BRIDGEWATER, Va. — A husband and wife team, Riley and Barbara Wagner are the Virginia dairy industry’s selection to be honored in the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame this year.
The recognition comes because of joint efforts on their dairy farm here and their work in Holstein breeding at the state and national level.
“Riley and Barbara have been described as the backbone of the Virginia Holstein Association for decades,” Lois Skeen wrote on behalf of the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association in nominating the couple.
Eric Paulson, executive secretary of the association, said it has become the group’s practice in recent years to recognize family members who work together. He said it takes a family or team working together to run a successful dairy farm.
“It was quiet an honor to be nominated, to be put in an elite group of people, some of them our friends,” Barbara said in a telephone interview. “It was nice that they felt we were worthy of this.”
Barbara said she and Riley started their Rilara Holsteins in 1960 on land that had been in his family since 1924.
“Their Rilara herd of Registered Holsteins was one of the best in the country,” Skeen wrote. “Through careful breeding and management they developed cattle that were highly respected and valued in the market place wherever they were sold nationwide.”
In 2017, the Wagners sold the dairy herd. While some would move into retirement with such a move, Riley continues to farm. She said he now raises Holstein steers he buys at livestock markets and does some crop farming.
“Aside from the demanding responsibilities at home, they placed equal priority on dedicating their time and talents to the dairy industry, particularly the Registered Holstein Association,” Skeen said. “They made the Holstein business much more than their livelihood, and were devoted to the ‘greater good.’”
She pointed to their devotion to the association as the means of encouraging and supporting junior members. She said it led to a better marketplace for Virginia Holstein cattle, and stronger leadership in the organization.
Skeen also credited them with leading a whole lot more fun and fellowship among its members.
“The Holstein circle is much richer for having these two fine people among us,” Skeen wrote.
Skeen traced the Wagner’s leadership journey from 1979 when, as young parents of four junior Holstein members, they took a group of juniors to the National Holstein convention. They became youth advisors for the association and then co-chairs of the Youth Committee for the National Holstein Convention hosted by Virginia in 1983.
“They hosted many dairy judging workshop at their farm, donated animals to raise, show and perhaps sell. They have been generous and eager sponsors of awards, fund risers and special projects to support youth.”
Skeen reported that Riley served as chairman of the Sale Committee for over a decade, in times when the association held three sales a year.
“When Virginia hosted the National Holstein convention in 2011, Riley was the obvious choice to chair the event,” she said.
Under his leadership, the sale that year at the convention had the highest average price of any national convention to date, Skeen noted. This was in an indoor city setting with its challenges.
“Riley not only worked to organize and conduct the sales but developed a reputation for consigning quality cattle from the top of his herd as well as personally supporting the sales as a buyer,” she wrote.
Barbara was the first woman to serve as president of the Virginia association in recent years, according to Skeen.
“Barbara provided strong leadership and accepted responsibilities above and beyond her job description to capably guide the association through a period of transition after several committee chairpersons stepped down from their positions,” the nomination said.
She organized the association’s 100th anniversary, making it an event that commemorated the cattle, people and history of a century.
The traditional ceremony honoring Hall of Fame recipients was not held because of the pandemic restrictions. Inductees’ portraits have been hung in the Alphine-Stuart Livestock Center at Virginia Tech. Organizers said they hope to hold a recognition ceremony at a later date.