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Humbled and surprised, Mark Albrecht could barely speak as he was presented with the 2018 Ag Service Award last Tuesday night at the Cozad Area Chamber of Commerce Ag Appreciation barbecue.
From a young age Albrecht was taught to be responsible for the land, animals and other people. As he became involved in 4-H, school and church activities, that sense of responsibility and love of farming grew. 
In high school he was selected to attend the Nebraska Agriculture Youth Institute (NAYI) and he returned for two years as a counselor. That experience developed leadership skills that would help him become an advocate for agriculture.
After earning an associate degree in agriculture from Hastings College, he went on to study religion, hoping he could use his love of God and agriculture to serve others. Several examples of this servant attitude were shared at the event.
In the spring of 1999, wildfires destroyed miles of fences in the Sandhills near Mullen. Albrecht joined a group from his church to spend a day fixing fences and helping out the ranchers there.
When an early October blizzard in 2013 killed over 100,000 cattle in the Nebraska Sandhills, South Dakota and Wyoming, Albrecht used his leadership skills and caring attitude to coordinate donations for a load of bred heifers that were delivered to a rancher to get a new start.
Other leadership opportunities arose in Dawson County and Nebraska Farm Bureau. He served as county president for three years, national affairs chairman for nine years and two years on the American Farm Bureau Federation Hay and Forage Advisory Committee. 
Over the last 30 years he has shared his love of agriculture with an estimated 3,000 children at the annual preschool farm day hosted by Albrecht and his wife. Participants get a glimpse of farm life through tractor rides, opportunities to pet animals, see crops and more.
Anytime a neighbor, friend or acquaintance needed help, he was there.
On Nov. 1, 2017, Albrecht was seriously injured in a four-wheeler accident while chasing cows. A spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the chest down and doctors said he would probably never walk again.
He has fought back and this spring inspired many by getting into the tractor and helping with the spring planting and this summer by cutting hay and going to check on cattle.  Albrecht continues therapy and hopes he can soon walk with two canes instead of a walker.
He and his wife, Kristi, took the opportunity to thank those who have helped them on their journey from injury to continued recovery. Albrecht noted they couldn’t have made it without all the community support.
The 2018 banquet also featured four honored presenters who provided updates on various community projects.
Julie Geiger shared information on the “Barn Quilts of Dawson County” and the group’s efforts to create a barn quilt trail around Dawson County. “The barn quilt movement began in Ohio and now there are trails all over the country to attract and increase tourism,” said Geiger.
She noted since Cozad began their efforts to put up barn quilts that not a week goes by that tourists don’t stop in and ask for a trail map. She added that LaVonne and Dail Vetter’s barn east of Cozad was featured for the month of June this year on the National Barn Quilt calendar.
Upcoming barn quilt activities will include erection of a display featuring barn quilt blocks from all 50 states on the Mead Lumber Building in Cozad. “They are being painted in increments of 10 and 40 are already done,” said Geiger. “In an effort to involve students during Ag Exposure Day on Sept. 5 they will create four more blocks to add to four painted two years ago.”
Judy Eggleston provided an update on the chamber’s ag scholarship and noted the 2018 winner was Kyle German.
Cozad vocational education instructor and FFA advisor Rebekah Kraeger noted the Cozad chapter is entering their second year. “I tell them all the time it’s not my program, but their program.”
She noted that a student project initiated last year would repeat the end of September when the FFA will host a tailgate on Sept. 28 before the Cozad High School football game. The tailgate will be in the high school parking lot.
The final special speaker was District 36 State Senator Matt Williams of Gothenburg. He spoke on the banquet theme of “Cultivating Change in Agriculture.”
While population demographics in Nebraska are continually moving the state’s population center east, Williams said he remains optimistic about the future of agriculture. “The partnerships between business and the ag community and pride in what we are doing are good for maintaining optimism.”
  He challenged audience, in particular the FFA members present, to “think about how we can continue to dream big and turn today’s dreams into tomorrow’s realities.”