Gypsy Wagon June July 2024

By Betty Jo Gigot  Editor & Publisher

Some weeks are tougher than others and we here at CALF News had a bad one last week. Not only did the industry lose Paul Engler, one of the most respected pioneers in the cattle feeding industry, but Jamie Willrett, husband of Larisa Willrett, copy editor for CALF News and close personal friend of us all, passed away suddenly from a cancer diagnosis.

Everyone who ever met Paul has a story to tell about their interaction, including Jim Whitt who featured him in “Whitt & Wisdom” this issue. I certainly have a myriad of fond memories. Any time I had the opportunity to work with Paul he was always the same friendly, Nebraska cattleman. Top of mind is an interview for a story about Louis Dinklage. Paul told about deciding to leave Louie, his mentor, and strike out on his own, building the first cattle feedyard in Hereford, Texas. Louie was not happy about Paul leaving and, when Paul stopped at the yard to say goodbye, it did not go well. “I cried part of the way to Texas,” he said. The riff didn’t last and many of the first cattle in the Hereford Feedyard belonged to Dinklage.

One time, Paul and I both gave speeches in Australia at an annual cattle conference. In his, he announced that Cactus Feeders had become the largest in the U.S. Paul received many awards in his 94 years, but he never forgot to tell me, in later years, how proud he was to be named as one of the first to be inducted into the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame.

With a look back on the people that had contributed to his success, in 2010, the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation made a $20 million dollar gift to the University of Nebraska. In 2017 the foundation agreed to donate at least $1 million a year to West Texas A&M University for no fewer than 80 years. A true entrepreneur, Paul Engler was one of a kind.

In the early 1990’s, I taught a class on media at Colorado State University to Dr. Gary Smith’s master’s class. The next week Dr. Smith called and asked if we ever had interns at CALF News because he had had a request. I told him we never had, but would be glad to have one of his students. “Which one wants to come,” I asked. “All five want to come,” he said. I laughed and told him that that tall gal from Montana had said something to me about the possibility and so, if she was available, it was a deal. Thus, Larisa Remington became my intern and for some 30 years has been one of my very best friends as well as the editor for CALF News. A couple years after she interned, we both got married – me for the second time to the late Dean Gigot and Larisa to Jamie Willrett, a farmer and cattle feeder from Malta, Illinois.

Jamie, a graduate from the University of Illinois, was the fifth generation at J. Willrett Farms. With Larisa steadfastly by his side, the pair oversaw the continued development of a diversified farming and cattle feeding operation. Active in the community, the church and numerous industry organizations, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and CattleFax, Jamie contributed his energy and intellect to the industry he treasured. We here at CALF News are devastated at the loss of our friend. Our love to Larisa and the family.

Paul and Jamie made a difference in this world and the world is not as bright without them. God Bless.