Del Tinsley: Drawn to ag, driven to succeed
Tinsley joins Wyoming Ag Hall of Fame
Casper – Sitting in a motel room in South Dakota in the early 1970s, Del Tinsley would have never guessed what seemed at the time to be a struggling career selling advertising would lead him to a position as one of Wyoming agriculture’s most widely recognized leaders.
Having recently completed auctioneering school, it was 1970 and Del was offered a job as a field man with then Cheyenne-based Wyoming Stockman Farmer. “I made a $1,000 a month and they paid all of my expenses,” recalls Del, noting his territory as everything outside of Wyoming. Out on his first trip to make sales for the summer breeders’ directory, he’d traveled across Nebraska and into South Dakota. “I’d opened 150 gates and hadn’t sold a single ad of significant size,” he says. “I thought I was going to get fired when I got home.”
Del sat down with the Hereford Journal and, flipping through the pages, came to an article that noted Wyoming’s position as the state with the highest averaging bull sales in the nation. New information in hand, he started calling people back. “By sales time I’d sold more dollar-wise than the field man who had Wyoming as his territory,” recalls Del. By the time he left the publication five years later he was selling advertising across the region, Wyoming included.
It was a job offer from the Record-Stockman, the leading publication for Hereford breeders at a time when the breed dominated the industry, that lured Del to Colorado. “We had the top field men in the nation,” recalls Del, who went on to be one of the top salesmen in the industry before returning to Wyoming. “I was watching my kids play in our back yard and thinking about my own childhood and some of the opportunities I had,” says Del of his decision to return home.
Still a young man with a young family, Del’s accomplishments in the agricultural industry, by the time he parted ways with the Record Stockman, were noteworthy for a kid whose family lived in downtown Guernsey and whose father worked in the nearby mines. Not born into an agricultural family, Del knew early on that was his life passion and made every effort to learn the industry. Drawn to agriculture at a young age, he’s mastered the art of combining that passion with the drive to succeed.
“I hated living in town,” recalls Del. “I had a love for horses, cows and the outdoors.” One of the very few town kids who knew every ranch in the region, Del could often be found riding his bike through town in search of local ranchers willing to take him home and put him to work.
Chet Hazelwood, who ranched north of Hartville, took a liking to Del and would often take him home to work for a few days. While he was there he taught him how to break colts, a trait that proved useful in subsequent ranch jobs. At 13 Del took a summer job up Horseshoe Creek working for three dollars a day and the following summer he went to work for the Frederick family outside of Guernsey. Between his junior and senior years of high school he went to work for “Peach” Shaw at Jay Em on the Red Cloud Cattle Company. His ability with a horse earned him the right to work with the livestock while the seven or eight other boys employed for the summer worked in the hay field.
A love for ranching and livestock, along with the desire to raise his children in Wyoming, brought Del back to the Cowboy State following his stint with the Record Stockman. Back at home, Del put his auctioneering talents to use at local farm sales and partnered in what was then Stockman Livestock and leased ranches in the Glendo area. “I wanted to ranch so bad I went broke trying to do it,” says Del of the early 1980s, a time that proved challenging for many in agriculture. He says he soon learned he needed to think like a businessman and broaden his pursuits so he got his real estate license and spent a few years selling real estate in Wyoming and later in Arizona. While it was a difficult time, it undoubtedly left him better prepared to tackle the opportunities ahead.
In the late 1980s Del had the opportunity to become part owner in the fledgling Wyoming Livestock Roundup. While logic left him wondering if a state the size of Wyoming could support its own livestock publication, Del says he felt compelled to grasp the opportunity and try it. It’s an endeavor he says held pleasant surprises and new opportunities around each corner.
Thinking outside of the box, he began attending Wyoming Ag Lenders meetings and asking bankers to purchase the publication for their agricultural customers. Bank after bank signed on and the publication continued to grow. In areas where banks didn’t purchase the subscriptions, Del says the subscription cards just kept rolling in. Traditional with Wyoming ag, however, he laughs, “I’d get to looking and sometimes notice there would only be one subscription along a given county road. I’d call and ask for a subscription from the others and soon learn the paper was being shared among neighbors. That’s just the way Wyoming agriculture works.”
The Roundup also landed Del in a new position as a voice for the state’s agricultural community. Via a weekly column and service as chairman of a very active Wyoming Board of Agriculture he continually grew his knowledge base and advocacy on behalf of the industry. More than one of Del’s weekly columns resulted in a flood of phone calls and letters to Wyoming legislators or the state’s Congressional Delegation. His work on behalf of the industry earned him recognition by the Wyoming Stock Growers with their Guardians award and by the Wyoming Wool Growers Association with their media award. Del has also been honored by the Wyoming Beef Cattle Improvement Association and received a belt buckle as the outstanding Wyoming State Fair supporter.
Del’s efforts have earned him recognition as an inductee into the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame. He, along with Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, was honored Aug. 13 at the Wyoming State Fair. Each year, readers of the Roundup nominate individuals they believe to be deserving of entry into the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame, started in 1992. A panel of judges selects two inductees from among the candidates for their work to improve the state’s agricultural industry.
It’s befitting that Del’s induction into the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame took place at the Wyoming State Fair. A long-time advocate of the Fair, Del has often spoken out on the positive benefits youth see from participation in the event. He’s often reflected on how nice it is to see the next generation of Wyoming’s leaders gathered in Douglas for the week.
In 1999 Del bought out his partner in the Roundup and he and his wife Sandy relocated the publication to Casper. “We could be centrally located, attend more agricultural events and have access to a more skilled labor force and more technology,” recalls Del. In its new location Del continued to grow the publication and in 2004 he sold it to local rancher and businessman Dennis Sun.
“It was important to me that somebody purchase the Roundup who would keep it alive for the long-term and the benefit of the state’s agricultural industry,” says Del.
Later in 2004, after Del sold the publication, late U.S. Senator Craig Thomas asked him to serve as Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development offices in Wyoming. In that role Del continues to keep Wyoming agriculture at heart growing awareness about programs to expand and diversify Wyoming agriculture.
Del’s wife Sandy is a field representative for U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, working from the Senator’s Casper office. They have three children-B.J. Axford of Wheatland, Wendy Meagher of New York and Jana Schankle of Germany. They recently lost a son, Brigadier General Thomas Tinsley. Services with full military honors will be held for Tom at Arlington National Cemetery in mid-September.
Del’s tenure with Rural Development will come to an end with the end of President Bush’s term. Hopefully he’ll spend a little more time fly-fishing and enjoying retirement, but it’s almost certain he’ll continue to be one of Wyoming agriculture’s biggest fans and most widely recognized leaders.
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.