The Gill Family is honored as the 2013 Illinois Farm Family of the Year at the University of Illinois’ Salute to Agriculture. The award is presented annually by Burrus Hybrids and Illinois AgriNews.
The Gill Family is honored as the 2013 Illinois Farm Family of the Year at the University of Illinois’ Salute to Agriculture. The award is presented annually by Burrus Hybrids and Illinois AgriNews.

WYOMING, Ill. — One of the things that Gene Gill, patriarch of Gill Farms, likes best about farming is very similar to one of the most important features of Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois.

“At the end of every year, you know what the score of the game is,” he said. “And there’s the freedom to succeed or fail by the decisions that you make.”

Gill spoke only a day before he and his family were in the spotlight at Memorial Stadium to add another honor to their personal scoreboard — the Gill family was named the 2013 Illinois Farm Family of the Year by Burrus Hybrids and Illinois AgriNews.

“We were certainly surprised. We had not anticipated that,” Gill said.

The Gill family, based at Gill Farms in rural Wyoming, was chosen on the basis of its progress and achievements in agriculture and its involvement in and contributions to the local community.

“The Gill family embodies all of the positive attributes of an American farm family. Their commitment, dedication and stewardship to their farm and community are a big reason why we chose this family to receive the 2013 Farm Family of the Year award,” said Tim Greene of Burrus Hybrids at the Salute to Agriculture at the U of I.

For the Gill family members, service to their country and their community always has gone hand in hand with agriculture.

Gene Gill started the tradition when he returned to the family farm in 1969 after serving in the U.S. Army. He started farming in 1970 as the fourth generation on the family farm.

Gill and his wife Joanne’s children are Pete, married to his wife, Suzy; Brian, married to his wife, Karen; John, married to his wife, Mary Catherine; Dan, who died in 2006; and Maura.

The focus on service started with Gene Gill, who returned to the family farm from serving his country in the military. With his father injured, he started farming in 1970.

Pete Gill joined the family farm with his dad in 1995 after graduating from the U of I and working for a few years off the farm with Louis Dreyfus Commodities.

The Gills always have kept their eyes and their minds open to new opportunities to keep their farm business growing and thriving.

“We are competitive, as all farmers are, and you like to know that you’ve been successful at what you’ve done,” Gene Gill said.

In 1980, he bought an elevator facility that became Gill Grain. He started in the cash grain buying business in 1976.

The Gills exited the commercial storage business in 2007, and Gill Grain now is on-farm storage for the farm.

Gene Gill chuckled when asked if the farm is a corn and soybean operation, then started a veritable grocery list of crops grown on the farm.

“Wheat, peas, sweet corn, seed beans, seed wheat, we’ve had beets,” he said.

With autumn approaching, Pete Gill added one more venture that the farm has explored.

“Morton claims to be the pumpkin capital of the world, but the rest of the pumpkins get canned in Princeville,” he said, adding that they’ve raised pumpkins for Seneca Foods, a food processor in Princeville.

Along with a variety of crops, the Gills have made sure to keep the farm environmentally sustainable and viable for following generations.

“Across our acres, we have a different range of soil types. We have some (highly erodible land) ground that we’re trying to be responsible with, and we do a lot of buffer strips. We maintain our grass waterways,” Pete Gill said.

The sustainability theme carries over into cropping, with the Gills planting no-till wheat and double-crop soybeans.

The family stays involved in the local community, as well. The Gill children, Pete and his brothers and sister, were active in the Valley Go-Getters 4-H chapter and showed hogs and cattle during their school years, and Gene and Joanne served as 4-H chapter leaders.

The Gills also have been active in the Stark County Fair. The family donated a building at the fairgrounds, and Gene was president of the fair board for eight years. Pete and Dan also served on the fair board.

Gene served as president of the Stark County Farm Bureau and the Illinois Grain and Feed Association. He was a member of the Valley Grade School board and also of the Wyoming County High School board.

The Gill/Colgan family was honored with the U of I ACES Family Spirit Award.

Gene and Joanne are active in their church, St. Patrick’s Church in Camp Grove, with Gene serving as chairman of the finance committee and both Gene and Joanne serving as Eucharistic ministers and readers. With St. Patrick’s in the process of closing, they’ll be moving to St. Dominic’s in Wyoming.

Pete and his wife are active in their church, St. Mary of the Woods in Princeville, where he also is a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Gene and Pete have shared their love of sports, both coaching local Little League teams, including Gene coaching the teams that included his sons.

The involvement with 4-H continues into the next generation, with Pete and Suzy’s daughters being active and involved with the Laura Winners 4-H Club.

“I try to keep my girls involved in what I’m doing as much as I can. That’s one of the things I enjoy. Outside of the harvest and planting, there are a lot of opportunities to get them out here and part of what we’re doing,” he said.

Grooming the next generation also includes having one of Gene’s New Jersey-based grandsons come out to visit and work on the farm.

“We convinced him to come out and see what it was like,” Pete said.

He said that one of the best pieces of advice Gene and Joanne gave all of their kids was, “Pay attention and work hard.”

That advice has paid off with all of the Gill children, with the exception of Brian, who graduated from Texas A&M, earning degrees from the U of I.

While Pete works with his dad and their two full-time employees on the farm operation, the rest of the Gill children are around the country, from New Jersey to South Carolina to San Francisco.

The score has not always favored the Gills. Gene and Joanne lost son Dan, a 1983 U of I graduate, to leukemia. He died in 2006 at age 35.

Photos of him showing hogs at county fairs and the Illinois State Fair adorn the walls of Gene’s office.

In his memory, the family has promoted and helped raise funds for leukemia research, and Joanne served on the Illinois Cancer Care Foundation advisory board. The family endowed a Jonathan Baldwin Turner scholarship in Dan’s name and memory at the U of I.

For Pete, the best part of farming comes with the cycle of growth.

“I enjoy the growing season. When you walk out in the middle of the field and everything is knee-high and growing up and just a month ago it was just black dirt. I am always amazed that it always works. It’s neat to watch the progression of these crops and how quickly they move along,” he said.

For his father, the promise of new growth is one of the best parts.

“The first corn rows in the spring are always great. We always have the green fields of wheat, because nobody else grows wheat around here and everybody just loves to see that, because it’s the only thing that’s green,” he said.