Valerie Chicoine is coming up on eighteen years of service at CHS. She says that although she had little knowledge of grain farming, she has enjoyed “getting to know so many people.”
“The learning curve was pretty steep,” Valerie explains. “I didn’t grow up on a farm. My grandparents had cattle, but no crops. It was an adjustment.”
But it’s not the work itself that leads to her job satisfaction, “I like the job, but what I really like most is the interactions with the producers. Since I’ve worked here, I know so many more people. I like to visit with them. I’ve seen and heard many, many stories about families and how they grew up here, how their families settled here.”
Born and raised in Castlewood, Valerie attended Lake Area Vo-tech for human services. After she graduated in January of 1996, Valerie returned to her alma mater and worked in the resource room at Castlewood High School until she was united in marriage with her now husband, fellow Castlewood alum Jeremy Chicoine. “I knew him from high school, but we didn’t start dating until college,” said Valerie.
While Jeremy was completing his service in the Marine Corps, the couple resided in California.
“It was a good time and we learned a ton of life lessens living that far away from home, the year and a half we lived in California. Then we moved back to SD and Jeremy finished his college degree at SDSU. I went back and worked for the Castlewood school in the high school resource room, and when Jeremy was done with college, we moved west to Onida.”
The move was meant to be the first stop in Jeremy’s teaching career, and we would be moving on! “Then we started having kids, and we wanted our kids to grow up in a small town, and we liked it here, so we decided to stay.” The Chicoines have three children, Caleb, a Sully Buttes senior, sophomore Calleigh, and freshman Addison. The family has resided in Onida for 20 years.
Initially, Valerie worked in the Agar school system as a teacher’s aide for two years, when Agar shut down, she sought out work here in Onida.
Her journey into Midwest Coop started with a phone call from then manager Milt Handcock. “He called me because his secretary at the time was moving,” said Valerie. “It was six months before I knew what I was actually doing at my job, there was a lot of training involved from Milt and others from the Pierre office to help me out.” It was after the company went through a computer upgrade that the playing field leveled, and Valerie really got to know her job, and the new system Agris that was put into the company. “This was a real training task for everyone in the company at that time and we were all learning new things together, and we are still using this system today!” quoted Valerie.
CHS Midwest Cooperatives and CHS Northern Plains recently combined and are now operating as CHS River Plains. Valerie is going through the growing pains associated with adjusting to new organizational structures. “Adding new offices and everything, it’s going to be hard to adjust to who is who, and who to go through to get things done.”
When she first started, Valerie says that she did everything. “I was the agronomy secretary, entered all the grain tickets, wrote all grain checks, loaded feed and sent out all invoicing and bills!
“We used to have an off season,” said Valerie. “We would have harvest, and then a bit of a break, and then fall harvest. I’d have days that I’d have to find projects to do in the office – now it’s constant. Getting my job done is all I can do, to keep up on my duties!”
As the company has grown, more personnel have been added, and duties segregated. “When I first started, I was the only one who did everything. Now the duties are separated among several people.”
As a combined entity, CHS River Plains has locations all up and down the river hance the name River Plains. Some of our main locations include Philip, Winner, Pierre, Onida, Gettysburg, Selby and up into North Dakota, Ashley and Strasburg.
She attributes the company’s growth to expanded storage and rail access. “The more the producers haul here the more rail and shuttle trains we will get in and be able to move out more commodities for the company. The hauling from the producers has increased through out the years, more crops are being produced and therefore my job has become more diverse and I have had to learn to become more flexible. During harvest time I will bring my computer home at night and “pull tickets” after a late night of the elevator being open to dump trucks.
In addition to her interactions with the producers, “she enjoys the flexibility of her job, I’ve been here long enough that I can come and go, so I get attend most of all my kids’ events.”
Valerie’s time away from work is spent attending her kids’ events and spending time with her family. “My whole family enjoys hunting in the fall and winter and fishing on the river in the summer” she said. “We spend a lot of time at the river on our boat and have a camper at West Prairie, Jeremy guides fishing for West Prairie.”
The Chicoine’s are members of St. Pius X Catholic Church. Valerie taught CCD classes when her kids were younger and was a member of the parish council for 6 years.
“Pretty much, I love to go and attend all my kid’s events and spend time with my family, and friends!