By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — It was more than 30 years ago that Curtis Grace entered the doors of Two Rivers Coop, located off Main Street on Sixth Street in Newkirk. At that time, is was known as Newkirk Farmers’ Cooperative, and stored only the area wheat crop. Much has changed in those 30-plus years he was with the company, and as he now enters retirement, he reflects on his tenure with the cooperative and a life dedicated to agriculture and area producers.
It is nearly 6 p.m. Aug. 30. The coop office is closed, a much-needed quiet following a day-long reception thrown in his honor, which would include family members as well as many people who have been touched by Grace at some point through the year. Grace estimated that more than 200 people filtered through the doors throughout the day. He was honored to have their presence.
“I’ve been blessed with good friends through all these years. They’ve touched my life as much as I’ve touched theirs,” he said.
Grace was raised in Blackwell, and from an early age, he was interested in the agriculture industry. He started with S&L Fertilizer in Blackwell when he was about 18, followed by a stretch at the Goodson Ranch, in Kay County.
It was the oilfield, however, that brought Grace to Newkirk, not agriculture, as he got a job at an oilfield supply store in Arkansas City, but opted to remain living in Kay County.
The oilfield wasn’t his first love, however, it was agriculture, an industry he yearned to be a part of. It was that love that led him to employment with Newkirk Farmers’ Cooperative in 1984, which also operated the elevators in Kildare, and Bender, northwest of Newkirk, and he would remain with the company for more than 34 years.
The cooperative would eventually be bought out by Blackwell Farmers Cooperative.
“My first job was running the Bender elevator for about 11 years, and I became an operative manager for the whole for Newkirk Farmers’ Cooperate later, after Blackwell bought it out,” he said.
He later moved to Braman to operate the elevator there, and eventually to Geuda Springs, Kan., also part of Two Rivers Cooperative.
After Blackwell obtained the Newkirk Farmers’ Cooperative, they started making changes, which included a sale of the Bender elevator to a local family, and the Newkirk elevator to Two Rivers Cooperative.
“I got to come home, and ran the Newkirk facility for almost 18 years,” he said.
Even though the elevator changed hands, much has remained the same throughout the years. They still store wheat from area fields, still apply fertilizer and pesticides and offer the same farm and ranch supplies for area producers. The same quality service is still offered behind the counter.
Much more has changed, however, as Kay County agriculture has greatly diversified.
“We take in soybeans, milo, corn, wheat, and we help with acres of cotton, lots of haygrazer, too,” he said. “Many years ago, it was just wheat.”
Walking through the front door at 10:30 that morning, the main lobby of the office is filled with activity, with tables along the windows lined with food. Many of the cooperative’s employees are present, along with area producers, and even Curtis’ family, including his parents, Johnny and Diane Grace, and his children, Spencer Grace, and Jason and Carrie Grace and Heidi and Ike Heilig and family.
“The party was put on by employees. I was overwhelmed by the number of people that showed up, and the reminiscing with the older folks, and the new generation of farmers,” he said.
Retirement isn’t the end for Grace, as he will remain in the area, and will still grace the store at Two Rivers Coop. He isn’t slowing down, either, as he is entering a new venture, taking over operation of Blackjack Bait & Tackle on River Road.
“I’m an outdoorsman, so come see me at the new shop,” he said. “It’s going to be a new, improved future for me.”
As the last of the people leave following the party, and he closes shop for the last time, he reflects on his long tenure at the cooperative, remembering the people he worked with and the way they touched his life. It is something that will be with him, no matter where he goes.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come and go today. I’m overwhelmed with all the people that came today,” he said. “This is not the end, it’s the beginning.”