Celebrating Women’s History Month: Getting to know Donna Jeschke
Although we celebrate women in ag throughout the year, March is nationally recognized to dedicate to women’s contributions through history and society. According to stats from 2017 around 30,000 farmers in Illinois are female compared to 67,000 that are male. Around 21,000 female farmers are the full owners and 40,000 of male farmers are full owners.
At IL Corn we’ve only had a couple women that have chaired our boards, Theresa Schmalshof from 2000 – 2001 and Donna Jeschke from 2008 – 2009. IL Corn was able to chat with Donna, who was also a recipient of the World of Corn award in this past November 2021 with her husband Paul Jeschke.
Growing on a family farm, her family farmed since the early 1600’s in Germany and came to the U.S. in the 1840’s. Donna’s family farm is in Mazon, Illinois. Donna went to U of I where she met her husband Paul. They graduated in 1975, were married and began farming. In 1979 they moved to Grundy County to farm with Donna’s father and her brother.
Getting Involved in IL Corn Leadership
Donna has always volunteered for different organizations and enjoyed serving in leadership roles. She attended Farm Bureau, Corn Grower and Grains Council meetings prior to being on the IL Corn Marketing Board (ICMB), as well as serving on their local school board. Another ICMB board member who was retiring approached Donna to run for the board and she waited until after her younger son turned 16 when she had “more time to dedicate” to the position.
The ICMB term is 9 years and when asked what she was most proud of serving on the board she said it was being involved with trade teams and meeting international corn buyers. The Jeschke’s have welcomed many international groups to their farm. Being within 75 miles from Chicago, they even get phone calls from random google searches for farm visits. One gentleman from Argentina came to visit and explained it was always his dream to visit a U.S. farm. She’ll never forget another visitor from Vietnam. Sitting on the porch, the gentleman talked about his involvement the Vietnam War and said that he never dreamt he would visit an American family and share a beer together.
“Looking back, one thing I wish I would have done was to get more younger farmers involved in IL Corn because of the invaluable experiences it brought to my family and me,” Donna says.
Advice for future Women Leaders
“Be brave and pursue your passions,” mentioned Donna, “whether you’re a female or male; follow your passion.” Donna was one of five kids and not all of them went into farming but she loved it from the start. With children and now grandchildren, she doesn’t over-devote her time or overwhelm herself with commitments. First being on the local school board, after that the ICMB and now, that her nephew returned fulltime to the farm, Donna is helping with the YMCA building project in her community. Know your limits when committing but don’t be afraid to jump into committee or board roles. Every industry is looking for people to commit and the friendships and memories you make are priceless.