Linda Hellenbrand (right) talks about the impact her husband had on youth in the dairy industry and World Dairy Expo while Bryan Voegeli (left) and Dr. Sheila McGuirk (center) look on Oct. 1 at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.
Linda Hellenbrand (right) talks about the impact her husband had on youth in the dairy industry and World Dairy Expo while Bryan Voegeli (left) and Dr. Sheila McGuirk (center) look on Oct. 1 at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
MADISON, Wis. – A mere 20 years ago, Mike and Linda Hellenbrand entered a world relatively unknown to them, but one they longed to become a part of: the world of elite registered dairy cattle. And become a part of that world, they did, using a unique business model to work with top breeders to implant embryos to create calves from top cows.
Before the events of Sept. 11, 2001 they each had careers in the financial sector in New York City. Being affected in many ways by the terrorist attacks perpetrated on the country, they decided to begin a new chapter in their lives, establishing City Slickers Farm in Dane County near Madison, Wisconsin.
With their unique business approach and interest in the genetics of many of the cows that typically stood in the center of the colored shavings, the Hellenbrands and their HP prefix quickly become well-known at World Dairy Expo, with Mike being named to serve on the WDE Board of Directors, including holding a seat on the executive committee.
Another aspect that set the Hellenbrands apart was their interest in working with youth, giving many youngsters the opportunity to work with daughters of some of the top show cows of their eras. These calves were leased to various young dairy enthusiasts through a well-developed lease agreement between the youth, their parents, the Hellenbrands and their many partners.
Mike passed away July 1, 2020, after a long illness, leaving a treasured legacy created by the impact he had on so many dairy industry enthusiasts, young and old.
“There is definitely a void this week at World Dairy Expo without Mike here,” said Linda Hellenbrand. “I really felt comfort knowing how much he meant to so many around here. Walking through the pavilions, which he played a big part in; seeing the HP prefix cattle in the showstrings and as well as being lucky enough to hear some over the loudspeaker in the coliseum; and most of all the people in the dairy industry that he met and touched. Your minds and hearts still have him with you.”
All of that combined to lead Linda Hellenbrand, along with a group of their partners led by Bryan Voegeli, Dan Basse, Dr. Sheila McGuirk and Bob Hagenow, to create the Hellenbrand Lasting Legacy award; which would present a top-quality calf, donated by one of Mike’s partners, to a deserving youth each year.
“Mike loved the cattle and he loved kids,” said Voegeli, a longtime partner of the Hellenbrands, and colleague of Mike’s on the expo board. “He gave so many kids the opportunity to experience showing great heifers. One of the last times I visited Mike, I told him I wanted do something to continue his legacy; that of all the things he did for the industry, the greatest was what he did for the youth.”
The group developed the criteria for the award and the application process included a resume for the youth along with plans for raising, housing and developing the animal. Each applicant was required to secure a mentor to assist him or her along the way with developing the calf to its fullest potential, and each mentor was asked to write a letter of recommendation in favor of the applicant. After initial screening, the top candidates were interviewed and narrowed down to the eventual winner and a second-place top finalist award, which were announced during a small ceremony Oct. 1 at World Dairy Expo.
“Mike always wanted to do everything better,” McGuirk said. “It didn’t matter what it was, in his mind there was always room for improvement. He wanted nothing short of perfection, while trying to maintain realistic expectations. We really wanted to honor that attention to detail in our selection for this award.”
The winner selected by Hellenbrand and her committee was 13-year-old Allison Gartman of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The Kohler Middle School eighth grader selected her family’s veterinarian, Dr. Jeff Bleck, as her mentor.  
Gartman, the daughter of Luke and Liz Gartman, will receive a daughter of 2017 WDE Guernsey Grand Champion Springhill Mentor Jazzy-ET to add to her herd next spring. The family milks about 100 cows on their Sheboygan County farm.
Gartman decided to apply for the award after her mom heard about it. She said she spent several weeks working to perfect her application.
“I decided to ask Jeff to be my mentor because he is a really good vet and a successful breeder,” Gartman said.
She said adding a Guernsey to her herd will be a new experience, explaining that her family has a herd of Holsteins and Brown Swiss.
“I am really excited to go to different shows with a Guernsey,” Gartman said. “We are even talking about going down to Kentucky for the show there next fall. I have never shown at Expo before, either, and I am really looking forward to being able to experience that.”
Natalie Roe, 18, of Monticello, Wisconsin, was named the top finalist, and was the runner-up to receive a project calf. Roe, the daughter of Dan and Sally Roe, had selected family friend and WDE Dairy Cattle Superintendent Dave Bollig to serve as her mentor.    
A freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying dairy science, Roe said she applied for the award because of experience showing animals that were owned by Voegeli and the Hellenbrands.
“They are great people to work with, and this award is such a great way to commemorate that,” Roe said, of why she chose to apply. “I have learned a lot from working with them in the Brown Swiss breed.”