Amy Cowan

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Reflecting on my career at the American Hereford Association (AHA) and the places it has taken me, I can’t help but remember high school graduation day and sitting down to read a book I received from a dear friend. The message in Dr. Seuss’s inspirational piece, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, struck a chord with me that day and has motivated me many times since.  “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” 

I’ve watched countless young Hereford exhibitors walk into the showring for the first time at the age of seven and I have watched them grow up and pass down their maroon jackets as they give their retiring addresses and complete their terms on the junior board. With each graduating class, I so enjoy seeing members of the National Junior Hereford Association (NJHA) and other industry friends achieve these special milestones in their young lives. As the director of youth activities and foundation for the AHA my days are spent building programs, organizing events, mentoring the junior members of the Hereford breed, and in the end creating opportunities for them to become future leaders of this great industry we all grew up in. 

I often talk to high school students and even college students who are undecided about what their future holds. For many years I was going to follow my mom’s footsteps in the dental field and be a hygienist. And right up until the end of my senior year, I was positive I wanted to be a nurse. Isn’t it funny how our past experiences, coupled with the people we meet along the way, quickly change one’s mind as to what the future holds and the places we will go.

As a youth, I had a very similar path as many of you. I grew up on my family’s farm in Northwest Iowa. We raised everything from corn and soybeans, to cattle, pigs and sheep. My high school did not have a FFA program, but I grew up in 4-H and am so thankful for all the places 4-H took me. “Ferd” was the first steer I ever showed and how ironic that he was a Hereford from my Grandpa Clow. I spent my summers helping on the farm, riding horses and working on my 4-H projects in preparation for the county and state fairs. My brother and I were the third generation of the Cowan family to raise Shorthorns and Cowan Cattle Company gave me the first taste of this industry that I love, took me many places over the years and introduced me to some of my very best of friends.

I graduated from high school in 1993 and from there I was off to South Dakota State University (SDSU). It was at the freshman orientation career fair that I met the SDSU livestock judging team coach at the time and had a chance to visit with her about opportunities in the college of agriculture. I remember rehashing the day’s events with Dad on our way home from Brookings, and the fact that I could take my love for agriculture and turn it into a career path seemed too good to be true. That day, Dad encouraged me to follow my heart and it didn’t take me long to realize that SDSU was the place for me and just like that I had decided to major in ag journalism and animal science.

College days were some of the best years of my life, and still today, when fall rolls around, there is a part of me that would like to be headed back to Brookings to catch up with the crew. I was involved in a variety of clubs and activities at SDSU and as part of my work-study program worked in the meat lab, giving me hands on experience in that part of the industry and customer service. I was very active in Block and Bridle, Little International and the Rodeo Club, where I served as the business manager for the Jack Rabbit Stampede. These activities exposed me to all kinds of event planning and fundraising scenarios and from these experiences I developed a passion for marketing and orchestrating events. 

My junior and senior years I took the opportunity presented to me and competed on the livestock judging team. Not having had any judging experience other than placing a few classes at the county fair, I will never forget how nervous I was to give my first set of reasons and how out of my league I knew I was. But, I stepped out of my comfort zone and had a huge mountain to climb. Judging was definitely the highlight for me at SDSU and I truly believe it is what opened up my career door and taught me a whole lot about not only livestock, but, life in general. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t use a skill set I acquired from competing on the judging team, not to mention the friendships and networks I built that led me to the next places.

I was fortunate enough to land an internship at the American Shorthorn Association (ASA) between my junior and senior year and that was an awesome learning experience for me getting to work and learn alongside ASA and Shorthorn Country staff members. After a summer at the ASA headquarters and playing a big part in that year’s national junior show and helping to pull together the pages of the magazine, I realized I was doing what I loved.

In the spring of my senior year, a door opened for me at the American Hereford Association and one phone interview later I had the job and was moving to Kansas City. Time flies when you are having fun, and it is hard for me to believe that June 1st will mark my 19th year working for the association and serving our membership. While I have had a wide variety of job titles and responsibilities through out my Hereford timeline, none have been more fulfilling than my current duties and serving as the director of youth activities and my involvement with the Hereford Youth Foundation of America. 

Tonight as I finish this article, we are wrapping up the early bird entry deadline for the upcoming Junior National Hereford Expo that will take place in Louisville. As I watch the entries roll in on my computer screen and experience the excitement that surrounds getting ready for the junior national for exhibitors and their families from across the country, it definitely makes the years of planning, all the fundraising and all the efforts that go into an event of this magnitude so worth my while.  

None of the places I have been would be near the same without the people I have encountered and worked with along the way. Day in and day out I am in complete awe of the support that my Hereford family and livestock industry have for our Hereford youth programs. Together we have worked hard to provide more scholarship opportunities, to create more effective leadership programs and to build the Junior National Hereford Expo into one of the best in the world. All this, so the next generation can continue to move mountains. 

The youth of the livestock industry are definitely going places and I consider myself lucky to get to be just a small part on some of your journeys. My Dad taught me at a young age to follow my dreams and I think he would be proud of the places those dreams are taking me. My advice to you as your life happens… look ONWARD and look UPWARD and like all of us in American agriculture strive to do each day, work hard to leave your space in a better place than you found it. I look forward to seeing you all down the road and at the next place.

 “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So...get on your way!”  Dr. Seuss