Each year, the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) honors a pork producing family who has contributed to the long-term success of the industry through leadership and pork promotion on the local and state levels. In 2023, IPPA proudly recognizes the DeDecker family of Cambridge as the IPPA Family of the Year.
Mark and his wife, Karen, are the proud owners of DeDecker Pork Farm in Cambridge, Illinois where they currently farm 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans and market 7,000 hogs annually with their son, Lance. The DeDecker family history in Henry County goes back over 75 years and spans over three generations.
In 1936, Mark’s grandparents, Eli and Lucy DeDecker, purchased 160 acres for Mark’s 21-year-old father, Marvin. Shortly after the purchase, Marvin married Mark’s mother, Betty, and the couple lived and worked on the farm. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for a farm to be very diversified, and Marvin and Betty raised cows, chickens, and pigs, as well as corn, soybeans, and an oat/hay rotation.
In the 1970’s, livestock was raised primarily outdoors. However, the DeDeckers were one of the first farm families to begin farrowing inside while many of their neighbors continued to raise 5,000-10,000 head on pasture. Their first indoor hog barn was originally a chicken house that once homed 12,000 laying hens. Later, the chicken house was disassembled, moved from its original location, and converted into a 40’ X 214’ farrow-to-finish production line building. Remarkably, the original barn and crib used for the livestock is still standing on DeDecker Pork Farm.
From an early age, Mark had a passion for livestock. He won 1st in the state and 4th in the nation for 4H Livestock Judging. Later, Mark attended the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, and, during his senior year, he was chosen as one of the top five outstanding seniors in the College of Agriculture.
Mark’s interest in the pork industry developed into a career when he started farming full-time in 1973 after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Swine Production. While completing his master’s degree, Mark married Karen (DeSmith), who was also born and raised in Henry County. The couple resided in Champaign until he graduated and then moved back to Cambridge. Once home, Mark entered a partnership with his dad, farming 640 acres and raising 1,000 hogs in a farrow-to-finish operation. While Mark and his father tended to the farm, Karen was employed at Deere & Company.
Back on the farm, Mark and Karen decided to start a family and had three children: Jacob, Lance, and Ashley. Mark got involved in the organizational side of the industry and began serving on the Henry County Pork Producers board. Throughout his career, Mark has served over 50 years as a director on the Henry County board and, during that time, he held the position of president and scholarship chair. His role on the scholarship committee gave him the opportunity to chair the committee and award several hundred thousand dollars to deserving students interested in pursuing a career in agriculture.
When the DeDecker’s children were young, Karen served as the secretary on the Henry County Fair Board. Later, she was a bookkeeper for the Henry and Rock Island County Farm Bureau, splitting her time between both offices. Eventually, she worked full-time at the Rock Island Farm Bureau and retired after 16 years of service. Karen raised the children while working full-time, but there was never a shortage of jobs for her to do on the farm, including driving the grain cart, loading/moving hogs, and running for parts.
Over the years, the entire DeDecker family has remained very active at the county level, and when it was time for the couple’s children to pick a career, they all chose agriculture. Their son, Jacob, was named the Illinois Pork State Ambassador in 1998. Later, he received his PhD and spent 15 years at the Michigan State University Extension where he served as a presenter and leader to visiting scholars and partnered with countries around the world. Jacob is currently the Director of Extension and Associate Dean for Engagement at the University of Nevada, Reno. His wife, Kristina, homeschools their four children: Hayven, Isaiah, Zander and Elijah.
The DeDecker’s daughter, Ashley, also received her PhD and currently works for Smithfield as the Director of Production Research. Throughout her career, she has served on several national committees and speaks at livestock meetings in the US and around the world. Her husband, Ashley Weaver, is an Alcohol Law Enforcement Special Agent. The couple reside in North Carolina with their two children, Conley and Blair.
In 2001, Mark and Karen’s other son, Lance, finished his studies at Blackhawk East College and returned to the farm where he started a partnership with his parents. Today, Lance and his wife, Lindsey, live on the DeDecker farm with their two children, Colt and Chance.
In addition to Mark’s leadership role serving on the Henry County Pork Producers board, he also served 9 years as a District Director for the Illinois Pork Producers Association. During his tenure as board member, Mark served on the Youth and Research Committees, and he also served as the IL Pork Expo Chairman when the show made the transition to Springfield after being hosted in Peoria for several decades. After stepping down as District Director, Mark continued to remain active at the county level.
In 2016, Mark and Karen were named the Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. This prestigious honor is the longest running farmer recognition in the country.
Regarding their nomination as IPPA’s Family of the Year, nominator Jason Probst says that he can’t think of a more deserving family. “The DeDeckers are truly an agricultural family that have worked to improve the Illinois pork industry. Mark and Karen’s involvement in local and state activities has not only led to their success but has been the foundation of the successes of their children in agriculture.”
Like many good pork producing families, the DeDeckers have been active in several community organizations over the years. Mark has served 25 years on the Henry County Soil & Water Conservation District, nine years on the Henry County FSA Board and the Cambridge Library Board, and ten years on the Edwards River Board. The DeDecker family also belongs to St. John Vianney Catholic Church.
The DeDecker family continues to make a lasting impression on their community and the pork industry. Mark and Karen have strived to adapt to changes and grow their business while being good stewards of the land and caring for their animals.
IPPA is proud to award the DeDecker family with the 2023 IL Pork Family of the Year title. They are utmost deserving of this designation.
***Courtesy of the Illinois Pork Producers Association***