Roxi Kasten and her family have benefitted from her association Mitchell Technical College.
The 1979 graduate was one of the first women enrolled in the ag business program, her late husband David Kasten was also a graduate of the school and her father-in-law, Loren Kasten is the founder and a longtime teacher who developed the school’s agriculture curriculum.
Now, Roxi Kasten is hoping to boost the opportunities for future students hoping to attend the ag program at Mitchell Technical College by establishing three scholarships through the sale of a vintage tractor that was owned by her husband. The tractor, a 1964 730 Case with a dual loader, is currently being restored to running condition at the school campus by teachers and students with the diesel power technology program before being offered up for auction next month.
“I’m just trying to praise David and his dad,” Kasten said in an interview with the Mitchell Republic.
A native of Mitchell, she was heavily involved in FFA programs and was considering a career in agriculture. She thought about attending MTC after receiving letters from Loren Kasten, who had been with MTC since 1969, encouraging her to attend the ag program at the school. She accepted, and became one of the first three women to be part of the program in 1977.
“I have letters before he was my father-in-law that were signed by him encouraging me to take the ag program,” Kasten said.
She completed the program in 1979, noting that she never felt intimidated by her position as one of the few women in the program.
“In 1977 there had never been any females go through the program, and there were three of us that year. It was me, my cousin from Chamberlain and a girl from Beresford,” Kasten said. “(But) I’d been in FFA with all the boys and stuff. I knew I could beat them.”
Roxi Kasten graduated from MTC and left for a life on the west river side of the state. Loren Kasten continued to guide the program at the school for many years before retiring. Eventually, Roxi Kasten moved back to Mitchell where she reconnected with David Kasten, and in 2003, they were married. Loren Kasten, 92, is now retired and living in Sioux Falls.
David Kasten himself decided to attend MTC in 2011 and went on to a career with POET Biorefining in Scotland. He died in 2019 from lung cancer, an event that would eventually set Roxi Kasten on a journey to honor her late husband and her father-in-law. She still had her husband’s 1964 730 Case tractor and thought getting it working and selling it at auction might provide the seed money for some scholarships that would benefit students the way her time at MTC benefitted her. David had even rebuilt the engine of the tractor, which now sat stored in a shelterbelt, as part of his time as a student at MTC.
“This tractor was sitting in at my dad’s shelterbelt because David had bought it to clean horse pens. David really thought a lot of that tractor, and I knew it needed some TLC,” she said.
Time for a tune up
She reached out to the school and Myron Sonne, a former instructor in the ag department, to help facilitate repairs to the tractor by the MTC diesel power technology program. Sonne had taught Roxi Kasten as a student, and had been close to Loren Kasten, as he had been one of the first hires for the program under Loren.
“(Loren) was a very successful ag teacher in several different high schools, and then he started the ag program at Mitchell Tech. The program evolved into a two-year program, and I was fortunate to get in the picture,” Sonne said.
The idea of getting the tractor running and selling it at auction to fund scholarships seemed to Sonne like a great way to honor the legacy of David and Loren. While it’s not known just how much the Case would bring in, Sonne said it was prudent to put as much practical value back into the machine as possible.
“If it was going to be a decent kind of scholarship. One hundred dollars may not even buy textbooks anymore. That’s why I went to work to see if we could improve the value. It is now worth two or three times what it is worth in just iron,” Sonne said.
Sonne and Kasten asked Joe Brtna, program director and instructor for the diesel power technology program at MTC, to take a look at the tractor and see what could be done to increase its appeal to potential buyers. Thankfully, even after time spent out in the elements, the tractor started right up and the repair crew were able to drive it to the school under its own power.
“Myron and Roxi begged us to get it running so she could sell it for the proceeds for the scholarships,” Brtna said. “It was stored out at Roxi’s farm and we drove it into the school, we changed all the fluid levels in the transmission, the hydraulics, all the filters. It’s going to have a new battery, and tires have been donated.”
The class at MTC is not doing any cosmetic restoration, but an overhaul of the critical operational parts and accessories is underway, Brtna said. The parts for the tractor are all coming from donated sources, with no school money being used on the repairs. Julie Brookbank, vice president for advancement at MTC, said the rear tires were being provided by Goodyear, TMA donated the front tires as well as some hoses and CHS Farmers Alliance donated a battery, among others.
“There is no MTC money put into this at all. It’s all donated at this point,” Brookbank said.
A learning experience
While there are no MTC funds being used on the project, sweat equity is being donated by students and teachers. Working on a tractor that is more than a half-century old provides some unique opportunities in teaching mechanics to a group of students who are used to working with some of the latest, most advanced technology in their classes.
“It goes outside the new technology. The students are learning that stuff just isn’t easy once in a while. It’s old, and there is no end to what you can do to it,” Brtna said. “I always say we’re going back to basics. The new stuff is nice and shiny and is great. It costs a lot of money, but you have to learn how to fix the basic stuff from the ground up.”
Brtna brings years of experience in repairing this style of tractor from his pre-teaching days when he worked as a mechanic at various implement dealers. The school also has archived manuals in digital form that allow them to call up specifications quickly.
“I actually worked on that style of tractor for many years,” Brtna said.
Students are taking to the project, Brtna said. While his classes are used to working with some of the latest and most innovative ag technology, there are basics to be learned from working on a tractor with no computers or anything resembling a microchip. But it does feature staples that are still prevalent on today’s newest machines - electrical and hydraulic systems.
“A couple of students are working on it. They like the old stuff,” Brtna said. “We don’t call ourselves mechanics. We’re technicians. The biggest thing is troubleshooting. It’s big in any industry. Electrical and hydraulics are some key things we stress to our kids.”
Sonne added that the lessons learned will provide a background of knowledge of students who enter the field of repairing ag equipment who may run into tractors of this sort in their careers. Other students may be of the set who enjoy owning older machinery or may want to keep their grandfather’s tractor and repair it as a family heirloom.
Roxi Kasten said even for students returning to work on the farm, older tractors may be of use and more affordable than the newest modern tractors.
“I guess one of my other goals behind this project is that not everybody can have a brand new tractor. You kind of have to know how to work on the old ones. You kind of understand the old models before you understand the new. I was hoping for it to be a learning experience for the students as well,” Kasten said. “This (tractor) was born way ahead of them.”
A legacy of learning
Much of the repair work on the tractor has been done. Everyone involved in the project admits it is not a showroom or museum piece. It’s a running, useful vintage tractor that could be utilized around the farm yard for smaller jobs or acreage management.
The online auction is being handled by Dean/Edwards & Associates and is scheduled to take place March 22, though the listing is expected to appear at dean-edwards.com sometime prior to that. The funds brought in will hopefully provide enough money to establish three separate scholarships. The Loren Kasten Agronomy Scholarship, the David Kasten Memorial Agricultural Diesel Power Scholarship and the Roxi Kasten Animal Science Scholarship. Each scholarship will be valued at up to $500, depending upon the sale proceeds.
In the spirit of support, Dean/Edwards is waiving their percentage on the sale, as well.
Any additional funds raised will be designated as additional scholarships or made available for use by the ag technology programs at MTC, Brookbank said.
Roxi Kasten said she and her family are grateful for what MTC has done for them, and she’s pleased to be able to offer a leg up for potential future students through the establishment of the new scholarships. The legacy of her husband David and her father-in-law Loren will continue to benefit up-and-coming students thanks to those scholarships.
And thanks to the students, instructors and leaders at MTC as well as the support from friends and community businesses that are making the project possible. And of course, the vintage tractor that ties the effort together, Roxi Kasten said.
“I knew it needed a little TLC and people who knew what to do with it,” she said.