If you believe “nothing runs like a Deere,” you’ve probably met Bill Schuneman of Schuneman Equipment in Milbank. Bill has been a John Deere man for over 40 years. His JD career started when he was hired as a sales associate with Day County Equipment in Webster in 1977. Now, Schuneman has decided to hang up his hat – green, of course.
According to Bill, he and his wife Jill live in Sioux Falls, but he has remained with the business full-time. “I took over the real estate portion of our business. We had six stores with the newest one just completed in Marshall, Minnesota.”
Bill attributes the success of his business to his employees and customers. “It’s all about people without a doubt. I’m just an average Joe, but I surrounded myself with people that made me look really good. “But, forty years!” Bill said, “Where did the years go?’” “I wouldn’t do anything differently, and I would do it all over again if I could.”
Bill was raised in farming. His dad was a cattle farmer, and Bill remembers many years of fixing fence and feeding cattle. His grandfather was in the construction equipment business. “I guess that’s how I got started,” he decided. “I liked machinery and still enjoy it to this day.”
After college, Bill became a field service representative for the Hesston Corporation of Hesston, Kansas on January 6, 1974. “I had a friend whose dad worked with Hesston,” Bill said. “They were looking to expand some of their markets, so I was hired to travel a five-state area.” After one year, he transferred to Howard, South Dakota, and spent three years as a territory sales representative in Northeast South Dakota.
In 1977, he moved to Webster and Day County Equipment, a John Deere dealer. “Two years later, in March 1979, the owner and I came to Milbank and bought this store.” They were co-owners until Bill bought out his partner’s interest in 1990.
During the 40 years he has been in the implement business, Bill says he has seen a lot and made many friends. Customer service was always an integral part of the business. “I remember being all dressed up and walking to church with my family one Sunday. A good customer from Twin Brooks came by. He was down and in desperate need of parts. I crawled into his dirty pickup in my suit and drove to the store to get parts for his baler to keep him going. There are tons of stories like that. It was lots of fun.”
He says he has also witnessed huge changes in farming. “Cropping was different. When I came to Milbank, farmers here raised sunflowers, soybeans, a little bit of corn, and lot of wheat and alfalfa. Now, it’s pretty much alfalfa, corn, and soybeans.” Bill also says the number of livestock facilities has drastically changed over the years. “We thrived on diversified farming operations and are still fortunate to have that today.”
Bill cites his biggest business accomplishment as building a business where he could work with his sons, Tom and Rob. “It’s been fun having them as partners. We have a family owned business that we are proud of.” Tom joined the Milbank store in 2004 and took over as the general manager in 2013. After he graduated from college, Rob started with the Schuneman Equipment store in Brookings as the GPS specialist. He still works in the Brookings firm in sales.
“I only wanted them in the business if that’s what they wanted to do,” explained Bill. “I never wanted to force them. I did impress upon them the wonderful opportunity this business offered to live in a small town, stay in South Dakota, and be part of South Dakota agriculture. I can’t say enough good things about being here. I love South Dakota, rural economics, and small towns like Milbank.”
Indeed, when Bill first came to Milbank in 1979, he joined the Milbank Area Chamber of Commerce and eventually became president of the board of directors. He also got involved with industrial development and chaired that group.
In 1992, he worked with the Milbank Community Foundation when they were designing plans to build a new recreation facility – Unity Square. “I was the building chairman for that project, which is probably my proudest achievement. We worked hard to raise money, and I am pleased to say that we came in on budget and opened debt free.” He remained the chairman for the foundation board for five years and is currently the past president on the board. “I am the only original member on the board.” He plans to also retire from that at the end of this year.
As to what else retirement means for him. Bill says, “I’ll miss being around all the guys and catching up on what’s going on. But I can still drive around, have coffee with my friends, and stop at the dealership. I look forward to that.” His daughter Molly is a physician in Sioux Falls, and daughter Marnie hopes to move there after she completes her residency at the University of Iowa. So he hope to see more of them. And, as he also sports a green thumb, he’ll continue to work on his two hobby farms. “I have Frustrated Farm Boy Syndrome,” he said with a laugh. “I left the farm long ago, but the farm never left me.”