South Dakota Farmers Union members donated $5,000 to Make-A-Wish and helped make Toby’s wish to go to Walt Disney World come true.
Toby is 11 and lives with his family in Lower Brule. Toby faces dilated cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening medical condition. He is among 53 other South Dakota youth who had their wishes granted in 2016 thanks to the generosity of South Dakotans, explains Paul Krueger, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish South Dakota.
“We really believe that wishes are essential for kids with life-threatening medical conditions. Wishes give hope, strength and joy to those children and their families,” Krueger explains.
Like Farmers Union, Make-A-Wish is a grassroots organization which relies heavily upon a volunteer network of nearly 200 and donations from individuals and organizations to keep granting wishes.
The phrase, “That will never work,” doesn’t slow BJ McNeil down.
Not when he converted 4,000 acres of his grandpa’s conventionally tilled land to no-till. Not when he was among the first Wessington farmers to plant Roundup Ready soybeans. Not when he decided to plant cover crops.
If anything, hearing the expression has only motivated the fourth generation farmer.
“I am confident in my own decisions and what I want to accomplish it’s just my nature,” BJ, 46, explains.
His aunt and business partner, Jonnie Zvonek, says it’s in his genes. “You have your grandpa’s attitude. You just don’t quit.”
BJ’s grandpa, John Wilmer Zvonek, is the reason both Jonnie and BJ farm today.
When Jonnie was born, she was the third of four daughters and his namesake.
“I was always with dad I was basically his ‘son’ John,” Jonnie recalls.
After high school Jonnie tried working off the farm. She moved to Sioux Falls and worked for the Argus Leader as a typesetter for nine months.
“I felt claustrophobic,” she explains. “I always loved getting my hands in the dirt and watching things grow - so, I asked dad if I could come home and farm full-time.”
Working side-by-side with her dad, Jonnie was involved in every aspect of the farm: planting, harvesting and bookwork.
In the summer, her sister Sheryl’s son, BJ, would spend much of his time on the farm.
BJ says although he didn’t know it at the time, it was those summer vacations spent on the farm that instilled in him a passion for working the land. This passion eventually led him to pursue a degree in Agriculture Engineering from Texas A&M.
“I first tried aerodynamics because I wanted to be a Navy pilot. Then I transferred to business. I had no passion for any of the classes. So, I asked myself, ‘What do I love?’ The answer was, ‘I loved farming,’” BJ explains.
Shortly after BJ graduated from college, Wilmer passed away. BJ asked Jonnie if he could come back and farm with her. She said yes.