Knewtsons embrace farm and city life



October 11, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Though they qualify as city folk, Jan and Richard Knewtson’s roots are rural. Both grew up on farms in rural Labette County.
“I milked cows every morning before I went to school,” Jan said of her parent’s dairy farm. “And when I got to school, I practiced the piano.”
Richard, too, grew up on a dairy/calf operation.
For him, he’s never strayed far from the lifestyle, now in his 46th year as a veterinarian at the Iola Animal Clinic.
And though Jan is a mistress of music as well as fashion with her Sophisticated Rose clothing store, the farm life is in her blood.
“We have nine calves at our home right now,” she said. “There’s nothing cuter than a newborn.”
THE COUPLE attended Altamont High School, class of 1962.
“Classmates, but not sweethearts,” Jan said.
That happened at their 20-year high school reunion. They’ve been married since 1985; together they have three children and four grandchildren.
Richard’s stint in Iola began in 1971 when veterinarian Floyd Boeken left his practice in Gas to work as a state inspector for Thompson Poultry, which had a plant in Iola.
“The practice sat empty from July to next spring. Then I came on board and clients started to come back,” Richard said.
Richard graduated from veterinarian science school at Kansas State University. From there, he spent three years with a practice in Dubuque, Iowa.
“But I wanted to get closer to Kansas City,” he said of his decision to locate in Iola.
From 1974 to 1986 he took on a partner, Rick Conner, but since then has practiced solo. Longtime employees are Becky Blaufuss, office manager, and Jody Parks, veterinarian assistant.
When a student, Richard said he assumed he would concentrate on large animals but has enjoyed the equal mix, from Chihuahuas to cows, and the varied experiences they bring.
“Every patient has an owner at the end of his leash,” he said with a wink. “So that’s who I’m really working for.”
Over the years, his views of the job have changed.
“I used to get a big thrill at being called in the middle of the night to go deliver a calf. I’d feel really good driving home in the wee hours of the morning,” he said.
“Now, you’re just freezing to death,” Jan deadpanned.
Richard nodded.
“Some of the romance has worn off,” he said with a laugh.
The clientele has also changed.
“When I first started, we dealt primarily with swine and dairy, cows and calves.
“The swine went away and now, over the last 10-15 years, the dairy is going away, except for Strickler Dairy,” he said. Local swine producers have since sold their lot to larger, confinement operations with finishing floors, Richard said.
The profit margin for pork is “razor thin.”
The same goes for dairy, considering the price of grain and what a gallon of milk will fetch.
The two busiest seasons for a large-animal vet are during the calving seasons, fall and predominately spring.
As for small animals, they’ve changed from being mere companions to family members.
“It’s a whole societal change,” he said, and, as with children, pets are in danger of being spoiled.
“They need discipline, too,” he warned.
He wouldn’t venture Americans are unique in this respect to pets, “but on the other side of the coin, especially in regards to animal rights and pain management, Europeans have taken the lead.”
Dr. Knewtson opined the former reticence by U.S. ranchers and farmers to effectively manage their animals’ pain when they undergo procedures such as dehorning or getting branded dates back to the Old West, when cowboys manhandled the beasts up to the campfire and hot-branded them.
“That’s just the American way, whereas Europeans had smaller numbers of animals, sometimes kept under or next to their homes. They were less prone to ‘cowboy’ them around.”
“We’ve since realized the benefits — especially in terms of an animal’s growth factor and meat quality— of more humane treatment. Stress on an animal makes a big difference in those aspects.”
KNEWTSON said the decision 10 years ago to raise cattle, something he refers to as “a hobby,” and moving out to the country have changed how he practices medicine.
“You know, I’d kind of gotten away from the farm when we lived in town. Now, owning cattle and managing them, I have a little more affinity with my clients. I’m more tolerant of some things, less with others.”
The Knewtsons have 55-60 head of Black Angus cattle. To say it’s a hobby, though, is an understatement. The doctor has the specific goal of raising low birth-weight bulls.
He also admits it’s somewhat self-serving.
“It makes for easy calving on heifers and gets me out of some of the work that isn’t always so fun.”
A good deal of science is involved.
Knewtson produces a small stack of what look like matchbooks. In each is tissue paper imprinted with dried drops of blood taken from his herd. He’ll send those to the American Angus Association for “genomic workups,” to see if they contain factors that can predict low- or high birth weight, including fat marbling, etc.
“They can predict such things from a single hair or drop of blood,” he said, with a fair amount of awe in his voice. “It’s what the dairy industry began 30 years ago and the beef industry is just catching up to.”
When the ideal mate is identified, “I can get the most expensive bull in the world — or at least his semen — for $25 to $50.”
From there, he hopes to sell his bulls to clients.
The lower birth weight calves typically weigh about two-thirds of what a normal calf weighs at birth, 80-90 pounds. Their survival rate is better, he said, “because there’s less stress on the calf.”
Though small, “They grow really fast. That’s the goal. To be small when they’re born but to be big when they are yearlings,” he said.
With his eyes alive with energy, Knewtson brushes off the suggestion of retirement. “I’m in decent health for a man of my age (73.) Haven’t made any plans for any changes.”
At that, Jan chimes in, “As long as he’s working, I’m working.”
As a local retailer, Jan has “been around the square” in one location or another since 1984.
She currently owns three shops with Sophisticated Rose as the anchor along with Sophisticated Rose Plus and Tuxedo Junction & Wedded Bliss.
Jan admits, “Business could be better,  but we’re holding our own.”
A change in the wedding industry has affected her newest venture.
“Kids don’t get married in a church anymore. They get married in a barn or a pasture,” she said.
With the more relaxed venue comes less demand for formal wear.  Today’s grooms opt for vests and ties instead of dress coats or tuxedoes.
Wedding notions such as champagne glasses, ring pillows, etc., remain popular.
As for her clothing lines, business attire and plus sizes are selling well.
People are still discovering her store, she said, because of its advantageous location at the intersection of U.S. 54 and Jefferson Avenue.
“That helps us get lots of business from surrounding areas,” she said.
She also credits her neighbor, Thrive Allen County, for its recent renovation. “It’s a definite asset. Thrive is keeping things hustling and bustling on our corner.”
Jan said she also looks to Humboldt for inspiration.
“Their beautification efforts are commendable, especially their new sidewalks,” she said.
With more than 30 years in the business, Jan knows people’s preferences change and that holding on through lean times often carries you through to better days.
“Sometimes I panic, but then I roll up my sleeves and get to work. That’s the best therapy.”
An avid musician, Jan is also choir director and organist at Wesley United Methodist Church.
THE KNEWTSONS are avid civic servants. Richard served as president of the Kansas Veterinary Medical Association in 2002, was the Kansas Veterinarian of the Year in 2006, received the KSU Alumni Recognition Award in 2011 and the school’s Distinguished Service Award in 2015.
On Jan’s side of the ledger, she worked up the ranks of the Auxiliary to the KVMA, serving as its president, and was made an honorary member of the association in 2006.
Locally, she is president of the Friends of the Bowlus and has served on the board of the Iola Community Theatre. She is organist and choir director at Wesley United Methodist Church and is this year’s pianist and director for Vespers, the community-wide Christmas songfest.

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