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People Pioneers | February 2023

by Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Dean and Gloria Hurlbut

Dean and Gloria Hurlbut reflect on their life devoted to Angus producers.

Youth growing up in the livestock industry today have never known a time when junior beef associations were less than flourishing or even nonexistent. Yet, the pioneer credited with organizing one of the first junior beef organizations in the world remembers that time well.

“Angus is my life”

In 1956, the American Angus Association (AAA) established a junior activities department with a fulltime staff employee. It didn’t take long for the AAA, based in St. Joseph, Mo., to land on Dean Hurlbut to head the new department created to serve youth in the Angus breed. The young Hurlbut, who had grown up on a registered Angus operation in South Dakota, was fresh out of college and working as an assistant county agent in Aberdeen, S.D., when the job offer came his way.

Dean accepted the position and in 1957 he started his long career with the AAA as the director of junior activities. For the next 43 years, Dean dedicated his life to youth and adults in the Angus breed creating opportunities appreciated by Angus breeders of all ages to this day.

Dean’s commitment to Angus breeders is woven into the fabric of his being. He’s been quoted numerous times through the years as saying, “Angus is my life.” Dean’s credited as a pioneer in the Angus breed, paving the way for a national junior showmanship contest, a national junior breed show, state junior organizations, and national junior and adult associations.

The passion for the Angus industry is felt equally as strongly by Dean’s wife, Gloria, who worked for the AAA for 29 years. Gloria served in the public relations department and as the head of the breed improvement department. Though two decades have passed since the Hurlbuts retired from the AAA, the couple still pokes into the office in St. Joseph, Mo., to visit with staff and catch up on the latest industry happenings.

Leading the Way

Few people savor the growth and success of the Angus junior and adult associations as much as the Hurlbuts. They remember the days when the associations were in their infancy. “The Angus breed has exceeded all expectations from years past,” Dean Hurlbut shared when reflecting on the current state of the Angus industry.

When Dean stepped into his new role as director of junior activities 66 years ago, his first order of business entailed organizing state junior Angus associations. “After being organized we would take the officers and organize a series of two or three educational field days in the state; getting the young members and parents involved,” Dean explained. “This proved very successful.”

The organizations Dean started grew and thrived through the years. His contemporaries applaud Dean for his vision that led to the establishment of one of the early junior beef associations in the world, the National Junior Angus Association (NJAA). Dean assisted with the formation of the NJAA in 1980 and oversaw the association until 1998.

What began as an organization to assist young people with Angus steer and heifer projects has blossomed into a far more encompassing entity. According to the NJAA, there are now more than 4,000 active junior members 21 years and younger from all over the United States and Canada.

Currently, local, regional, and state junior associations work alongside the NJAA and the AAA to host a variety of events including shows, field days, conferences, meetings, and other activities aimed to promote the Angus breed and producers. “The National Junior Angus Association is the largest worldwide. It grows every year as more people get involved, which is great,” Dean shared.

First National Showmanship Contest

Once Dean established successful junior organizations, he set his sights on creating a national junior showmanship contest. Little did he know at the time it would develop into one of the most competitive junior showmanship contests in the world.

The first National Junior Angus Showmanship Contest was held in 1967 in conjunction with the All-American Angus Breeders Futurity, in Lexington, Ky. “One reason was to use animals that were in the futurity show. Two contestants had to be selected from their state and they could only compete once,” Dean recalled. “The contest was narrowed down to 15 and a final five were placed.” In the years following the inaugural national showmanship contest, the contest committee voted to name the top national junior showmanship award, the Dean Hurlburt Award.

First National Junior Show

Two years after the first national junior Angus showmanship competition, Dean orchestrated the first National Junior Angus Heifer Show. The first National Junior Angus Heifer Show was held in Columbia, Mo., in 1969, in conjunction with the annual Angus national conference.

The national junior show laid the groundwork for the National Junior Angus Show (NJAS) of today. “The first national junior show in 1969 was heifers only,” Dean recollected. “As the show went on different events were added like the cow/calf classes, bred and owned heifer classes, steer classes, carcass classes, carcass contest, and bred and owned bull classes. The last several years 1,200 or more head were shown.”

New Role

After 16 years with the junior activities department, Dean shifted gears within the AAA and took over as the director of activities. In his position as director of activities, Dean organized events for members of the AAA. He traveled the country and the world coordinating major exhibitions, conferences, shows, banquets, and meetings.

Known for his attention to detail and devotion to the people involved in the Angus breed, Dean spent more than four decades working to promote the Angus breed and support Angus producers of all ages. Throughout his years with the AAA, Dean kept careful detail of his travels. He estimates he flew more than a million and half miles and traveled to all 50 states and 14 countries. Dean spent 4,749 nights away from home which is the equivalent of 13 years and four days. “To accomplish all of that, you have to have an understanding wife and family,” Dean stated.

Gloria’s Contributions

Dean’s wife, Gloria, is not only understanding, but wholeheartedly shares a deep passion for people in the Angus industry. The two met while working at the AAA. Gloria joined the organization in 1958 with a job in the public relations department. Dean and Gloria got married two years later in 1960.

When married life developed into parenthood, Gloria chose to take a break from her position at the AAA. “We adopted two girls, so I decided to stay home while our girls were growing up since Dean was gone so much. When they were in high school, I went back to work for the association in the breed improvement department,” Gloria said.

Gloria’s favorite aspect of her job at the AAA was communicating with Angus producers. She especially enjoyed traveling to shows and other events where she could meet face-to-face the people she was helping over the phone. “What a joy it was to meet the people on the other end of the telephone,” Gloria shared. “Blessings are the wonderful friendships that I made during that time. These people were our Angus family.”

Collectively, the Hurlbuts worked 72 years at the AAA with the pure motivation of helping their “family” in the Angus breed. The couple touched countless lives during their tenure and Angus enthusiasts young and old still benefit from the Hurlbuts’ work to this day.

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