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Women of ASA - Keela Trennepohl Ph.D.

From teaching to raising her family, beef cattle are at the center of Dr. Keela Trennepohl’s life.    |     

By Lilly Platts    |    

Keela Trennepohl grew up in the beef industry on an Angus seedstock operation in Southwest Wisconsin owned by her parents, Kevin and Keri Retallick. “My sisters and I were very involved with all aspects of the operation and were fortunate to show locally as well as nationally, and that was how it all began.” She enrolled in college despite wanting to stay on the farm and raise cattle. “I would say that my life hasn’t gone according to plan, but cattle have always been my constant. Cattle encompass all facets of my life. I wanted to stay home and raise cattle, but was challenged by my parents to try it for a semester. My ‘never quit’ mentality has me still going to college today.”

She initially had her heart set on going to veterinary school after receiving her degree in animal science from University of Wisconsin-Madison, but after 12 denial letters and $2,000 in application fees she accepted that it wasn’t in the cards. “I didn’t know what grad school was, but Dr. Dan Shaefer recommended it. My resume ended up with Dr. Dan Faulkner at the University of Illinois. It was on his desk when his colleague, Dr. Doug Parrett, saw it and recognized my name from showing cattle. What a valuable lesson for young exhibitors — work hard and represent yourself in an upstanding manner even if you don’t win the big banner, you never know who you’re impressing along the way.”

Last minute, Trennepohl was accepted into graduate school and became her advisor's last student at the University of Illinois and his first female student. At the University of Illinois, the Simmental breed became a part of her life, as well as ASA. “It was then that I became immersed in Simmental cattle, because ASA funded some important research projects. The University of Illinois was also a part of the Carcass Merit Program, and that was when I really started to see what these Simmental bulls could do with the commercial cows we were utilizing. I recognized and understood the potential that existed in this breed.” 

After realizing how much she enjoyed her studies, she decided to stay on for a Ph.D. program. Simmental, Angus, and commercial cattle were at the heart of her studies. During this same time, she met her now-husband, Chris, who always valued and had a passion for Simmental cattle, which led Trennepohl to become even more interested. She intended to get a job in industry but ended up in academia. After passing on the opportunity once, she applied for a position at Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, California. “I got the call that I got the job while exhibiting cattle at NAILE, and I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go. Cal Poly was a long way from everything I knew. It was a subtle push from a friend, Nick Reimann, that convinced me to give it a go. I started teaching, and that is when I realized that despite my plan, I was meant to be a teacher.”

She spent five growth-filled years in California, before returning to Illinois, and now teaches at Western Illinois University (WIU), where she is an assistant professor and director of the bull test station and cow herd. Today, her students primarily come from agricultural backgrounds, allowing her to bring insight from her experiences in California and provide a new perspective. Trennepohl, alongside her students, is transitioning WIU’s 50-head cow herd to Simmental. “Involving and relating to students helps me to gain their trust and respect, allowing both parties to constantly learn from one another. This is key in educating students.”

Keela and her husband, Chris, are also building their family’s operation, True North Cattle. “Starting our own operation hasn’t been easy, but we continue to learn how to prioritize our time and money, because if you don’t allocate these two things, I promise you they will go somewhere. You have to be strategic with your resources because they are precious — especially time.”

They have two young daughters, Maroska and Kort. True North Cattle will be having their first online sale on September 23, 2020. Quality cattle, customer service, and education are their foundation. “We want anyone who comes to us to feel part of the TRU family and ask questions without judgement. We promote positivity without ignoring reality — giving compliments while pointing out ways we can improve together.” Authenticity, integrity and trust, kindness, and passion fuel their philosophy as cattle breeders.

“We are standing together as our own entity fulfilling our dreams together with the aspiration of encouraging others’ dreams along the way.”

In everything she does, spreading a message of positivity and encouragement is at the forefront. She loves to teach and to learn. “I have to keep growing as a person, because if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Personal growth and a strong faith like I have now is something I used to really scoff at, but I have realized I need to care for myself: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s what I want to tell anyone in the cattle industry who will listen, is to take a breath, and re-align your focus with why you started all of this in the first place. I always come back to cattle. I love this breed and what it represents. The people are amazing, and it’s the breed our children will be involved with. I want quality cattle, I want to raise my children this way, and I want to be an example of how to really live truly and freely as yourself.” 

 

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