Accepting the invitation to become the new chief executive officer for Cooperative Grain & Supply means something of a homecoming for Jerry Fenske and his family.
Fenske, 35, grew up in Lost Springs and graduated from Centre High School in 1999. Wife Sarah grew up down the road in Herington and graduated from Herington High in 2000.
On Saturday, Fenske was in Hillsboro, where the CG&S headquarters is located, to check housing options for his family.
“(The Hillsboro area) fits my family because I have four little kids and my wife,” he said. “My parents are technically outside of Wichita and her parents are still in Herington.
“Logistically, it’s kind of in the middle of them, so it will be nice to have the kids back down around grandpas and grandmas—which is a big factor in this move.
“My dad’s always complaining when he has to come to Kansas City for birthday parties—it’s too far away,” Fenske added with a smile. “We’re doing it for my dad.”
The Fenske family has a house in Basehor, not far from the Kansas Speedway. Sarah is a registered nurse currently employed with the St. Luke Health System in Kansas City.
The Fenske family includes four young children: daughter Makenna, age 7, with three younger brothers; Kolton, age 6; Wesley, age 4; and Beau, age 1. The couple lost a daughter, Brook, about two years ago around Christmas.
“I claim her, but I don’t take her with me physically,” he said. “That happened within a year that we moved up there.”
School, early career
Beyond his strong commitment to family, Fenske said he is looking forward to his new role at CG&S.
After graduating from Centre High, he went on to the University of Kansas, where he earned a degree in social welfare.
“I think sometimes numbers you can learn, but people are constantly changing,” he said about his academic choice. “My opinion is that it actually helped me on the business side of things.”
Having earned his degree, Fenske went to work at his father’s convenience store and car wash business in Manhattan.
About five years later, he accepted an invitation to be the energy department manager at the Farmers Cooperative Association in Manhattan.
“It kind of fits with what I had been doing, only a little bit different,” he said. “I was there for five or six years, then I had an opportunity to go to Leavenworth doing the same thing at another co-op, which is currently where I’m at.”
Leavenworth County Co-op serves farmers, commercial businesses and residents in Leavenworth County, as well as six neighboring counties. Fenske started as the energy department manager there, then was promoted to general manager about a year ago.
“The Leavenworth County Co-op is not a grain co-op,” Fenske said. “It’s a service and energy co-op, basically. We still have the agronomy centers and the fuel, oil and propane and all that stuff.
“The grain will be something that’s not new to me, because Manhattan had it too, but it’s new from where I’m at now.”
Fenske learned of the opening at CG&S through ProValue, LLC.
“Every time there’s a co-op opening, pretty much every co-op in Kansas and Colorado gets a newsletter or post card,” he said. “I got a post card, inquired about it and here we go.”
In addition to CG&S service area, Fenske said he saw an opportunity for a new professional challenge.
“Overall, it’s bigger than the co-op I was at,” he said. “And it introduces me to some things here that we don’t currently have, and would never see, where I’m currently at.
“It’s going to be a challenge and exciting at the same time—and also a learning opportunity for me.”
Fenske said he sees the CG&S membership not ratifying a recommendation from the board of directors last fall to merge with MKC as a positive thing.
“Their membership wants them to be local,” he said. “I’m local, local, local. I think that’s something that can be sold, I think that’s something that’s great for the community.
“Obviously, if their membership wants (merger) to happen down the road, then it happens. So far, the membership has said we want it to be ours. That excites me because I can come in and keep it ours, if they choose to do so.”
Fenske said his career path has familiarized him with the services CG&S currently offers.
“I’ve been exposed to everything,” he said. “I’m really not concerned with anything. I’m pretty confident, but I also feel that I learn pretty fast.”
Fenske affirmed the local interview process.
“The board was very supportive and open, and kind of told me what they needed and wanted,” he said. “I’m up to the challenge. I know it’s going to be a challenge and I’m not a lazy person. That will help me here.”
Kevin Suderman, chair of the CG&S board of directors, said the board is “delighted” to have Fenske as the company’s new chief executive.
“The board is looking forward to working with Jerry to develop a vision for the future of our co-op, so that we continue to provide outstanding service to our membership,” he said.
Fenske’s employment contract becomes effective April 1, but his first day in the office will be Monday, April 3.
“I’m excited to get out there and meet people—and learn what they need and what they want and just take care of the customers,” Fenske said.
“I’m a big local person. If you can keep stuff local, you can keep the community strong. I’m just excited to be part of that.”