Right from the Start, ITLA was destined to be ...
A Different Kind of Association
After the boom of the early eighties, the Texas Longhorn business had lost a lot of momentum. By late in the decade the historic cattle were no longer selling themselves. With breed promotion having been largely neglected, profits waning in the oil patch, and financial institutions in trouble, the new money no longer flowed into the Longhorn industry.
Top priority needed to be given to advertising and publicity for the breed; at least that was the sentiment among a growing number of Longhorn producers. They were concerned that their breed registry wasn't doing enough promotion and had become increasingly focused on show circuit issues and internal politics. Equally frustrating was a voting process that prevented the majority of Longhorn owners from having a voice in deciding association policy or in electing officers and directors.
The groundswell of discontent culminated in an informal gathering on Oct. 20, 1989. About three dozen cattlemen, with about half of those hailing from Texas, met in Colorado, Springs. Bill Anthony, a past president of the Texas Longhorn Breeders
Association of America, had agreed to chair the exploratory meeting. Having presided over various trade organizations, Bill had the ability to keep the discussion on point.
"If enough of you want a registry that is run by and for the members," he said, "one that will put promotion of the breed ahead of personal agendas and egos, then a new association could be the answer. If, on the other hand, your dissatisfaction is over personalities, or problems that one longtime member has had with the old association," Anthony cautioned, "that's not sufficient reason to start a new association."
Some in the room were already fired up and ready to start over. Others were undecided and had come to find out what others were thinking. Opinions were freely shared at the Colorado gathering. And a consensus was finally reached - that a nationwide survey of breeders should be conducted by mail. If the response was strong enough, then plans would go forward to create a new Texas Longhorn association designed to avoid the pitfalls that were seriously affecting the old organization. But if the majority favored trying to fix the problems within the existing association, then that would become the focus.
Mandate for Change
A group of volunteers in Austin mailed out a survey to Longhorn owners across the continent. The response was immediate and overwhelming, with 94 percent of those responding expressing the belief that the Longhorn industry needed a new voice, a new organization that would be more responsive to the members.
In January, 1990, with Bill Anthony as spokesman, a small delegation made one last, unsuccessful, attempt to convince the TLBAA board of directors to adopt mail-in voting and to place a high priority on advertising. With the inability to achieve any change within the entrenched power structure, there was clearly a mandate to go forward with the solution favored by 94 percent of those who had returned the survey.
On March 9, 1990, the organizational membership meeting of the International Texas Longhorn Association was held at the Red Lion Hotel in Austin, Texas. An impressive number of respected Longhorn producers from the US and Canada helped launch ITLA. Among them were: Bill Anthony; Happy Shahan, another past president of TLBAA; Jerry Williams; Frank Doherty; Jim Hutchinson; Stan Searle; Pat Holt; Darol Dickinson; Carrol Shores; Joe Assad and dozens of others.
The ITLA office was established in Austin, in space donated by Jerry Williams. Assuming the responsibilities of interim Managing Director, Jerry, his family and employees handled much of the workload, with only one or two staff members on the association payroll during the first three years. And there was a lot of work to do, as several thousand previously registered Longhorns as well as all of the members' new registrations were submitted for ITLA papers during the first couple of years.
The hundreds of membership applications that poured in within the first year had to be recorded and acknowledged. And, in addition to all of the new forms and data entry that had to be dealt with, ITLA created the first library of Texas Longhorn Research and Information Bulletins. Authored by the association's Director of Research, the highly respected Dr. Stewart Fowler, these bulletins are still the only concisely packaged information source on Longhorn cattle.
Strength at the Grassroots
As the organizational work was being performed in Austin, with the help of volunteers like Sandy Dawson, the creation of bylaws, determining voting regions, placement of advertising and dealing with finances fell to a steering committee comprised of Anthony, Holt, Searle, Shahan and Williams.
In October, 1990, at the first annual membership meeting, Bill Anthony of Ardmore, Oklahoma, was elected president and Jerry Williams of Austin, Texas was named vice president. Elected to the board of directors were: Bunny Anderson, Prescott, Arizona; Melvin Burrows, Lebanon, Oregon; Frank Doherty, Fort Scott, Kansas; Andy Edgerton, Manchaca, Texas; Tom Hogan, Atkinson, Nebraska; Pat Holt, Lolo, Montana; Bruce Hundley, Versailles, Kentucky; Jim Hutchinson, Reston, Virginia; Frank Rust, Stafford, Texas; Curtis Saxton, Meridian, Mississippi; Stan Searle, Monument, Colorado and Happy Shahan, Brackettville, Texas.
From the outset, individuals from across the continent, including Canada, got involved in helping put ITLA on solid footing. Thousands of dollars came in for prepaid registration fees and donations. Benefit auctions, beginning with the first annual convention in 1990, have also been the occasion for generous support of the association - with gifts totaling more than $200,000.
Strong grassroots support gave ITLA its jump-start, with representatives of regional associations and individual members contributing time, money and ideas. The early grassroots strength of the association is epitomized by Dick and Donna Rapp of Washington state, who have attended every ITLA convention despite the thousands of miles they've had to drive. And there's Joe Valentine, the third president of the association. He and Lorinda drove and flew countless thousands of miles in support of startup affiliates and every kind of Longhorn function, always on his own nickel. Others who worked during the early years to bring in members, generate funds and encourage the youth included Gary and Brenda Bruch, the late Tim Cline and Mary Sue, Darol and Linda Dickinson, Ben and Ann Gravett, J.B. Hunn, Jim Hutchinson, Stan and Lorna Searle, Jerry and Donnie Williams, and Mickey and Marilyn Wood. Literally hundreds of others helped at every level, without worrying about who would get the credit.
One of the early successes of ITLA was the first International Championship Texas Longhorn Show, which was held in Austin in conjunction with the 1990 Convention. Meanwhile, the association bylaws were being carefully drafted to reflect lessons learned from the unintended consequences of less carefully drawn guidelines of the old association. For example, when Charlie Schreiner, III instigated the creation of the first Longhorn registry, no one anticipated the need to prevent a member from amassing a personal voting block by purchasing multiple memberships. And not envisioning a dispersed, nationwide membership, they had not foreseen the possibility of de facto discrimination against smaller producers who might not be able to travel to membership meetings in order to vote.
Advantages of Starting Over
Organizers of ITLA had the advantage of being able to establish policies that would, right from the outset, deal preemptively with such issues that had cropped up in the old association. For example, they dealt with one vexing problem that had been a topic of discussion for several years by establishing criteria for an Approved Judges List. The first Texas Longhorn judging clinics in the country, organized by Darol Dickinson and Stan Searle as well as directors such as Happy Shahan, brought abundant experience to such policy formulation.
Qualifying of individuals by seminars, apprentice judging and peer review would be required and the Approved List, it was agreed, would be reviewed and amended annually. Mindful of the sometimes embarrassing disparity between market values and placements by judges (usually from the academic community) the ITLA founding Board was determined to have qualified judges whose qualifications include actual involvement with raising Longhorn cattle.
The benefit of this judging philosophy, to the membership and the breed generally, is that winners of ITLA approved shows are generally cattle that will also command top prices. This consistency eliminates much of the confusion and discouragement that a new breeder can experience when he sees a Grand Champion bull selling by the pound! And, of course, ITLA approved judges are not likely to award a blue ribbon to an overfed heifer or short-horned bull just because they're the tallest or fattest in their class.
Another important part of ITLA's member friendly approach has always been that cattle recorded with the other associations are welcomed into the registry. No questions about pedigree or A.I. certifications, as long as they have papers from CTLR or TLBAA. And ITLA and its affiliates have always welcomed non-members to their functions. It's about neighborliness, about common interest in a great breed of cattle . . . about putting kindness and friendship above cow politics. There's a feeling of hospitality and Western acceptance at most ITLA events. Newcomers very often comment that a Longhorn function "was really fun." Old timers may describe the goodwill and camaraderie of an ITLA event as "the way the Longhorn business used to be!"
Promoting the Breed
What's behind this apparent dimension of fun and fellowship? Somebody speculated that it's because in ITLA there's more focus on the individual and how he or she is doing, and less concern about the organization and its rules. Another view is that the membership is not preoccupied with the show circuit, which pits one member against another. Perhaps it's partly because younger organizations are usually more vigorous and focused on their original purpose and goals, while more mature trade associations or cattle registries tend to bog down in politics and the business of running the organization. Whatever the reasons, the ITLA leadership has, from the beginning in 1990 until today, believed that the organization exists to serve the Member, not the other way around.
While the friendships and congeniality of ITLA are its lifeblood, its fundamental purpose is still to promote the Texas Longhorn business. A primary reason for starting the association, and still a vital objective is the national and regional advertising and publicizing of the Texas Longhorn breed on a scale that individual breeders cannot accomplish. The ITLA Show Circuit also serves a role in this process, to the extent that it motivates breeders to excel while attracting new investors to the Longhorn industry. Breed research and education of both consumers and the agricultural community are all part of the ITLA strategic goal of "breed promotion."
For ITLA, still a relatively young organization, the vision of the founding members and the present leadership comprises many challenges - some substantially met, others not yet fully achieved. But each new member, with his or her ideas, energy, financial input and expectations brings the ITLA closer to its original objective of providing member friendly services while improving the business opportunities of each Longhorn owner. And all of this is accomplished through an entity in which the members have the right to vote for every officer as well as their regional directors.
"Of course, nothing's perfect, and the ITLA never will be," reflects Jerry Williams, a charter lifetime member. "But our membership is loyal, appreciative and pulling for each other and the entire Longhorn breed. The way ITLA was designed, its future will be just as dynamic as the vision and energy of its membership." Judging by the organization's spontaneous beginning and 17 years of successfully serving its members and the breed, the International Texas Longhorn Association will always fill a major role in the Longhorn industry.