Bemis headed into retirement - Quad-Cities Online: Employment

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Bemis headed into retirement

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Posted: Sunday, August 30, 1998 1:00 am

ALEDO -- Half of Richard Bemis's mouth slid to a grin as he began to explain what retirement will be like.

``I'm going to go home and take care of 26 years of neglect on my farm,'' Mr. Bemis said. ``First thing, though, I'm going to visit my daughters in Kansas and Colorado.''

Officially, Mr. Bemis's last day as conservation technician for the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District is Sept. 30. However, two weeks of vacation puts his last day at Sept. 18.

Mr. Bemis is looking at that day with mixed emotions. He is anxious to visit his daughters and get to work on his 160-acre parcel. Yet, he loves the people he works with and feels a deep friendship to the farmers he has worked with since he joined the SWCD in 1972.

``They're a great group of people,'' Mr. Bemis said. ``Sure there were some that were gruff sometimes, but you get past that and they're really nice. I've learned that farmers are an intelligent bunch of people. They have to be to stay in the business. They have to be a good manager and understand the markets.''

Being a conservation technician all those years has been a challenge. He's got stories to tell -- but not for print, he said. But he'll talk about the changes in the industry.

``One of the biggest things I've seen is the government's penchant for paperwork,'' he said shaking his head. ``It seems to increase each day.''

Another increase he's seen is in no-till. When he started his job with SWCD, no-till was unheard of. Every farmer owned a mold board plow. If one of those can be found on a farm these days, chances are it's rusting behind a shed. Nearly 70 percent of the county is now no-tilled.

``All we had to do was prove it worked the way we said it did,'' Mr. Bemis said. ``A few started, and the rest followed. My aim has been to give the people of this county the best conservation work I could give them.''

When he first took the job, most conservation work was building terraces. With no-till, most of his work has been building erosion-control structures, grass waterways and buffer strips.

``We've gone from losing 40 to 50 tons an acre to less than 6 tons per acre,'' Mr. Bemis said. ``That's important to everybody.''

Mr. Bemis gained most of his knowledge through the series of jobs he's held.

Born in Wisconsin, Mr. Bemis and his parents moved to Peru when he was 4 months old. As a young teen, he worked in the mines and in the smelter. After his mother died, his father sent him to live with his grandmother in Arizona.

He and his siblings stayed there for about a year, when his father returned to make different arrangements. Mr. Bemis was sent to the former Roosevelt Military Academy in Aledo.

That move changed his life. He became an active high schooler, meeting his wife, Norma, at a band concert. They both played French horns and sat next to each other during the concert.

``We had two real dates,'' he said. ``I went with her to her prom, and she went to mine. She's wonderful|...|the best thing that ever happened to me.''

After high school, Mr. Bemis attended the University of Wisconsin while working in a laboratory taking care of the monkeys.

``The monkeys would hear the tapping of the shoes coming down the hall, and they knew it was time to eat,'' he said. ``They'd scream and make all kinds of noise. It was an interesting job, but college wasn't for me.''

Home to Aledo he went.

For a few years he worked for Bob Weeks and learned to farm. Eventually, he bought his own farm. While working the farm, Mr. Bemis has sold seed corn and worked for the former Ford and Oliver dealership in town.

``I've done a lot of things in my life,'' he said. ``I've worked under six conservationists, five state conservationists, five area conservationists and worked under two engineers. I've learned a lot from all of them. I've found most of them to be very good people|...|there have been a lot of good people over the years.''

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