FORT JENNINGS — Fort Jennings native, lifelong farmer and three-term Putnam County Commissioner Richard “Dick” Ricker has been nominated for the Ohio Agricultural Council Hall of Fame and will be inducted Aug. 3.
Ricker said Fort Jennings has been his home for 92 years, even since he was born on the road previously known as Ricker Road. He now lives on the current Ricker Road, Road 20.
Farming is in his blood. It began with his grandfather who moved to the Fort Jennings area with four other brothers from the Glandorf area and began farming. His father farmed, and he embraced the profession, too.
“I guess I was, since I was a youngster, involved with farming,” Ricker said. “When I was old enough I was in 4-H.”
Ricker began in 4-H in market beef and had a champion steer one year at the Putnam County Fair. That year, former Ohio Gov. Frank Lausche was at the fair campaigning, and Ricker said he got a photograph with the politician, and Lausche ate lunch with his family.
“My dad invited him to have lunch with us,” Ricker said, smiling. “So we had lunch with Frank Lausche out of the trunk of the car.”
His time as a Putnam County Commissioner began after the Libby canning plant in Leipsic closed in the late 1970s, with his decision to run directly related to that closing.
“On the 9th day of July, and I’ll always remember that day, of the field man, who was a good friend of mine, came out and told me, ‘Dick, I don’t know what’s going to happen. [The company] just filed for bankruptcy.’”
The plant owners had expanded the acreage of tomato farming in the area, and there was a massive amount of tomatoes waiting to be harvested, Ricker said. If something wasn’t done, the harvest would rot and many farmers who invested in the crop would lose their homes.
Unable to distribute them to other plants for processing, Ricker and other farmers met with the plant manager and devised a plan. The plant employees and farmers agreed to defer some of their pay until the harvest season ended. The farmers received $20 a ton to cover harvest expenses. Arrangements were made with a bank in Chicago that worked closely with Libby to place money into a deferred account, with interest to be paid to the growers holding the bulk of the financial burden. At the end of the harvest, everyone in the region from the canning plant, as well as the farmers, were paid in full with a little extra.
A short time later, Ricker was approached about running for county commissioner and ended up serving three terms. He would have ran for more, but health problems at the time prevented him from doing so.
Ricker also served 10 years as the District 1 director of the Ohio Pork Council, he served one the board of directors for the Ohio Pork Council and was on the Fort Jennings Local School Board before leaving to be a commissioner.
Ricker said his family knew he had been nominated for the Agricultural Hall of Fame and kept it secret from him until the final announcement of the inductees was made. It was his son Dale who finally told him.
“It was a complete surprise ,” he said. “I knew a lot of the people that are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve always admired those people and the careers they had.”
Ricker has an office with plaques commemorating his service to different organizations, awards for champion live stock and even a 2nd place award for a brick laying contest he won at the 1995 Ohio State Fair.
“I’ve lived a very interesting life,” he said.
As to the secret to having a good life, he said, “Work hard, be happy, smile once and a while and enjoy life.”
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362