For Progressive Dairyman's Women in Dairy issue (November 21), I asked members of the dairy blogging community to describe their female icons of the dairy industry. Below were the responses we received.
I couldn't resist also giving a shoutout to my own female dairy hero, my mom. She's pictured at right with, from left, my sister-in-law Kelly, me (can you tell I'm her daughter?) and my younger sister Sarah.
The photo was taken at the 2010 Women in Dairy Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
It's worth noting that all four of us are involved in the agricultural industry: mom on the home farm, Kelly as director of communications and member services for PennAg Industries Association, Sarah as a sales trainee for Dow AgroSciences and me in my role with Progressive Dairyman.
Anyway, on with the tributes!
Like several other women described below, my mother, Vicky Caldwell, never pictured herself as being a dairy farmer. But when she fell in love with my dad, she embraced his lifestyle. She put her college education to work on the farm, keeping the books in order and keeping my dad in business. Over the years, she’s been responsible for milking the cows, feeding the calves, and she even taught herself to drive the skidloader. She’s a devoted daughter, mother of four and grandmother of two. She’s a never-ending source of guidance and comfort. And she’s one of my best friends.
—Emily Caldwell, Pennsylvania
To share additional women in dairy heros, leave a comment below or e-mail me at
My mother-in-law, Diane Hartschuh from Ohio, is one remarkable dairywoman. From caring for heifers to feeding newborn calves, she has shown those around her how to be compassionate. When she’s not caring for livestock, she can be found driving tractors, baling hay, or pitching in wherever needed. From managing finances to providing for our everyday needs, she’s always there for her family. This amazing woman finds time to care for us and to help run the family farm. For Diane, farm and family go together, and that’s something she’s always practiced.
—Rose Hartschuh, Ohio
While she won’t want to take credit, Gail Poffenberger Yeiser has influenced hundreds of dairy youth through her work with the dairy leasing program here in Maryland. She’s also the poster child for the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture, helping many get through higher education, helps with the dairy princess program, takes a huge load in the MD Ag Council’s lobbying efforts -- and much, much more! She’s my hero!
—Susan Gesling Summers, Maryland
Shelly Messing from Messing Dairy in Bad Axe, Michigan, was the mayor’s daughter of a rural town but still didn’t know anything about farm life. When she married my father, she had no idea what she was getting into. Over the past 27 years she has gone from working off the farm to being a daily owner/manager of the farm. Her journey into the dairy industry has shown me that no matter where my path starts, I can do whatever I want with hard work and an open mind. Working my mom every day is a blessing I wouldn’t give up for anything.
—Ashley Messing, Michigan
The woman in dairy who has inspired me would be my grandmother, Jean Dotterer. She went along with the crazy idea my grandfather (Paul) had to start a dairy farm. Growing up, Gram always said she’d never milk cows. She obviously loved my Grandpa a heck of a lot to build a dairy farm business that started with 15 cows in the 1950s and has since grown to 700. While building the business, she also raised six kids no more than three years apart. I often ask her how she did it. She has told me stories of how she had playpens everywhere and walkie talkies to monitor them when she was milking. I’ve also heard more than once about the time her and Grandpa both had the flu while milking cows and taking care of all the kids. I’ve always admired her compassion, work ethic and strength to help build a successful business and raise a big family. I think of her often and hope I can be as strong and resilient as her as my husband and I build our own dairy business together.
—Katie Dotterer-Pyle, Pennsylvania
• Leontien VandeLaar because she beat cancer once and is on her way to do so a second time.
• Joan Lau with Semex in Canada because she hired me out of college to work at World Wide Sires and taught me a lot about life.
• Kathy Swift, DVM, in Florida because she’s an incredible volunteer with the AgChat Foundation. I find her balancing act of motherhood, dairy vet work and art gallery to be rather amazing.
• Kelly MacKinnon in Indiana because she milks my cows and takes care of her ladies with pride every day. She inspires me with reality checks from the farm, great arguments about cows and true friendship.
• Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen at Michigan State University because we shared so much through undergraduate work there, from clipping cows to judging to studying to cookies. She serves as an inspiration as an advisor now.
—Michele Payn Knoper, Michigan
Carrie Mess of Lake Mills, Wisconsin. She has organized a hay drive, taking donations of hay and sending the semi loads down to Texas and Oklahoma. Waupun Equipment, where she works, is helping with the trucking expenses. She’s a very energetic and caring young woman — a blessing to those receiving the hay. Her hard work is helping many. Editor’s note: Learn more at: http://bit.ly/FG_haydrive.
—Stephany Nummerdor, Wisconsin
Growing up on a dairy farm in the small town of Pomeroy, Ohio was no walk in the park; early mornings, late nights and unprecedented surprises always seemed to take up what “spare” time my family had. But through it all, one person seemed like she was always pulling the quadruple shift of working and taking care of three girls, a husband, three dogs and 400 cows. She didn’t grow up on a farm, but after meeting my father she soon found herself whisked into a lifestyle she may not have been prepared for.
Twenty-eight years later, she is now one of the keys to the success of my family’s dairy. She has instilled in my sisters and me the same determination and love that she has shown to both our family and our farm over the years. She is truly an inspiration to me when times get tough and a blessing when times are good. She is my mother and fellow dairy enthusiast, Jan Holter.
—Kelsey Holter, Ohio
My dairywoman super hero is Mary Cameron. She is a dairy owner in Hanford, California. She is in her 80s but still continues to advocate for dairy farmers. Mary is my hero, as when dairywomen were good with the calves, washing the barn, or in the kitchen, Mary would go toe-to-toe with any man on dairy policy. She is often strong with her questions and demands to know “WHY?” Yet she is a listener and is always looking to learn about the other side of the story. She has served in many positions in her co-op as well as national and state positions that were supported by the dairymen that she gained respect from. Mary is one of a kind!
I have been told more than once that I was a “Mini-Mary,” and quite frankly....there is not a better complement!
—Barbara Martin, California
Michele Ruby has dedicated her life’s work to promoting and the dairy industry. She grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Scio, Oregon, and has worked in the dairy industry in a variety of capacities throughout her life. Today, Michele helps manage her family’s dairy farm as well as operating her own successful marketing business, Ruby-Do Inc. She has been involved with creating and implementing many nationwide dairy promotional activities such as the Dairy Farming Today website. Michele’s positive attitude, creativity and passion for dairy are an asset to all U.S. dairy producers. She encouraged me to start a blog to share the story of my family farm, and I’m sure has inspired others to get involved in promoting dairy. I appreciate Michele’s dedication to dairy!
—Brenda Hastings, Ohio
One of my first woman influencers was one of the veterinarians on my parents’ dairy farm. Her name was Janice Messenheimer, and she was the first woman cow vet I had any contact with. I know seeing her do that work at such an early age definitely let me know that I could do it too. I don’t know where she is now, except that she married a dairy farmer and had children.
—Kathy Swift, Florida
Pennsylvania is home to so many amazing dairy women that it would be really hard to choose just one person to highlight. So I went through the contacts on my cell phone and complied this list of women who are involved in the day-to-day work and critical decision-making on their family farms. Many also work away from the farm or have side businesses, raise beautiful children (some are babies and some are grown), plant and harvest huge gardens to feed their families and share with neighbors, take active roles in the agriculture and local communities, and still find time to be wonderful, supportive friends and gorgeous wives with really great senses of humor! They each make the world far richer and I’m lucky to have them on my call list! They are: Nicole Ansell, Butler County; Claire Burdette, Franklin County; Vicky Caldwell, Beaver County; Marilyn Hershey; Chester County; Junia Isiminger, Crawford County; Janice Kennedy, Butler County; Lolly Lesher, Berks County; Lori Martin, Lawrence County; Maggie Mase, Mercer County; Terri Packard, Bradford County native; Andrea Stoltzfus, Somerset County; and Alexa Stoner, Franklin County.
—Jean Kummer, Pennsylvania
A few years back, I met Terri DiNitto through a newspaper discussion forum in Utica, New York, when she commented on an agriculture-related article in the paper. When the OD eliminated the open discussion forum, she joined myself and others at a different local forum, and continued to promote agricultural issues along with other issues of interest to young parents and local taxpayers.
When she found that I had a real interest in farming, and had a deep concern for the way dairy farmers are forced to struggle in late years, she invited me to visit their farm. She has always answered my questions about modern day farming, and she arranged for her husband, Tony, to give me an early morning tour of the milking parlor, loafing barns and the entire operation, explaining in depth every aspect of the modern day dairy operation as we went.
Terri is an amazing young lady with a true passion for the cause when it comes to promoting, protecting, and speaking out for dairy farmers and agriculture in general. Her bubbly personality, winning smile, and "Energizer Bunny like" never ending desire to carry the message for dairy farmers to the uninformed public at every opportunity, makes her a wonderful candidate for your recognition in your next issue.
Terri is a very humble gal, and I had to pull hen's teeth to get the full list of the activities that she has taken part in. She is not the sort of gal that brags of her accomplishments or even finds them extraordinary. She only knows that I wanted the information to use her activity as an example of a typical modern farm wife in a blog post that I was composing.
The DiNitto farm is always willing to do tours when asked. Terri is truly an ambassador for the dairy industry, eagerly and proudly arranging tours and with her husband Tony, showing people around one of the finest dairy operations I have seen in late years. This year, along with Farm Fest, they have given tours to Oneida County ARC clients, NYS School for the Deaf students, Rome summer school students, Lego challenge students, Boy Scouts, as well as local Preschools.
Terri has served on the Oneida County Dairy Promotion committee for 16 years so far. Two of those years as Vice Chairperson and 5 years as Chairperson.
She was a primary Touring Teacher for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County – 2 years until she got too busy with Farm Fest, and now is on call if they get busy with the schools.
Terri has been a Farm Fest Event Coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County since 2010 (she had been on the committee for 5 years prior to being coordinator), an event that promotes agriculture in our county and attracts more than 800 elementary students and 4,000 people. It's held the first friday in June every year. Their farm hosted for two years.
She has also served as:
-County Leader for New York Agri-Women – 2011-2012
-NY Ag. Literacy Volunteer – Since 2005 ( She reads an agriculture book to over 200 elementary school students every March and tries to do activities related to the book for the kids)
-Was on the Board Member Search Committee for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County – 2010
-Women in Farming Member – Since 2009 (a grass roots group that promotes agriculture in Oneida Co. for example she organized a group to take different agriculture animals and agriculture products to Utica College so the students could get “a touch of agriculture”.)
-Annie’s Project graduate – 2011
-Congressman Acuri’s Agriculture advisory committee - 2010
-Congressman Hanna’s Agriculture advisory committee - current
-Oneida County Barn Quilt Trail organizer – starting painting the quilts and is currently getting the trail organized. So far there are 5 quilts up in Oneida Co.
-FarmMedic Oneida County training co-coordinator – this is a project happening where we train farm families about what to do in an emergency before fire department arrives (happening Nov. 9th) and then there will be a fire department and EMS training for farm emergencies in the spring at their farm. Terri is the co-coordinator for this project.
-She is a member of the Oneida County Farm Bureau
-She had an adopt a calf program in the N.A. Walbran elementary school for 1st and 2nd grade classes for 3 years (then field trips got cut from budget)
-Both of Terri and Tony's boys are involved in 4H showing cows and doing community service.
And of course, she supports her loving husband Tony DiNitto, who is the one of the hardest working, proudest and most knowledgeable dairy farmers I know who truly loves, loves, loves his job and loves feeding America!
Since becoming friends with Terri and Tony DiNitto, I have followed the daily activities of the farm from afar, as well as all of the other agriculture-related endeavors that Terri devotes her self freely to. If one were to go to her Facebook page, you would wonder when she finds time to sleep, with all the activity that she manages to promote and partake in, while also caring for two young boys and a husband and managing household chores.
The DiNitto's are a handsome and vibrant young couple, and Terri is an attractive young woman who always wears a winning smile. She is truly dedicated to the farming community, and to promoting dairy farming in hopes of preserving a solid future in farming for her two sons. Her smile, her outgoing personality, and her dedication would make her a shoo as a cover girl for any agriculture related promotion. She is truly dedicated to her life of serving as an ambassador for the dairy industry, and most of all as a nurturing mother and loving wife.
—Dick Naegele, Tennessee
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