Dorrance, Kansas — History flows from this land like spring water over a bed of limestone.
It's in the breezes of a late winter afternoon, carrying the high songs of sandhill cranes and snow geese that have drifted over central Kansas for thousands of years. It's in old farm equipment, rusted steel hoops and angle irons, artifacts from the long human endeavor to rend a living from the land. And as the sun slips low, making thin clouds the color of a dying flame, it's in the crows of cock pheasants staking their roosts and the yodels of coyotes gathering for the hunt.
Wallace Weber often stands outside his farmhouse at dusk and lets the sounds of the grassland renew a connection that began more than six decades ago.
The land has been the lifelong passion, the stabilizing force and the cherished home of a man who earned the rank of colonel in the United States Army and the title of doctor in the medical profession. But one term defined him before medicine and the military, and the other will continue to describe him for the rest of his days — "Farmer Conservationist."
"My whole life is wrapped up in this place," he said on a perfect March afternoon, standing on a hill overlooking some of his 1,700 acres in Russell County.
The land has been like a gift to him, and now he's passing the gift along. Late last year, he started a process that will transfer his land to Pheasants Forever, making it the largest single gift in the habitat organization's 27 years. After his death, Weber's estate will provide PF a charitable remainder trust to pay for managing the land. In total, the gift's value exceeds $1 million.
But its significance extends beyond measures of money or acres. To understand why, you have to start with a bit of the history.
Some is geologic history, like the Greenhorn Limestone formation that lies beneath this area of Kansas. Some is anthropology, as in how men willed horse teams to scrape away what was called "overburden" so they could quarry the stone for houses, churches, schools and fence posts.
Weber's internal volumes also tell how the railroad sold some of its vast tracks of Kansas prairie to immigrants from Luxembourg and Bohemia. These were his ancestors.
His grandfather, Nicholas Weber, was a businessman whose financial interests included flour mills, lumber yards and banks. He established a town, called Dubuque, in southern Russell County and sold the surrounding land to his customers.
The town is gone now, but their house of worship, St. Catherine Church, still stands like a chalk-yellow beacon on a sprawling landscape of range, wheat and milo. The ancestors quarried more stone, cut it into blocks and built a one-room elementary school for their children. In other words, they shaped a community in a remote place dominated by land, wind and sky.
He also tells the story of his parents, Frank and Georgia Weber, who made their life on this land. They started with a $500 loan, 13 Hereford cattle, a two-bottom plow and 800 acres. Frank, a baseball pitcher good enough to earn a tryout with the Philadelphia Athletics, knew little about farming when he started. He learned from experience, and sometimes the experience took so much out of him he wanted to quit. But Georgia encouraged him to keep at it, and gradually he learned to work with the land. As his understanding grew, so did the wheat.
Wallace was their first child, born in 1943. Cheryl, their second and last, came five years later.
The boy grew up with the land as his companion. He ran over the hills covered in native blue grama, western wheat grass and little bluestem. He splashed in the Beaver Creek, where he also fished for bullheads and caught leopard frogs. And when the father took out the Winchester Model 97 and walked for pheasants, the boy walked along in an age-old apprenticeship.
Before long, the boy was hunting jackrabbits on his own. When he turned 13, he got to carry the 97 and made good on the privilege, bringing down his first rooster pheasant.
Like all farm children, he learned there was time for play and time for work. Chores included helping with the harvest and tending the cattle, milking cows and feeding pigs and chickens. He and his sister separated the cream by hand and sold it, along with eggs, in Dorrance, 11 miles to the north.
He can remember summer nights when the temperature remained in triple digits and winter days when a high above zero would have felt like Florida. Sometimes miserly skies refused to rain, while other times only the hilltops seemed safe from the torrents. The rope on the cellar door kept it shut when twisters threatened.
The distance from home to the tiny, one-room school was the width of a gravel road — across the street. When he first made that walk, the school had a daily census of four — two first-graders along with one each in the fourth and seventh grades. He was the only student with a different last name.
"I remember disliking that I had to come home for hot lunch while my buddies got to eat sack lunches," he said with a laugh. He learned a land ethic from his parents. His father practiced rotational farming while minimizing soil erosion with terraces and managed waterways.
"You didn't call it best management practices in those days," Weber said, "but he was a leader in conservation."
The son left the land in 1961 to enroll at Colorado State University in forestry and the Army's ROTC program. The Army commissioned him as a second lieutenant during his final year in medical school at the University of Kansas.
His nine years of active duty included serving as a flight surgeon with Assault Battalion of the 82nd Aviation Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Desert Storm, the first Persian Gulf War.
In the meantime, he established a dermatology practice in Hays, which wasn't far from the home place. His parents retired and moved into town in 1975 and Weber took over management of the family farm. In 1986, he moved back to the farmhouse and allowed himself a concession to modernity — indoor plumbing.
He wasn't interested in renting the land, so he struck a partnership with a neighbor to help manage the farming operations when he was busy with his practice or the Army Reserve. He gradually managed more of the property for wildlife, but he never let go of farming altogether.
"I think what's unique about him is he really is trying hard to blend wildlife habitat practices with agricultural practices on his ground," said Matt Smith, district wildlife biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "For him, it's never been either-or."
Over the years, Weber purchased tracts contiguous to the home place, growing the property to its present size. In addition to pheasants, it supports greater prairie chickens, grassland songbirds, migrating waterfowl, wild turkey and deer. It also has great potential for quail management.
His work has not gone unnoticed. Several years ago, he was proud to win the same county conservation award his father received some four decades before. More recently, both the Kansas Bankers Association and Kansas Wildlife and Parks have honored him for outstanding conservation.
Weber is now retired from the military and medicine, so he manages the property by himself. But he retained the name of the partnership — Dubuque Land & Cattle. Several years ago, he started thinking about what would happen to the land after his death. He knew he wanted the property kept intact. He explored several options, but found them lacking.
Then, while thumbing through a copy of the Pheasants Forever Journal of Upland Conservation, he read a story about the Baxter Family Farm in Nebraska. In 2007, Bill Baxter Sr., a highly respected state wildlife biologist and expert on federal conservation law, along with his son, Bill Baxter Jr., worked out an arrangement to donate their 320-acre farm to PF for wildlife habitat conservation and mentored youth hunting. Bill Sr. died later that year.
Inspired by the article and Baxter's example, Weber made a call to David Bue, vice president of development for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. The call led to a conversation and soon Weber realized he had found a partnership and solution that perfectly fit his goals.
Under the arrangement, the first half section was donated to PF in December 2008. Additional parcels will transfer at intervals which are beneficial to Weber's tax situation.
Weber wants his land to be a demonstration unit for the best practices in habitat and sustainable farming, with an emphasis on youth education. He envisions field days to help educate other landowners and internships for university students majoring in wildlife or agriculture. He wants it to support a full-time residential manager.
"It has to deal with people and it has to deal with dollar bills," he said. "You can't just let ground go – if you do, it degrades."
Weber will continue to live on the place as long as he is able and will have an active role in the management plans, which will include hunting by written permission only. After his death, the property will be opened to public hunting.
"It takes great vision and passion to do what Wallace has done. We thank Bill Baxter for setting the example," Bue said. "For these types of individuals to think well beyond their own time on Earth is really outstanding and a gift to us all and future generations as well."
At 65, Weber stands as straight as the barrel on that Model 97 and looks like he could still drop and do 25 pushups without breaking a sweat. Other than a few aches and pains, he said his health is good — precisely why he wanted to put his plans in place now.
His parents are deceased. He said his sister, Cheryl, who lives in Topeka, is a co-contributor. He will rely on her to let him know when it's time to leave the land.
"The ground will always be here. We're just passing through," Weber said.
Until then, he has prescribed burns to plan and grazing rotations to carry out. Lately he's been pondering management schemes that will allow his crops to grow while leaving plenty of insects for the pheasant chicks that will be hatching soon. His days as a doctor and soldier are behind him, but he's still a farmer. And a conservationist.
And he still hunts, although most times he only carries a single, paper-hulled shell in his gun. These days, it seems every hunt taps into a deep well of personal history with the land, and he always bags a limit of memories.
What is your legacy?
If you're inspired by this story and Wallace Weber's leadership, please consider visiting with us about how you might make a lasting contribution to Pheasants Forever and our wildlife habitat mission. With great passion and steadfast dedication, we can join the battle against rampant loss of open space, fight to protect wildlife habitat and preserve the hunting heritage. And we know we will succeed — if we follow the example of conservationists like Bill Baxter and Wallace Weber. Please, join us and act now.
Pheasants Forever is aggressively looking to partner with landowners to identify opportunities to acquire and accept donations of property. Those properties that are significantly valuable to our habitat conservation mission may be held and managed by Pheasants Forever or our new organization, The Forever Land Trust. In many cases, these contributions may also provide significant tax benefits for donors. Perhaps you or someone you know would be interested in leaving a legacy such as the one that has most definitely been left by our friend, COL. Wallace Weber.
For more information about how you can leave a conservation legacy or to discuss making a significant gift to Pheasants Forever, contact PF's Vice President of Development, David Bue, at 1-218-340-5519 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © Pheasants Forever, Inc., All rights reserved.
The information in this Web site is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney. Figures cited in examples are for hypothetical purposes only and are subject to change. References to income tax apply to federal taxes only. Federal estate tax, state income/estate taxes or state law may impact your results.