May 3 2018 08:00 AM

That sage advice from my county dairy cattle judging coach set into full motion my career as a journalist.

Bill Borgwardt

“You are smart.”

“You know cows.”

“You can tell stories.”

That advice came from Bill Borgwardt, my Manitowoc County dairy cattle judging coach, in an attempt to convince me to take the next step on the senior judging team.

It meant everything to me. As far as I was concerned, Bill was a living legend.

“Just place the cows, drop the clipboard, and tell us a story,” continued the steady influence to the young teenage Corey.

With that I dropped the clipboard . . . my security blanket if you will . . . and took the next step in my skill’s development.

I’ve been telling stories ever since — either verbally or in the written word.

Borgwardt was a servant leader

Fortunately, I had the chance to thank Bill two years ago after preparing a talk about 10 servant leaders who shaped my life. I say “fortunate” because the co-owner of the famed Sunnyside Farms of Valders, Wis., passed away May 1, 2018, after a battle with cancer. Sunnyside Farms is on the short list of Distinguished Cattle Breeders enshrined in the National Dairy Shrine.

I owe this confidence-building encouragement to one of the best cattlemen I have ever known. As a greenhorn new to the registered Holstein business, Bill, his brother, Roger, and their father, Elroy, answered my many questions without a second thought.

The judging wall

We all have mentors who shape our lives. How important was Bill to my development?

“Dairy judging? No way.”

That was my consistent response for a number of years. Then one day my mom and dad said, “No more dairy cattle shows and no more basketball unless you try out for judging.”

Oh how I resented my parents at that moment. Today, I love them for it.

So, I went out for our county’s 4-H judging team in an era when only four people made the team.

Judging was a humbling experience.

My kid sister — my 9-year-old kid sister — beat out the 14-year-old me for the team.

After being bounced from the team that first year, I had to compete for the senior team and GIVE REASONS.

I didn’t make the team in year two. I read my notes right off the sheet. At the end of that year Bill Borgwardt said, “Corey, you need to try out again. You are smart. You know cows. You can tell stories. Just place the cows, drop the clipboard, and tell us a story.”

That is what I did in my third attempt to make the team. And what an attempt it was . . . in my first year judging, as a rookie, I made the team and placed seventh at the state contest. The very next year, our team won the Wisconsin 4-H contest and earned a trip to World Dairy Expo.

The lesson learned: Coaches Bill Borgwardt, Gregg Miller, and my parents were servant leaders here. My lesson was learning to listen to advice from others; especially those who we respect and who we believe have our best interest at heart. At times, we can’t see our potential.

Also, this experience was the first time anyone in my life verbally recognized my ability to tell a story.

The foreshadowing. Is it a door or a wall? I had no idea what a trip to World Dairy Expo meant. I had never been there, nor had I been to a state fair or Junior Holstein function until I was 16 years old. At this point of my life, I had been out of Wisconsin exactly one day, to Six Flags Great America in Illinois.

All I remember thinking from the first 20 or so minutes of walking onto the colored shavings on the Coliseum floor was “cool.” I was mesmerized, so mesmerized I hardly judged that first class, and the Ayrshires were my downfall, scoring a 26 before averaging 47 on the other nine classes.

It has never bothered me that I blew that Ayrshire class or nearly cost myself an All American finish (Top 25).

That day I found my passion — the dairy industry. It was from that moment that my veins began to pump white blood (passion for the dairy industry) instead of red blood.

The lesson to all: find your passion and define your vocation. If you find a passion, you will never work a day because your life will be filled with JOY. That joy eventually opened the door to me co-editing We Need A Show, the 50th anniversary book about all things World Dairy Expo.

“Just tell me a story.”

Bill Borgwardt helped to light that flame.

Rest in peace, Bill.

You changed my life.

Click here to read Bill's obituary.

Corey Geiger

The author is the managing editor, and he brings 22 years of industry leadership to our readers overseeing all editorial content and production of the magazine. His degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison combined dairy science and agricultural economics.