Hello fellow huskers and friends! As of this writing in late March, winter is now behind us
and planting season is rapidly approaching. Overall, the winter season treated us well,
unusually warm and dry for the most part. January was the warmest on record going back
to 1934. February was very dry with less than a half-inch of precipitation around the
Brookfield area. I believe that the recorded precipitation at the Kansas City International
Airport for February was .04 inch. So far, March has been pretty dry for our calving
season and the grass is showing just a tinge of green.
I had occasion to talk to Frank Hennenfent a couple of weeks ago to update my e-mail
address. As you know, Frank does a lot of work maintaining the Illinois website that also
serves as a conduit for our national news. We had a fine visit about our favorite
topic-cornhusking. During the course of our conversation, I related to him my topic quest
for an Historian's article for the spring Shucks issue. We talked about several past
contests and the 1986 National was one of them. The '86 contest was special for several
reasons. For one, it was located in Oakley, Kansas, site of the first modern National.
Secondly, modern national records were set for gross and net weights in both the Men's
and Women’s Open classes. And finally, the Men's Open class found the top two
contestants had husked identical gross weights. Though contestants have crossed the
scales with identical loads before, perhaps this one took on significant importance because
the loads were so large. Consequently, I decided to devote this issue’s Historian article to
the 1986 National and feature a little information about the battles for the Open titles.
The Women’s Open class consisted of 14 huskers on a pretty autumn afternoon with
several veterans on the field. It was the 8th annual battle to determine the best husker in
the country since the class inception by the National Cornhuskers Association in 1979.
Among the contestants were Irene Quick-IA, Katherine Immeker-SD, Sharon Kraus-KS,
Sharon Ferguson-IA, Florence Geersema-SD, Lina Hoover-OH, and Mabel Nibbe-MN.
All of these contestants had seen plenty of time in the top five, and three of them were
former National champs. Several prior contests had seen Irene Quick and Katherine
Immeker battle for the top two spots. However, a newcomer would steal the spotlight and
set a national record in the process.
Husking for the first time in national competition, Tammi Brabb was 24 years old and the
Kansas state champion. She was from Osage City and daughter of John and Jane Jackson.
John Jackson was a former six-time state champ and, also, the 1975 and 1985 national
champ. In a very close 20-minute race with Irene Quick, Brabb crossed the scales with a
gross load of 411.1 pounds followed by Quick with 394.2 pounds. Her net load of 405.7
pounds has yet to be surpassed in national competition. However, she again cracked the
400-pound benchmark in 1989 at Brandon, South Dakota with the largest gross load of
401 pounds and a 4th place Open finish. Before she and husband Doug stopped
competition in 1996, Tammi earned three national titles and two Runners-up. I visited
with her by phone on April 2nd and she, Doug, and family are fine. With children in high
school sports and college, cornhusking was put on the back burner. She reported that her
father was doing fairly well and that his husking lessons were invaluable toward her
The conclusion of the Women's Open class and new national record was just the opening
act as the men waited their turn at the Oakley corn. More fireworks were in store for the
spectators with more records and an even closer championship race.
On the field was a full slate of 27 contestants for the Men's Open class. The field included
veterans Robert Slabaugh-IN, Harold Korth and Howard Carson-NE, the Jackson
brothers, John and Fred-KS, John Van Liere-SD, Joe Anholt, Bob Ferguson, and Marvin
Erickson-IA, Albert Pabst-MN, and other notable competitors too numerous to list. It
would be a day in which each of the top ten huskers would turn in gross loads over 800
pounds. Yet, the championship was to boil down to a race between two contestants,
Anholt of Iowa and Slabaugh of Indiana. Both competitors husked in the last six-man heat
of the afternoon as darkness approached. During the heat the Indian summer conditions
yielded to an overcast sky, some moderate winds as a cold front approached, and some
sprinkles. Spectators knew from seeing Anholt scoop his load that he had shucked a huge
load. He weighed in with a gross load of 923.3 pounds and observers knew that it would
be hard to beat. But, within minutes Slabaugh unloaded and weighed, and remarkably, he
crossed the scales with an identical load of 923.3 pounds. Both contestants had shucked at
a torrid rate. Joe's wife, Evelyn, had audio taped the 30-minute run and observers were
heard to clock him several times at 56 ears per minute. With identical gross weights both
huskers and spectators knew that deductions would determine the championship. Prior to
the Men's Open class that afternoon, only two competitors out of 42 had incurred a husks
deduction. Consequently, the title would be determined by the gleanings penalty and
Anholt looked pretty good in that category. The deduction from his gleaning sack was
1.68 pounds while Slabaugh suffered a deduction of 15.18 pounds. That told the story and
Joe Anholt had the championship with a net load of 921.6 pounds. Robert Slabaugh ended
the day Runner-up and with a fine performance, as well. It was the only modern national
contest in which competitors cracked the 900-pound mark. Looking at the results of the
other 30 national Men’s Open classes, there were only four years in which the winners
were in the 700-pound range. Besides the '86 National, none were in the 800-pound range
with the exception of one year, 2004. Frank Hennenfent won the '04 title besting 15 other
contestants with a gross load of 896 pounds, a net load of 876.3 pounds, and an
exceptional performance. The National's location-Oakley, Kansas!
In a recent phone conversation with Joe and Evelyn, I found both of them doing well. Joe
has undergone heart by-pass surgery and two hip replacements since 2000. His last
national appearance was in 2001 at Redwood Falls, Minnesota. At 86 years of age, he is
still husking in the Iowa Open class and finished in 5th place last fall. When I asked him
about the '86 field conditions at Oakley, he replied that the ear size was good but not
especially large. He contributed the big loads to good standing corn that was showing lots
of ear through the husks. The corn picked easily and several ears could be slip shucked
cleanly which meant a fast time. He knew he had a large load, but he also knew other
huskers were coming in big as well. He was excited on the way home, especially when he
and Evelyn picked up Herb Plambeck's phone report to radio station WHO in Des Moines
about the national contest results.
It was a pleasure to review the 1986 national contest and the records set at Oakley. My
conversations with Tammi Brabb and Joe and Evelyn Anholt were enjoyable, and it was
good to hear that all was well with them. This fall I will review some of Nebraska’s
cornhusking history, and I wish them well as they prepare to host the National. Until then,
best wishes for a fine summer and good health. God Bless!
Sincerely, Mitchel Burns-NCA Historian