January 8, 2020 – DENVER, CO — Duckworth might be among the premier fine-wool, American-made clothing companies, but it didn’t get that way overnight. Joe and Aggie Helle proved to be company cornerstones thanks to their efforts at constantly improving the family ranch’s wool clip, which provided Duckworth with the raw, natural fiber needed to produce its performance products.
For their efforts, Joe and Aggie have been chosen as the 2020 Wool Excellence Award winners by members of the Wool Roundtable. While Joe passed away in October 2019, Aggie will accept the award this month at the ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“We just always enjoyed working with and promoting wool,” said Aggie, whose father bought his first Rambouillet sheep in the 1940s. “My dad was always keen on white-faced, fine-wool sheep. When Joe and I started in sheep in 1967, we bought a band of sheep from my family. I’d always been involved in helping dad on the ranch. I can even remember trailing a band 15 miles to town when I was 14 years old.”
Joe, who spent his childhood summers on a ranch his grandmother worked on, had a background in range ecology. But he took to the sheep quickly. As they learned the business, both Joe and Aggie took on leadership roles.
Joe served as president of the Montana Wool Growers Association, on the ASI Executive Board and is a past chair of the ASI Wool Council. Aggie ran the Montana Make It With Wool program before serving as the program’s national director. She has also served on industry committees, including the Resource Management Council and as president of the ASI Women.
“Everything they did, they did together,” said their son John, who took the family’s ranching operation to a whole new level with the development of Duckworth. “It was always a team effort with them. Dad also did a lot with Center of the Nation Wool to get that started. They were always supportive of the industry and didn’t have a problem putting their time and money into it because they realized that it would help everyone, including our ranch.”
Joe joined with a group of Montana ranchers to lobby for the Wool Trust that was established with help from then Montana Sen. Max Baucus. The Wool Trust financially supports ASI’s marketing of American wool both domestically and internationally.
“My husband was a humble man, but also very capable and talented,” Aggie said. “We’ve been supportive of the wool and sheep industry since before ASI even existed, so I’m happy to accept this award.”
Joe also served as chief product tester for Duckworth. A longtime fan of wool, he wore Pendleton shirts, fine wool suits and wool socks in the years before new manufacturing processes developed wool that could be worn next to the skin.
“He became one of my first product testers, and he wore Duckworth products all the time. That’s just who he was. He was always wanting to do more and more with our wool, and he was my greatest supporter on the ranch. He was a great sounding board when we started developing Duckworth.”
ASI Deputy Director Rita Samuelson worked with Joe on the Wool Council and saw first-hand his commitment to developing a flock that would produce quality American wool. She also has found memories of Aggie’s time running the Make It With Wool contest.
“Aggie coordinated such wonderful shows at the annual Make It With Wool banquet,” Samuelson said. “And Joe was always a champion for the American wool industry. He definitely practiced what he preached by building outstanding genetics in his Montana flock. His practices and his passion have already fueled two generations who have followed in his footsteps and continue to be innovators within our industry.”
The Wool Excellence Award will be presented during the Wool Recognition Lunch on Thursday, Jan. 23, beginning at 11:30 a.m. A ticket is required to attend the lunch.
Submitted to The BARN by ASI who reminds you…
Now is the time to begin making plans for the 2020 ASI Annual Convention: Reverence for the Past, Innovation for the Future. The Scottsdale (Ariz.) Plaza Resort will play host to the convention on Jan. 22-25. Online registration for the convention opened this week.
In addition to the usual slate of council and committee meetings, 2020 ASI Annual Convention attendees won’t want to miss a tour of Rovey Dairy on Jan. 22. The dairy began in 1943 when Emil Rovey purchased a farm in Glendale, Ariz. His son, Paul, now operates the dairy with his wife, Deborah, and their five children. While the dairy is best known for its Jersey cows and Watusi cattle, sheep are the fastest growing livestock population on the farm. Paul plans to use his increasing sheep milk inventory to make cheese and ice cream. In addition to touring the farm and milking operations, you’ll hear more about the history of the dairy and the decision to expand beyond cows as sheep are added to the ever-growing operation. In addition, the dairy has played a significant role in restoring the area’s condor population, which Paul will explain on the tour. Following the tour, participants will enjoy a lamb burger lunch at the nearby Desert Rose restaurant. Additional tours during the week include a visit to the Desert Botanical Gardens and to Butterfly Wonderland.
An Industry Innovators Panel Discussion will serve as the ASI Opening Session on Jan. 23. Other highlights will include the presentation of ASI’s annual awards, as well as comedian/musician Gary Mule Deer performing during the Saturday luncheon on Jan. 25. The Make It With Wool National Finals and Banquet will round out the convention that evening.
Attendees can also now make reservations with the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, which will offer a room rate of $175 plus tax. The hotel will waive its standard resort fee for those booking through the ASI block online or by calling 800-832-2025 (mention the ASI Annual Convention special room rate). The resort fee – usually $25 per day/per room – covers onsite parking and high-speed internet, as well as use of resort amenities.
Discounted registration rates for the ASI Annual Convention are available for those who register before Jan. 6, 2020. So, register now to join all facets of the American sheep industry as it comes together in Scottsdale. Other industry groups meeting with ASI during the Annual Convention include: the American Lamb Board, American Goat Federation, ASI Women, Food and Fiber Risk Managers, Make It With Wool, National Lamb Feeders Association, National Livestock Producers Association, National Sheep Improvement Program, National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, Sheep Heritage Foundation, Sheep Venture Company and Western Range Association.
ASI is an equal opportunity employer. It is the national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 88,000 sheep producers.
American Sheep Industry Association
9785 Maroon Circle, Suite 360, Englewood, CO 80112
Phone: 303-771-3500 — Fax: 303-771-8200 — Sheepusa.org