Dean Wysner spent two decades crisscrossing the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Central Area, breaking bread with producers and bringing their beliefs back to the organization’s state board.
That commitment earned Wysner the Service To Agriculture Award, the organization’s highest honor. He received the award during the Federation’s 101st annual meeting in Montgomery on Dec. 5.
“This is a great honor for me and my family,” said Wysner, 76. “It’s probably as big an honor as I’ve ever received. The people I served did much more for me than I ever did for them.”
Wysner, a Randolph County poultry and cattle farmer, was first elected Central Area vice president in 1999.
Wysner took a hands-on approach to the role, making it a priority to visit each of his 17 counties at least three times annually to provide in-depth reports on Alfa Insurance, political races and pressing agricultural issues.
“I wanted my counties to be informed,” he said. “But I never told them we were going to do something. I asked what they wanted us to do.”
Wysner’s late wife, Angie, was his traveling companion, often joining him for visits like the 12-hour roundtrip journey from their Woodland home near the Georgia line to Mississippi border counties. Angie died in January.
“I wanted us to be at every meeting when the first person showed up,” Wysner said. “I met a lot of good people all over the state. The Federation is just a big family.”
Federation President Jimmy Parnell served with Wysner on the state board as a district director in the early 2000s before Parnell was elected president in 2012. The Chilton County logger and cattle farmer said he was proud to call Wysner his friend.
“Dean’s deep desire to spend time with our people changed our vice presidents’ approach to serving members,” Parnell said. “We cannot overemphasize the amount of time he and Angie spent on the road traveling to be with their fellow farmers. Their service and love for this organization is still felt today, and we are pleased to honor Dean with this award.”
The son of a sharecropper, Wysner helped his father tend cotton and corn with mule-drawn machinery when he was 12 years old. After Wysner’s two years in the U.S. Army and work in the textile industry, he and Angie built commercial layer hen houses. Wysner’s Federation foundation was laid when he revived the local Young Farmers program.
Subsequent leadership training and a desire to solve problems evolved into serving in every official capacity on the Randolph County Farmers Federation (RCFF) board.
Two nine-year stints on the State Beef Committee fortified Wysner’s network of farmer-friends and grew his involvement.
“I’ve always had a yearning to be part of the decision-making philosophy,” said Wysner, who testified nationally before Congress on agricultural issues and served on advisory and policy committees for the Federation “If we have a problem, I want to solve the problem.”
During his tenure as vice president, Wysner was a stalwart champion of Federation members and staff. He also helped build the framework for the Federation to rejoin the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), a multi-year process that was completed in 2004.
“That was the biggest achievement we had while I served,” he said. “After we rejoined, we were able to share our philosophy with other states and make AFBF stronger.”
Wysner, who retired from the commercial layer-hen business in 2000, still raises cattle near Woodland and spends time with his daughter, Deana; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. He and Angie lost daughter Lori to leukemia in 1996, and their son, Chad, died in 2016 from cancer.
He’s still serving farmers, too, as RCFF president and a member of local boards, including the Randolph County Equine & Ag Center.
“I’m still involved for the same reason I got started. The Federation is the group that makes decisions as far as agriculture goes,” he said. “My part has changed, but I still want to be a part. It’s the best ag organization in the state without a doubt. We do more for agriculture than anyone else, and I’m proud to be part of that.”