in 1959.

KENYON, Minn. - Wally Hildebrandt didn't know much about the Soil and Water Conservation District when he was recruited to serve on the board of supervisors back in 1959.

He was a young dairy farmer, not quite 30 even, when supervisors Dick Miller and Martin Hachfeld came out to his farm and saw him. They asked him to come to the next meeting and learn more about what the SWCD was about.

He said OK and after a few months he was told to fill out a voucher. He was paid a whopping $3 per meeting, plus mileage.

All five of the supervisors then were dairy farmers, Hildebrandt said. They met at 8 or 8:30 at night, after milking was done.

Everyone else on the board was an old farmer, he said. Now, he's the old farmer on the board and he's eating his words, Hildebrandt said.


There's not many dairy farmers left in the county anymore, he said. He sold his cows back in the '80s during the dairy buyout. The grass and hay land disappeared with the dairy farmers, he said.

The makeup of the soil supervisor board reflects the change in agriculture in Rice County, Hildebrandt said. Board members include a retired dairy farmer, retired college professor, two veterinarians and a grain farmer.

Soil conservation is certainly more accepted now than it was back when he was the new kid on the board, Hildebrandt said, illustrating with a story. He and Lincoln Paulson, who was a supervisor from 1950 to 1994, met two farmers on the road. The farmer who was higher in the watershed was going to tile and the farmer who was lower in the watershed was upset that the other farmer's water would be dumped on his field. By the time Paulson and Hildebrandt were done talking with the farmers, both were going to put in tile.

At the time, the SWCD paid for farmers to tile their land, Hildebrandt said.

In the later years of his 51-year tenure on the Rice SWCD board, tiling has come under fire as a cause of increasing flooding.

Hildebrandt explains tile like this: "Tiling is like making your soil a sponge." If land is tiled correctly, he said, it slows down and absorbs water that would otherwise run overland. The addition of buffer strips and diversions are also designed to slow water and stop sediment before it reaches streams, rivers and creeks.

Soil conservation has certainly changed in his half century of service. Used to be Rice, Steele and Waseca counties owned a bulldozer together to do waterway work, Hildebrandt said. Today, Rice County SWCD owns a native grass drill.

Farm size has increased as has the size of farm machinery. Farmers are taking out grassed waterways to install water and sediment control basins, which are easier for them to maneuver their machinery around, he said.


He used to farm with contour strips - they were a bugger, Hildebrandt said. He doesn't see contour strips anymore in Rice County.

Hildebrandt grew up farming in Rice County. His father, Walter, was a progressive farmer who bought a John Deere A with a corn planter, two-row mounted cultivator and a disc in 1936.

His father had a farm plan that stressed crop rotation, which was his first exposure to conservation. His father was one of the first farmers in the area to spread lime on his alfalfa ground, Hildebrandt said. He thinks at one time there was a payment to encourage farmers to spread lime.

He and his wife, Doris, moved back to the farm when he got out of the Navy in 1957. Together, they raised seven children, five girls and two boys.

"The best crop my wife and I ever raised was seven kids," Hildebrandt said.

The family farmed and Hildebrandt also worked in town.

Their son, Kevin, now runs the farm and Hildebrandt said he's an adviser. He's also a full-time grandfather, going to football and basketball games and wrestling and track meets of he and Doris' 12 grandchildren. It keeps them busy, he said.

Hildebrandt said he's been across the nation to soil conservation meetings and met a bunch of super people. They've also had adventures. One time, he and Doris had their luggage stolen in New York City. The stolen bag contained their airline tickets. Another time, they put together a planeload of supervisors and spouses from across Minnesota to fly to the convention in Hawaii. Only the travel agent wasn't a supervisor or spouse, Hildebrandt taught her in Sunday School.


"I met a lot of wonderful people," Hildebrandt said.

He didn't start serving as a commissioner with an agenda he wanted to see carried out and he doesn't leave with unfinished business. Instead, he said he's proud of the supervisors he's served with through the years.

"One thing I'm really proud of … we got more people involved," Hildebrandt said.

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