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A Leader In Agriculture: Carl Ash


William G. Ash

There are few men in America that men in agriculture can point to with pride. There are many who can point out the McCormicks for developing the swather, George Washington Carver for his work with peanuts, but few will mention Carl Ash. Carl has helped develop farming in the Red River Valley to the high level of efficiency that it is today.

Carl George Ash was born on a farm outside St.Vincent, Minnesota in Kittson County. He was born to Mr. and Mrs. William Ash on May 26, 1903. He was the second of six children.

At the age of six, Carl started attending the Joe River School in St. Vincent township. The school was about 1 1/2 miles from where Carl lived. When he was out of the eighth grade, he attended high school in Humboldt, Minnesota, a distance of 3 1/2 miles. He usually rode this distance by horseback. He graduated from the class of 1922, the salutatorian of his class.

While he was attending high school at Humboldt, the Humboldt Stick-To-It 4-H club was formed in 1918. Carl took an active interest in 4-H. He exhibited sheep and a calf named "Charley" at the county fairs. He was an officer of the club and was also a member of demonstration teams. One year, they formed a sheep demonstration team that they called the AEF. It stood for Cash Ash, Stephen Easter, and Jean Finney. They had demonstrations on sheep at Winnipeg, Crookston, and St. Paul. A little while later, this same team put on a potato demonstration. Carl's interest in animals lead him to judging general livestock in 4-H. County agent Longley helped train him. This training eventually paid off because he won a trophy at St. Paul and a trip to Chicago so he could participate in the International Stock Show in Chicago.

He liked to skate as a boy and played some basketball on the Humboldt town team since there wasn't a high school basketball team at this time.

Carl attended the University of Minnesota for one year before changing to the North Dakota Agricultural College at Fargo. It is presently known as North Dakota State University. He majored in animal and poultry husbandry. He graduated from here in 1930. During the summer of 1929, he traveled to Europe at his own expense. He traveled to large stock farms in England, Scotland, and Denmark to observe farming methods there. Of the three countries he liked Denmark the most.

He helped his dad farm for two years after his graduation from college. He raised 25 of his own sheep at home and also some turkeys.

A newspaper article on December 19, 1930 read: "Carl Ash grew the second best flax in the United States and Canada the past season. He was the second place winner at the International Stock Show held in Chicago. The number one sample was exhibited by J. J. Schoultz of Walsh County, North Dakota." (1) This award was just one of the many to come to this great man.

The first car that he owned was a Ford Model "A" coupe. He bought this car around 1930.

On June 17, 1931, he married a hometown girl named Marge Sylvester. They were married in her home in Humboldt. Their first child was born on July 21, 1937. They named him Dean. He was followed by his brothers Wayne and Lynn.

His first job was an extension poultry specialist in North Dakota. He was at this job for about six weeks. In March 1932, they moved to Crookston, Minnesota to take his new job as county agent of West Polk County. From March 15, 1932 to his death, he served West Polk as county agent for 35 years.

In this position he helped improve agriculture in Polk County. He was know within the county and even the state for his outstanding work in crop production, livestock production, and farm management in the Red River Valley.

As is frequent with many county agents, Carl was asked to judge livestock at county fairs. He frequently judged at Kittson County fairs. One year while he was judging at the Kittson County Fall Fair in St. Vincent, he refused to judge a class of pigs. The reason he wouldn't judge these pigs was that two of his nephews had entered their pigs in this class. So nobody could say he showed favoritism to one or the other, he had the fair board get another person to judge the class.

Carl owned three quarters of land in St. Vincent township in Kittson County, 53 acres in Crookston township and 6 acres in Fairfax township in Polk County. The three quarters in Kittson County are rented out to his nephew who farms them.

For his outstanding work in agriculture, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of County Agents. In 1948, he was award the Superior Service award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He went to Washington, D.C. to receive this award. He was one of the first county agents to be honored for his contributions to agriculture.

At the time of his death, he was one of six county agents in Minnesota to hold the rank of full professor at the University of Minnesota. He received the rank of assistant professor in 1946, associate professor in 1953, and professor in 1962.

Because of his work in agriculture, he received the North Central Region study Tour Scholarship in 1959. This was used to tour business and agricultural developments in Canada and some of the Eastern and Southern states. In 1965, Carl and his wife attended the National County Agents Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii. The rain spoiled a good portion of their sight seeking.

Carl was for many years active in the Red River Valley Winter Shows. He first came to the winter shows as a 4-H exhibitor, exhibiting animals. Years later, he was a member of the board of managers and a member of the executive board. For a few years he served as superintendent of sheep and hogs at the winter shows. He was the representative of the extension division of the University of Minnesota on the Winter Shows board of managers. He was also a member of the building committee when the new Winter Shows building was built in 1961.

As a memorial to the late Carl Ash, the new 4-H stand and demonstration area was dedicated in his honor by the West Polk 4-H Federation. the dedication took place on July 13, 1969 at the Polk County fairgrounds in Fertile, Minnesota. He was also honored posthumously as one of the men in the Red River Valley to be named to Agriculture's Hall of Fame in ceremonies in the winter shows arena.

During his free time, Carl did many things. For a few years, he kept sheep and a few horses at his home. He also fished, hunted, and gardened. For a few years, he kept an aquarium in his basement filled with little fish. He liked gardening very much especially growing flowers. His brother's nephews were frequently upset because when he came to visit them he spent more time in the greenhouse with William than he did with them. He sometimes entered his peonies in the peony show in Grand Forks, N.D. He won a few prizes. They ate the apples that sometimes grew from the apple tree that grew in their back yard. At the time of his death, he was the president of the 11th District Horticulture Society. He was elected president in September, 1967.

Carl was an active man in church work. At one time, he had served as church elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Crookston.

He was active in many organizations. One was the Farm Bureau, an organization for farm people. He was a member of many fraternal organizations. He was a member of the "Independent Order of Odd Fellows" at the Odd Fellow Lodge in Fisher, Minnesota. He was also a member of the "Ancient Free and Accepted Masons". It is commonly known as Masonry. There are many lodges and degrees in Masonry. The most common is the Blue Lodge of which Carl was a member of the Crookston Blue Lodge. For a year he was the master of the Blue Lodge which is the highest ranking official for a year. He had to gain all three degrees of the Blue Lodge to become a member of the chapter. He belonged to the Crookston chapter. After this, he became a member of the Crookston Commandery. When a member receives the highest degree in the Commandery which is called the Knight Templar, he can then apply to be a member of "The Ancient, Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine". This is commonly known as the Shrine of which he was a member of the Kem Temple Shrine in Grand Forks, N.D. He was also a member of the "Order of Eastern Star" in Crookston. This is a Masonic organization for women but male masons may join.

Carl Ash passed away unexpectedly at his home on October 18, 1967.

A plaque was dedicated in Carl's honor after his death. It read, "Hardly an African violet or a milk cow or a clod of dirt or a human being has passed through Polk county without having been affected in some way by the life of this man. He was more than a man, he was an institution in a plaid shirt. Because he lived among us, our life is so much more abundant. He taught us that it was not enough to raise a crop, we must also raise a family, values and standards.' (2)

Carl was a man who worked hard to get where he was. He didn't loaf in school. He worked to put himself through college. He may have suffered loneliness and disappointment at times but he did not give in. He strove even harder then to do better. He was a man the Red River Valley will not soon forget.


(1) "Days Gone By", Kittson County Enterprise, December 19, 1930, (Reprinted December 23, 1970)


(2) Quoted from a plaque presented in Carl's honor to the Red River Winter Shows by the Polk County Crop Improvement Association.




Ash, Marge. Interview by letter, January 16, 1971


Ash, William S., St. Vincent, Minnesota; December 31, 1970


Kittson County Enterprise, "Days Gone By", December 23, 1970


Plaque presented to Red River Valley Winter Shows by the Polk County Crop Improvement Association.


Jury, Mamye. Humboldt, Minnesota. Interviewed January 13, 1971.