Windmill is FHSU Agribusiness Club's final contribution

windmill installation

By Randy Gonzales
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- The iconic windmill dots the western Kansas prairie. Thanks to a student organization at Fort Hays State University, a new connection to the past is there for all to see at the University Farm.

In order to consolidate organizations with similar goals, the Agribusiness Club dissolved at the end of the spring semester of 2016. The club wanted its remaining $2,500 to go toward a worthwhile project. The members decided to have an antique windmill restored and place it on the University Farm.

"My family and I deal with windmills a lot," said Garrett Balsick, who graduated in May and was the president of the Agribusiness Club. "I thought it would be a pretty neat memento to have an antique windmill at the farm."

Old windmills have been part of the Balsick family for generations. Balsick's grandfather started it all by buying windmills and now has 35 of them in his yard.

"He just wanted a retirement project," Balsick said. "He couldn't afford tractors, so he went with windmills."

The family has one of the biggest windmill collections in Colorado, and family members travel to the annual International Windmiller's Trade Fair every year.

"It's just been a part of my life, ever since I've been little," Balsick said. "Every year that's been our vacation, go to the International Windmiller's Trade Fair."

Balsick bought several windmills at Hill City and took them to the family farm outside Calhan, Colo. He worked on restoring one of them on and off all summer before finally completing the project in late September. He then moved the windmill to the University Farm in October. Balsick figured he put in about 250 man-hours restoring the decorative windmill.

A plaque is planned to be installed next to the windmill, noting it was donated by the Agribusiness Club.

"We thought it was an excellent way to show our heritage," said Dr. Craig Smith, associate professor of agriculture, who was the advisor for Agribusiness Club. "Here in western Kansas, windmills still dot the landscape and are a very important part of our agricultural heritage. What better way to show that?"

Members of the Agribusiness Club serviced lawnmowers every spring for the last five years as a fundraiser. Most of that money went to the windmill project.

"It's really the students who put in the work, the effort over the years to build up our fund to have these funds available for a project like this," Smith said.

Balsick thinks it's important to remember the contribution made by the windmill for early settlers.

"At one time in America's history there were over 250 different windmill manufacturers," Balsick said. "Everyone wanted to be a part of it because it was the way to the west. If you didn't have a windmill, you didn't have water. Without water, you didn't move out west.

"I don't want that history to get lost," he added. "I want to try to preserve it the best I can."

The windmill is visible at the farm entrance on the west side of the U.S. Highway 183 Bypass.

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