Mural honors former cattle buyer Tony Jansma
A mural as large as the man’s impact on the cattle industry spans the length and height of a two-story building in Rock Rapids, Iowa.
Tony W. Jansma was the founder of Jansma Cattle Company, one of the nation’s largest order buying and feeder operations at its peak. Tony began as a cattle buyer when he was just 16, and he continued until his passing in 2004 at age 69.
Tony attended country school through 8th grade and then began farming with his dad, Walter Jansma.
In the beginning, Tony would attend auctions around the area and drive a straight truck to bring the load home at the end of the sale. Buying only as many cattle as could fit in the truck, he began his career purchasing cattle mostly for their own operation.
As the years went on and he continued to grow the business, Jansma Cattle Company became an order buying business, and the family feedlot continued to operate as well. Tony went to sales five or six days every week, filling orders from many southern and western states across the country.
“We were married on November 7, 1956 on a Wednesday night because Tony had to go to the Valentine, Nebraska sale on Thursday,” recalled Tony’s wife of 48 years, Norma Jansma. “So that was our honeymoon. We went to Valentine for a cattle sale,” she said with a laugh. “But this was no surprise. We started dating when we were 16, so I knew his life.”
When the fall sales came around, Tony would head out to stay at a hotel in Sturgis, South Dakota around the first of October and wouldn’t return until Thanksgiving. At some auctions, he would buy up to as many as several thousand head in one day.
“Tony really determined the feeder cattle market in the Upper Midwest,” said Herman Schumacher, founder of Herreid Livestock. “I have to say, he was the one who put Herreid Livestock on the map. He was there when the first animal walked into the ring, and he stayed until the last one walked out.”
Tony also made sure never to downgrade anybody’s cattle or say anything offensive about them, Schumacher explained. That was just another thing that made him so unique and instrumental in the cattle industry.
“When Tony went to a sale barn, he was there to buy cattle, and buy cattle he did.” said South Dakota farmer Bob Montross. “He was the kind of guy that just stood out from the rest of the crowd with his personality and his look. You couldn’t miss him.”
Montross went on to say how Tony always looked presentable with a beautiful western hat, fancy boots and a crisp white shirt. Norma shared how picky Tony was about each of those things. He only wore Tony Llama boots purchased from his special store in Texas, and he would steam his hats.
“He was really kind and generous to everyone,” said Norma. “He didn’t really have any enemies because he treated people well, and I think people admired him for that.”
Herman Schumacher with Herreid Livestock echoed the same sentiment.
“Tony was just a pure gentleman,” said Schumacher. “He knew every truck driver, auction bookkeeper, janitor, cook and waitress by name and treated them all well.”
With so much travel, Jansma Cattle Company decided to purchase a plane in the late 1970s. They hired a full-time pilot to fly them to and from sales all over, and when he wasn’t flying the plane, he also helped Tony with all of the bookwork that went into buying cattle.
“It was some grueling hours, but he just totally loved it,” said Norma about why he chose to do it. “Being a cattle buyer is sort of like an addiction. Tony was fearless, so he just put together loads and loads of cattle.”
Jim Woster, who is retired from the Sioux Falls Stockyards, remembered when the phone company came and installed a telephone in the exact spot Tony always sat before cell phones were around. Everyone thought it was just crazy at first, but many of the other buyers did the same thing within a couple months.
“They were really a force in our market,” said Woster about Jansma Cattle Company. “They are just good people and terribly hard workers.”
Jansma Cattle Company is still prevalent in the beef industry today, with several of Tony’s family members running the operation. His son, Todd, and Todd’s wife, Andrea, manage the 4,000-head feedlot. Todd is also a cattle buyer. Additionally, his grandson, Jackson, also works for the business at their feedlot.
The Rock Rapids Mural Society was formed in 2002 to re-beautify the town and restore its historic past. Since then, they have completed 35 murals. Tony Jansma’s “Cattle Buyer” mural was number 20 and completed in 2008.
Not a detail was skipped in the mural. The buyer card shows 700, the number Tony bought under and his son, Todd, still buys under today. The pen of cattle was an actual pen of Charolais cattle at Jansma’s feedlot. And the ear tags in the cattle had the number 16 because of Tony’s grandson, Jackson, having a birthday on the 16th.
“That mural is such a nice tribute to the beef industry, and I can’t think of a better ambassador to the industry than Tony Jansma,” said Montross. “It sure was impressive, and I’m glad I had a chance to see it.”
For more information about the Rock Rapids Mural Society and the “Cattle Buyer” mural, visit https://rockrapids.com/more-info/cattle-buyer/.
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