As exhibitors fit their calves in preparation for the much anticipated 2015 Iowa State Fair Market Steer Show, The Showtimes sat down with State Fair Ambassador Don Greiman in the cozy beef superintendent’s office located on the northeast side of the Cattle Barn. Nearing 89-years-old, Greiman has led a life actively tied to the cattle industry. From serving on the Iowa State Fair Board for 44 years to being highly involved with the Angus Breed as both a producer and as a voting delegate (where he hasn’t missed a meeting in 59 years), it appears that everything he is associated with encompasses cattle and has the reputation for excellence. Greiman’s rich history in the cattle arena dates back a few generations to when his grandfather laid the foundation to where the Greiman family is today. As Don began to tell us his story on that uncharacteristically chilly Iowa Summer day, we were all hanging on to his every word in interest, captivation, and ultimately respect.
Wanting to escape the religious persecution in Germany, the Greiman family made their way to the United States when Don’s grandfather was 9-months-old. Having to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a three-and-a-half to four-month journey by sail boat, Don’s grandfather was the only child under two-years-old to survive the trip. Landing in New Orleans, the family sailed up the Mississippi River to East Central Iowa where his grandfather and four brothers decided to settle. After making root in Garner, Iowa, Don’s grandfather grew up to marry another German immigrant and raise a farm family consisting of 14 children – 10 boys and 4 girls (Addis, Don’s father was the 13th born). All of which grew up to maturity.
The Greiman name has always been tied to agriculture. While Don’s grandfather’s farm was comprised of predominately high quality Percheron horses and Shorthorn cattle. At the time, the Shorthorns were a big, rough looking breed that are not what we are used to seeing today. When it came time to sell the cattle, his grandfather would ship the calves by train to the huge Union Stockyards in Chicago. On a particular shipment of carload of his Shorthorn fat cattle to the Chicago market in 1893, his grandfather saw a poster advertising the sale of purebred yearling Angus bull calves was being held on the shores of Lake Michigan. His grandfather was excited to have his first opportunity to see this new breed of cattle, and took a trolley across town from the Union Stockyards to the Columbian Exposition grounds. He fell in love with the first sight!
Don’s grandfather immediately observed that these Angus appeared earlier maturing and smoother finishing, which would mean less time on feed and a more desirable carcass. He quickly decided that he could take the money from the sale of his fat cattle and purchase on of these Angus bull calves. He selected what he thought were three best bull calves to be sold, but when the bidding began, the opening bids were more than he received for all his carload of cattle on the fat market. He returned home quire dejected, but he never gave up.
Don’s eyes sparkled as he led into the introduction of Angus cattle into their family’s operation. A while after the sale in Chicago, his grandfather saw a note at the local elevator advertising a man wanting to trade an Angus bull in return for a Percheron stallion. Having quality Percheron horses of their own, Don’s grandfather lined up to make the trade of one of his top Percheron stallions in return for the bull. It was his opportunity to get his feet wet in the breed that he so desperately wanted. At that time, letters where the main source for communication rather than telephones. After some correspondence, they had agreed to ship each other their respected animal via train – sight unseen. When the day came to pick up the bull, Don’s grandfather and six of his sons went to the train station. When the door opened, you can image the shock on their faces when a four-month-old hairy Angus bull calf was there to greet them. Many friends and people that knew them joked about how the Greiman’s got “snookered” having sent a top end Percheron stallion for a little calf.
Little did they know that that one calf would develop nicely into a bull that they used on their Shorthorn cows. While other producers were getting $4.00/100 for their cattle, the calves that the Greiman’s had crossed with that Angus bull were selling for $7.00/100 – nearly double! The buyers in Chicago said they would never have trouble selling their calves at a premium price if they brought that same quality! At that revelation, Don’s grandfather proclaimed, “We ain’t gonna do nothing but Angus.” And that is just what they did. While Don’s grandfather had Purebred Angus, it was not until his father, Addis, began to work with his cattle that they began to register the cattle.
When Don’s father, uncles and aunts turned 21, they each received 160 acres of land right there in Garner, Iowa from their parents. Now with land of his own and the love for Angus in his blood, Addis acted upon his want to raise registered Angus cattle. At the time, Fred Hanhe, the Editor for the Angus Journal was a mentor of Don’s father and advocated how the Angus breed was comprised of “good individuals and good genetics. It’s like a building, you need a good foundation.” From that point forward, the Greiman family has never slowed down with the Angus breed. While his father exhibited at district fairs to promote their Angus - which were still a fairly new breed - he himself began showing at the county level at the age of 10. While they lived very close to the Minnesota border, they would show at the Minnesota State Fair where there were not many Angus breeders as a way to advertise their genetics. Addis had a keen eye when it came to cattle; a trait that has been passed down for many generations.
Don began college at Iowa State University in 1947. He then had to defer his enrollment, having to return home to Garner to help his father who had got ulcers in World War II. He returned to school and graduated in 1952. While at ISU, he was a member of the livestock and meats judging team. In fact, he was a member of the 1951 National Champion Meats Judging Team. It was his roll as a livestock evaluator that ultimately led to his position on the Iowa State Fair Board.
In 1965, Don was attending the American Royal Livestock Show. While watching the Purebred Angus Show, the Secretary-Manager of the Iowa State Fair Board approached him, and told him that he needed his help because the Iowa State Fair Board did not have anyone on the Board involved with the production of any species of purebred livestock. Don was appalled to think that Iowa raised so much livestock and that it was such an important part of the Fair, and not to have the purebred industry more involved on the Iowa State Fair Board. One of the interesting aspects of the Iowa State Fair is that it is the only State Agency that has its Board not be politically appointed, but elected by popularity in each of the state’s six districts. Before he knew it, Don held the position and was well on his way to 44 years of service. He has the record of being the longest tender of being a Board member, and one of two to ever be President of the Board two different times. After retiring from the Board, he was appointed an Ambassador. He has the distinction of not missing a day at the Iowa State Fair in forty-nine years, and has missed attending only eight years of his eighty-nine years of life.
It is easy to see as either an exhibitor or simple attendee of the Iowa State Fair, that the fair as a whole is ran right. Much of this overall success is due in part to the continuity of the Iowa State Fair Board. Just as Don’s roots go back to that of the livestock industry and producing purebred livestock, the board as a whole is constructed of individuals that live the life they are representing at the State Fair. Just as a good foundation is required for a good Angus program, a good foundation is required for a top notch State Fair.
To say that Don’s involvement in agriculture is extensive and that he fits well into a leadership roll would be an understatement. Throughout his life he has made a notable difference by serving on multiple boards - including the American Angus Association Board of Directors (which he sat on during the initiation of the Certified Angus Beef program), the Iowa Beef Breeds Council, the Iowa Farmers Grain Dealers Board, the Hancock County Beef Producers Association, the North Central Iowa Angus Association, and the Iowa State University Alumni Association. Last year, he was honored to receive an award by the American Angus Association at their annual meeting for the Greiman Family’s contribution to the advancement and improvement of the Angus Breed. Another prestigious recognition Don has received for his involvement with the Iowa State Fair came in 2009 when he was presented with the Heritage Award by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions; which is their highest honor. The list of organizations taking note to Don’s influential life in agriculture does not end there. He has been given the Iowa 4-H Alumni Award and was inducted into both the Iowa 4-H and the Association of Iowa Fairs’ Hall of Fames. Don’s active lifestyle expands past the livestock industry to his community as well, where he takes an active role with his church and the local Rotary Club. He is a strong supporter of Iowa State athletics where he has been an ISU season ticket holder for both football and basketball for 55-years – and he rarely misses a game. In fact, his license plate reads “True Fan.”
Don Greiman is more than a State Fair Ambassador, past State Fair Board Member, or Angus Producer. He is a man that has taken his family’s base and love for agriculture and the Angus breed and built off of it to help grow the next generations of agricultural enthusiast. Don and his wife Yvonne have passed the responsibility of the operation of the over a century old Purebred Angus Herd and the farm operation to their son Ted, and daughter-in-law, Mary. With the success they have already accomplished by taking the Angus herd to the next level. Grandsons, Cole and Kyle Greiman, 5th generation producers, have both shown the Grand Champion Bred and Owned Angus Female at the National Junior Angus Show in 2010 and 2011. It will be fun to see what marks the Greiman family makes next on the livestock industry. As Don prepared to take Laurie on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Iowa State Fair – which had just been voted as the top state fair in the country by our readers for the second time - and the rest of us geared up to cover the steer show, we were left with the words of Tim Hindel, the beef superintendent whose office we had been meeting in, “Don Greiman is the Iowa State Fair.”
- Be sure to order a copy of Don Greiman’s book, “A Blue Ribbon Life: Memories of the Iowa State Fair” to read more about Greiman and the Iowa State Fair.