Farming runs deep for Margery Steckler and her late husband, George. Committed to the advancement of agriculture, farmers and education, this Didsbury couple has become a familiar name at Olds College.

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Deep Ties with Olds College & Agriculture: Margery & George Steckler

“I think the experience since donating the farms to Olds College has been one of the most positive experiences of my life,” says Margery Steckler, Olds College Donor. “George and I looked at it as leaving a legacy for our community — and the farming community at large.”

Farming runs deep for Margery Steckler and her late husband, George. Committed to the advancement of agriculture, farmers and education, this Didsbury couple has become a familiar name at Olds College. In 2019, George and Marge commemorated their retirement from 47 years of farming with a generous gift of 310 acres of farmland to the Olds College Smart Farm, and a $100,000 endowment fund to Olds College which provides five bursaries of $1,000 annually to students enrolled in agriculture programs. And their legacy with Olds College didn’t stop there — the Stecklers recently pledged an additional 800 acres of land west of Craik, Saskatchewan forming the Olds College Saskatchewan Smart Farm.

“I don’t think people know enough about Olds College and what they do,” Marge says.

Olds College is known for high-tech, hands-on agriculture education and innovative applied research focused on solving real-world problems in farming, food and land. Since the inception of the Olds College Smart Farm in 2018 beginning with 110 acres and a handful of applied research projects, the Smart Farm has quickly grown to 3,600 acres with over 60 applied research projects planned for the current year. Marge and George were aware of research happening at the College, but really didn’t know the depths of what Olds College is actively involved in until they started getting serious about donating land to the Smart Farm.

Marge’s connection to Olds College, who she refers to as good neighbours, runs deep. Her parents met in the late 1930s when they both attended Olds College; they always spoke highly of both the education they received and the College’s progression. Her dad was enrolled in agriculture mechanics (before he was conscripted into the Second World War), and her mom graduated from economics and sewing. Somewhere in Grisdale Hall, there is even a beam with George’s initials on it from his days as a construction welder. The Stecklers also supported work-integrated learning at the College for years by bringing in their tractors and combines to be overhauled by students in the agriculture mechanics program.

Most importantly, both George and Marge believed in the value of education. George taught most of the neighbourhood kids how to weld and was a strong believer in having a trade to fall back on in case you ever needed it.

Olds College Saskatchewan Smart Farm

George grew up farming in Saskatchewan. His dad grew up in southern Ukraine, came to Canada at 13 years old and settled in southern Saskatchewan. George’s parents bought the 800 acres in Craik, SK in 1952 and George purchased it from them decades later.

Marge is quick to say that you couldn't get farming out of George’s blood, and laughs how George even postponed their wedding in 1968 for a month because he didn’t have his harvest off the Saskatchewan fields yet. As a young married couple, they traded grain for Roughriders tickets one season — George was a Riders fan through and through. Now this piece of land in rural Saskatchewan is being transformed into the Olds College Saskatchewan Smart Farm.

The expansion of the Olds College Smart Farm into Saskatchewan will provide a platform for the College to partner with post-secondary institutions, industry, and local producers by providing ag-tech training and research opportunities to support the Saskatchewan agriculture industry. Partners already include Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Raven Industries, Carlson Agriculture and Wildfong Enterprises. George and Marge knew of Wildfong Enterprises back in 1968 when Wildfong had a business in a local town that manufactured Will Car rock pickers. The Stecklers had purchased one, so George and Marge have truly been a stepping stone to enriched partnerships for the College. However, according to friends, family and neighbours, you were hard-pressed to find any stones or rocks cluttering George’s fields or yard — he took great pride in his farms.

“George and Marge have truly created a legacy gift here at Olds College,” comments Patrick Machacek, Vice President, Development and Strategy. “The partnership we have grown with the Stecklers is literally transforming our Smart Farm at Olds College and providing generations of students with financial support to gain a world-class ag education. Their gift is helping the College reach beyond our borders to expand our ag-tech training and applied research opportunities here in Alberta — and now in Saskatchewan,” explains Machacek. “Olds College is committed to ‘transforming agriculture for a better world,’ and the incredible support from the Stecklers is helping us achieve that vision.”

Steckler Farm

The 310 acre Steckler Farm is integrated into the Olds College Smart Farm; it was farmed by the College for the first time during the 2021 growing season. The applied research team and Olds College students were collecting data on the property from weather stations, disease risk data analysis, and in-field fungicide trials. Steckler Farm has also been selected as a research location during 2022 for the Pan-Canadian Smart Farm Network.

“This is not the same college that my parents went to,” Marge says. 

Marge was so pleased with the first year of farming and applied research at Steckler Farm. She was sitting in her golf cart at the edge of the field watching canola being seeded last spring — and reflected that George would have been sitting right next to her. Even with a severe hailstorm during August, Marge knows George would have been ecstatic with the canola yield harvested by the Smart Farm team. George and Marge never lost their love for farming.

When weather stations were set up on the property for smart ag applied research, Marge immediately had access to the dashboard at home so she could see the data being collected. She had a front-row seat to observe weather and rainfall data from numerous locations around the Smart Farm, time-lapse images of the canola crop during the growing season, and hours of sun the crop was getting right outside her door. She found the experience “really fascinating” and was grateful to be so involved in what was happening on the property — Marge has a new-found interest in applied research and ag tech data.

“The more we can disseminate this type of information, the better off farming is going to be,” Marge says. “And I think this is the best part of the College.”

Looking Forward

When they first donated the Steckler Farm to the College, George said, “I look forward to seeing students out on the land, and to check out what they are doing. To see students benefit from our land will be wonderful.”

Marge says the best part of the partnership with Olds College is that she is getting to watch the students learn on the field and knowing that generations of people will benefit from this agreement. “I think it’s amazing and George would have been ecstatic about it,” Marge says. “I’m acting as an ambassador for the College.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a privilege to have the College with us. And that was George’s feelings too,” Marge comments about the partnership formed between Olds College and the Stecklers. “I think that it’s working, and I love it!”

“I’ve had a blast with this,” Marge laughs when talking about her ongoing partnership with Olds College, and when she got to fly drones in her yard and operate the autonomous platform OMNiPOWER this last year. “I love the Smart Farm.”