RUDD — Mary Halsted of Rudd is considered by her peers to be an absolute servant to Hoover’s Hatchery, the community of Rudd and the poultry industry for the past 44 years.
On Aug. 24, the Rudd woman was honored with the Iowa Poultry Association’s Lifetime Award at the association’s 48th Annual Fall Festival in West Des Moines.
The Iowa Poultry Association represents the largest egg producing state in the U.S. Each year, it gives out one Lifetime Member Award.
In nominating Halsted for the award, Hoovery Hatchery CEO Luke Weiss wrote, “Mary is the hardest worker you will ever meet. Mary’s character is impeccable. Honesty, humility, integrity, goodness, generosity, loyalty and friendly are just a few of the adjectives routinely used to describe her.”
Halsted grew up on a livestock farm with a laying flock of about 100 hens, but she said she wasn’t always fond of chickens.
Her dad told her she had to gather eggs.
“He told me to get in under the hens to get all the eggs and they would peck me when I reached my hand under them,” she said. “I said when I grew up I would never have anything to do with chickens.”
She also said her mother insisted she and her brother split an egg for breakfast each morning. “My brother ate the yolk and I ate the egg white. I got so I never cared for them, unless they are in an omelette, which I like,” Halsted said.
Halsted had to work in 1972 to pay medical bills. She chose Hoover’s Hatchery because it was nearby.
“I cleaned and boxed eggs and helped in other areas,” she said. “I was a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none.”
Bob Hoover, who founded Hoover’s Hatchery in 1944, asked Halsted if she would work in the office.
Around 1975, Hoover asked employees to buy into the hatchery. She and her husband, Doug, bought in and eventually assumed ownership.
“As years past, all our five children helped at the hatchery as well,” Halsted said. “That is where they got their work ethic and now they appreciate it.”
In 2002, tragedy struck the family when Halsted’s husband was killed in a semi accident on the Avenue of the Saints.
She questioned whether she should carry on with the business.
“After the accident, my employees said they would help and they did,” Halsted said. “My hatchery family was there for me.”
Halsted kept the business going. She sold it to a group of investors in 2015, and today, she is a consultant for the firm.
The business has changed in many ways in 44 years.
When she started, there were 10 workers. Today, there are more than 100. They started with white leghorn chicks and have since added many new breeds.
“When I started, we were proud if we hatched a 100,000 chicks a year; last year, we shipped over 11 million chicks,” Halsted said.
“I am humbled by this award and I feel past and present employees are all a part of it,” she said. “Hoover Hatchery will always be in my heart.”
A public reception for Halsted will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Rudd Community Center, 501 Floyd St.