When an interview begins with, “You have to tell me if it’s raining or snowing out there today?” you know this person is from southwest Kansas. Terry Holdren, son of Beverly Holdren, and the late Charles R. (Dick) Holdren, has been recognized as one of Ingram’s Magazine’s 50 Kansans You Should Know and will be among 50 extraordinary business and community leaders featured in the March issue of Ingram’s magazine.
“Ingrams is a Kansas City based publication and we’ve been with them on some projects over time, looking at business development in Kansas and beyond,” Holdren explained, “Last year they recognized our president Rich Felts and they came back this year and wanted to visit with me.”
“It’s an honor, but I don’t like to seek recognition for things, we just like to do good work so that part is humbling, but it’s great to have the organization be recognized as one that makes a difference, I think that’s the goal and part of our mission and vision in the Farm Bureau and certainly work that I am committed to,” he said.
Upon graduating from Syracuse High School in 1990, Holdren attended Bethany College in Lindsborg, graduating in 1994 with a degree in History/Political Science. He then received his Juris Doctor from Washburn University in Topeka. While attending law school, he met Natalie, who later became his wife in 1996.
While in law school, Holdren worked for Lakin, Kans. native, Gary Hayzlett. Hayzlett at the time was the assistant majority leader in the house. “One of the first projects he gave me was to write the very first conceal and carry legislation in the state, it took ten years to get enacted, being the first one, but it was fun,” he said, “That developed the interest, being able to make a difference that you can see and feel, not only where we were living, but also folks at home with things that are important.”
Following law school, he worked one year in a bank in Smith Center as a trust officer, then Kansas City for a nonprofit, doing nonprofit and government relations. Relocating to Manhattan, he worked three years at the Riley County attorneys.
While working in the Riley County attorney’s office, he had the juvenile and child in need of care dockets. “Manhattan is a large community, but not a large community,” said Holdren, “I knew folks who worked at Kansas Farm Bureau, and growing up in Southwest Kansas, being involved a little in the family farms, had an interest and affinity for that.”
One day KFB called to say they had a lobbyist open, “I had gotten to know the manager of that division, and he asked me to come out to discuss it.” Holdren’s interest in becoming a lobbyist stems back to when his father was the editor of The Syracuse Journal, a position he held from 1965 until his death is February 1990.
Holdren remembers Paul Fleenor, a KFB lobbyist, who was a friend of his fathers, who used to come by the newspaper when he was young, to catch up with Dick. “Being a lobbyist was on my list of cool jobs to have,’ said Holdren.
He made the career move to KFB and at the time worked in the government relations and public policy, working three to four years on state and local issues, moving to their national portfolio, farm bills and federal work with the congressional delegation for another three to four years.
“KFB took on significant challenges in the early 2000’s, such as imminent domain reform while always making an effort to make sure farmers and ranchers have the best possible tax treatment,” said Holdren, “Defending and looking for the best situation, always watching for water rights, the state of water, which looks dramatically different west to east.”
In 2010, another opportunity as the general council became available, which Holdren accepted. Three years later, he accepted an additional title and responsibility as chief executive officer. “A progression of right place, right time,” he said.
While the CEO and General Council was more work responsibility Holdren said, “At the same time, we have always had good folks and attorneys who helped manage that load.”
When asked what he is most proud of or one of his biggest accomplishments, he feels their work on healthcare is the most significant thing they have done to create an opportunity for KFB to benefit it’s members, show relevance to members, creating something to help people day after day, month after month to get the coverage they need at a price they can afford while providing great networks of hospitals, doctors and clinics.
“People were having to go back to work at off the farm jobs where they could get insurance coverage or going without coverage all together” said Holdren, “It was a three-to-four-year project, anytime you ask the legislature for things, it can get tricky, but we managed to navigate that in one session, which is another significant accomplishment for the organization and the power of the membership and the grassroots organization,” adding, “We led the charge, had all the talking points, and it was fun to watch the members come together, sometimes 200 to 300 on a moment’s notice, driving to Topeka to talk about affordable coverage.”
So, what is on the radar now for Holdren after the healthcare project? “We started the effort before the health plans to deploy and develop broadband, we are not quite done with that one.” Another pressing issue the organization is working on is rural development and rural housing. “Farming and ranching are dependent on those communities, we need the doctors, schools, and the main streets to have the thing people need to live in the small communities,”
Striving to make sure the state recognizes those opportunities in rural Kansas, to create and grow business and what do we do to support that. Holdren explains that creating jobs comes with another challenge of where the families and workers are going the live. “The list of houses to buy is non existent!”
“We are now heavily involved in conversation with the legislature about funding to make sure rural communities have the ability to remove dilapidated or old properties that are not livable in town or develop new neighborhoods, making sure communities have access to the dollars to get that work done. So there is a place for people to build homes affordably,” he said.
He is pleased to be partnering with folks across the state such as Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development and other groups who see the world the same way. “One of our major partners in the effort is Sunflower Power in Hays who sees a need in their service territory, in addition to the Hansan Foundation who serves 26 counties in the northwest part of Kansas.
“Thanks to federal coronavirus assistance packages, there is a lot of money in government, which are our dollars as taxpayers and we believe those dollars need to go to the best uses possible in rural communities,” adding, “Helping the legislature spend wisely is an important part of that deal, we know the needs, those are fairly identifiable, helping them get to the right conclusion is important, and we are not done!”
Holdren reflects on growing up in Syracuse where both sets of grandparents and extended family lived. “It is unique, and I think we in rural America take it for granted, most folks don’t have that opportunity.”
Paying tribute to Syracuse, he knows it takes a whole village of people to help you grow up including non-family members. “People who live in town, but care about you as a person whether it’s teacher, coaches, folks on main street who knew us as kids and encouraged and supported us in 4-H or whatever we were involved in, even cheering on the basketball teams, all those things are pretty important,” he added.
One of the biggest lessons he learned which he feels gets conveyed in agriculture and in a small town is the value and significance of hard work and determination. “Small town is a great place to live but life is not always easy. Work can be hard whether it’s the weather, challenges brought on by economy or distances you must travel sometimes for resources.Determination and putting your nose to the grindstone aspect of things is definitely a skill that gets taught in rural communities.
While he and his wife Natalie are involved in the community of Manhattan, their two children, Brogan, and Luke, keep them busy. Brogan, 22, works in a special needs classroom at a local high school. “She loves working with that population, helping them to grow and learn skills.”
Luke, 16, is a sophomore in high school. “He’s a runner, cross country and track are his deals,” said Holdren. They enjoy K-state sports and activities on campus and their church is important as well, where Natalie is a youth pastor.
Terry and Natalie feel fortunate to have their moms live in Manhattan. “It’s the best of both worlds, the kids get to interact with them on a regular basis and it’s great to have them close,” said Terry.
When they have free time, they love to travel, going anywhere anytime. He also tries to plant things in his yard every spring, “I don’t know if it’s a hobby or a challenge, we get more rain here but it’s still not enough, maybe it’s me,” admitted Holdren.
While Holdren’s father was the editor of The Syracuse Journal for almost 25 years, The Syracuse Journal has been special to his family. “Michele has done an amazing job with the paper. I look forward to it arriving weekly in my mailbox, a huge shout out to her!”
“Those relationships at home in Syracuse and beyond are key and instrumental in growing folks to be leaders or other influencers in society, none of us get where we are without those,” Holdren added, “While it’s an honor to get recognized, it is also an opportunity to say thank you to folks for being a part of that effort!”
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