It was plain for anyone to see in August 2002 that former attorney general and Marion native Carla Stovall was decidedly captivated with agricultural broadcast icon Larry Steckline. That’s the month the couple married.
However, she also was captivated by his stories — tales of family, of his youth, and his rise to become the “voice of Kansas agriculture” — so much so that she started writing them down.
“It started out as just a collection of stories,” Carla said.
The stories were plentiful, and as the collection grew the couple realized they had the makings of a book.
“This started out to be something for my kids and grandkids,” Larry said. “I really looked forward to them reading and seeing what the ‘old kid’ did to get where he did.”
From humble beginnings on a meager 200-acre Trego County farm and a chance, unwelcome assignment delivering noon stock reports on a Wichita television station, Steckline forged a 45-year broadcast career in which he became a familiar and trusted face to farmers in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Nebraska for news and issues involving agribusiness. He also bought and sold 27 radio stations, and maintained an active wheat, cow, and calf farm that he still operates.
Larry had the easy part — telling stories. The task of writing the book, titled “Larry Steckline: A Half Century as the Voice of Kansas Agriculture,” fell to Carla.
While the book covered Larry’s professional success, it was also intended to portray his personal and family life with his first wife, Wah-leeta, who died as a result of a tractor accident on their Garden Plain farm in October 2000.
Carla said she found that part of the book to be a little tougher to write.
“As a second wife, it was hard to flesh that out,” she said. “I didn’t know about her. I wanted to write about her in a way that was real and authentic and gave justice to what she was all about. It was a privilege to be able to do that.”
As with the stories, the book came together gradually, Larry said.
“She always did it in spurts,” he said. “Whenever she worked on it, it was maybe a day at a time, sometimes half a day.”
A portion of the book is devoted to Carla’s political career as well.
They unveiled the finished product to Larry’s children and grandchildren at a family get-together in July at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. Those who couldn’t be there received a package with instructions of when it should be opened.
“We made sure they all got it at the same time,” Larry said. “The reaction was great. I’m not so sure they knew how to handle it; they were shocked.”
From family to FFA
When Carla and Larry went searching for a printer, they received some unexpected feedback.
“The first couple of people we went to for a price couldn’t even believe we weren’t going to sell it,” Larry said.
That sparked an idea to put the book to greater use.
“When we had the ‘aha moment’ that we could give it to charity, that’s when we decided to make it an official book,” Carla said.
FFA, the country’s largest youth agriculture organization, was a natural choice as a beneficiary.
The Stecklines provided copies of the book to Kansas FFA to be sold by local chapters. Those who buy the book online at larrysteckline.com can choose a local chapter to receive the proceeds. FFA receives all of the $20 cost for each book sold.
“They have an opportunity to make $20,000 awful quick, and I feel mighty good about that,” Larry said.
Marion-Florence FFA adviser Mark Meyer said the chapter is working on plans for selling the book.
“With Carla’s roots around Marion, it was a no-brainer,” Meyer said. “We felt people would be interested and wanted to participate. There’s no catch; they want to donate everything to FFA.”
Meyer said Steckline’s story embodies many of the values and skills FFA teaches.
“It’s a great fit because we try to work on leadership and communication skills and how to promote agriculture,” he said.
Larry said he hopes readers, and young people in particular, will learn a couple of lessons from his story.
“This is the greatest country in the world, but it doesn’t come automatic,” he said. “It’s a four-letter word, luck is, but you spell it w-o-r-k.”
He also wants people to see that agriculture careers encompass more than farming.
“There are a lot of different segments of agriculture young people can get involved in and make a great living,” Larry said.