Rebout remembered for dairy advocacy

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Monday, January 28, 2013

— Roger Rebout holds the honor of a lot of "firsts" in Rock County dairy farming.

Rebout and his wife, Mary Joan, hosted the county's first dairy breakfast in 1977. They built one of the county's first computerized milking parlors in 1991.

Rebout in 2003 was the first person inducted into the Rock County Ag Hall of Fame.

Rebout wasn't looking for honors. He was living his life by example, his son Doug Rebout said.

"He would say that you can't sit by and watch other people do things," Doug Rebout said. "You have to get involved and help lead things the way they need to go. He would say, 'You be a leader, not a follower.'"

Rebout, a Rock County native and national dairy industry advocate, died Thursday in Janesville. He was 72.

His sons, David, Doug and Dan, along with three of Rebout's grandchildren, milk 150 cows on the family farm on Mineral Point Road west of Janesville and grow crops on 4,000 acres. The farm, Roger Rebout and Sons, has grown from the 240 acres that Rebout and Mary Joan bought in 1963 when they started milking 30 cows.

"He started with nothing," Doug Rebout said. "He built the farm so future generations had something to do; so the family could stay together and work together."

Rebout's sons weren't the only young Rock County farmers who have benefited from Rebout's good business sense, said Jim Raymond, an agriculture lender with BMO Harris of Janesville who worked with Rebout for many years.

Many young people interested in getting into dairy farming looked to Rebout for advice before they came to the bank, Raymond said.

"I can't tell you how many times I've heard, 'Well, I went over and talked to Roger Rebout about it,'" Raymond said. "He wasn't afraid to do that, even when they weren't related."

Rebout grew up farming with his father and brothers in the towns of Rock and La Prairie. He was a student at Janesville High School and was a member of the Rock County marching band before graduating from high school in 1959, Doug Rebout said.

Rebout was a natural musician, Doug Rebout said.

"Organ, trombone, drums, saxophone, trumpet, accordion," Doug Rebout said. "He could play all that stuff. He really was a drummer, but take any instrument, he'd pick it up and start playing."

Rebout was one of the first members of the still-operating Rock County Dairy Promotions Council, said Dick Zanzinger, who served on the local council with Rebout. The Rebouts hosted the first dairy breakfast on a hot day in September 1977, Zanzinger said.

It was a year or two later before the annual event switched to June.

Rebout seemed to have a knack for seeing into the future of dairy farming, Doug Rebout said. He raised a lot of eyebrows in 1991 when he built one of the first computerized milking parlors in Rock County.

"He was progressive. He was outgoing," Zanzinger said. "He was always wanting to expand, and he was always trying something new for the first time."

Rebout's life was dairy farming, but he encouraged his sons to step away from farming for a time to make sure it was the right career for them, Doug Rebout said.

Rebout would say the same thing to other young farmers, Doug Rebout said.

"I think he would say, 'You have got to make sure this is what you want to do, and then stick through it. There's going to be hard times, but if you stick through it, the rewards would be great.'"

In addition to work on the farm, Rebout worked on a number of local, state and regional boards and committees.

"There was nothing that he'd rather be doing," Doug Rebout said. "He wanted to share (farming) with people and share his knowledge. He wanted to be in the process of watching the dairy and ag industry grow."

Rebout was appointed for six years to the National Dairy Council, including terms as treasurer, vice-chairman and chairman, Doug Rebout said. His last term on the council was in 2000.

Rebout's work on the national council influenced national dairy policy and meant a lot to the Rock County agriculture community, Raymond said.

"He was recognized as a national leader in the dairy industry," Raymond said. "To have him in our little community here, I think all of us were proud of that."


Roger Rebout of the town of Janesville was a local and national advocate for the dairy industry. A political fundraiser in 1985 in Washington, D.C., seemed to be evidence that the dairy industry was in need of outspoken representatives such as Rebout.

Here is the story titled 'Rebout can't find milk, U.S. cheese, at GOP event,' that appeared in The Janesville Gazette on May 22, 1985:

When a Wisconsin dairy farmer goes to Washington and attends a $1,500-a-plate fundraising dinner for the Republican Party, he should at least be able to get a glass of milk. Or should he?

Roger Rebout, 5606 Mineral Point Ave., Janesville, was in the nation's capital recently representing dairy farmers from the Associated Milk Producers Inc., Mid-States Region, in lobbying efforts for dairy provisions in the 1985 U.S. Farm Bill.

While there, he was part of an AMPI political action committee attending a Republican Party fundraiser and VIP reception. More than 175 political action committees were represented at the event, which drew a crowed of about 4,000 people.

Rebout and another dairy farmer from South Dakota attended the VIP reception for cabinet members. To their disappointment, the dairymen found that the hors d'oeuvres featured foreign cheese.

The "final straw," though, came at the presidential diner, attended by President and Mrs. Reagan, when Rebout asked for a glass of milk. The waiter told him there wasn't any milk in the house. But later he appeared with "what looked like milk."

"The waiter said to taste it because he had made the milk from an 'old home recipe'—which was half and half with water and ice cubes added to it," Rebout said.

"I plan on expressing my opinions about the lack of dairy products to the people in charge," he said of the dinner.

The AMPI political action committee contributes money to both Republicans and Democrats.

Last updated: 8:08 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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