The folks at Cooperative Grain and Supply wanted to mark the coop’s 50th annual meeting Nov. 17 with a historical review. Fortunately, they had living history to consult: Eldon Funk was there at the beginning in 1966 and stayed with the company until he retired in 1999.
“I’m the only employee that was working at the time of the merger, retired with the coop, and is still alive,” Funk said.
He tried his hand at farming in the mid-1950s, but he wasn’t doing well, Funk said.
“I wasn’t making enough money to feed my wife and kid,” he said.
However, he fell into a new career while working for another farmer.
“It so happened he was on the board of Farmers Cooperative Supply,” Funk said. “The manager asked me to come work for them because the board member told him I was a good worker and said, ‘You hire that guy.’”
That was in 1956, and 10 years later Funk became an original employee of CGS, formed from the merger of FCS, with cooperatives in Hillsboro, Lehigh, and Marion. Change was the local norm in 1966, Funk said.
“You had four coops in three towns merging, you had the reservoir being built, two churches got together and merged and started Trinity Mennonite Church, that cemetery had to be moved,” Funk said. “The same year, Durham, Hillsboro, and Lehigh became USD 410, and there were people who got ulcers over that.”
Funk’s work changed, too. He shifted from the service station to the sales counter in the elevator, and then to the hardware store operated by the coop.
Among the coop’s early managers, Funk said, Bert Regier, who ran the coop from 1970 to 1976, was a “motivator.”
“If you did something wrong, he’d call you into the office and have a good discussion with you, but the next day he would make contact with you to be sure things were going good,” Funk said.
Regier also was approachable, and in 1972, Funk asked to become the coop’s fuel and propane delivery driver.
“He said, ‘We can’t let you do that; you’d be the highest-priced delivery man in the state of Kansas,’” Funk said.
However, Funk got the job, held it for 10 years, relinquished it for six, and then stepped back into the delivery truck in 1988.
“I told myself 10 more years,” he said. “I gave Lyman Adams a whole year of time as to when I was going to retire. He still had trouble finding somebody.”
Funk recalled when Adams was hired.
“Early fall of ’85, Jim Peters walked in and said, ‘We had an interview with a young man last night wanting to be our manager,’” Funk said. “I said, ‘Well, how old is he?’ He said, ’34.’ I said, ‘If he’s good at that age, he can make it.’”
Adams has been manager ever since.
Funk had his most harrowing experience as a driver during his second stint, when his truck caught fire during a delivery at the George Oborny farm north of Marion in February 1996.
“I got out of the cab, walked toward the back, and I heard a crackling sound,” Funk said. “I looked between the tank and the cab, and there between the frame there was a fire.”
His truck, filled with 2,700 gallons of fuel, was parked beside five 300-gallon fuel tanks.
“I pulled a big fire extinguisher out, shook it on the ground a few times, pulled the pin, and nothing happened,” Funk said. “It flashed in my head, ‘Get this truck out of this yard.’”
With flames growing, he jumped back into the cab and drove the truck a safe distance away.
“I switched off the ignition and jumped out of the cab; I was just out when the whole cab went up in flames,” Funk said. “God was watching over me.”
Among the things in and on the cab, a jug of water was the only thing that didn’t burn.
“I had a large ring with about 10 keys on it hanging on the dash; the ring was there, but there were no keys,” he said.
A “miserable week” ensued, ending with a Friday night revelation.
“It was just like a voice woke me up, ‘Now you understand why I got you out of there?’” Funk said. “I fell asleep in peace.”
After Funk retired in 1999, he began driving for a different coop: Marion County Special Education Cooperative He still drives a bus route for the education group. He enjoys being around kids but noted a difference from his fuel transport days.
“Fuel doesn’t talk back,” he said.
Funk saved newsletters, pamphlets, and photos throughout his years at CG&S and has a collection of coop memorabilia, including signs, and a gas pump that sits in front of his house.
“For a long time, I went back often,” he said. “Now I don’t go back as often. But you miss it after you’ve been a part of it so long.”