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Lyle Yost, founder of Hesston Industries, dies at age 99

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 6, 2012, at 7:33 p.m.

Lyle Yost was a farm kid who became a giant of industry.

Mr. Yost invented an auger for unloading grain from farm combines in 1947. He built that auger into Hesston Industries, which became one of the country’s largest makers of farm machinery and a crucial underpinning for the city of Hesston.

Mr. Yost died Thursday at the Schowalter Villa in Hesston at age 99.

Born in 1913, he worked on his family’s farm north of Hesston and understood the time it took to unload grain during harvest. He also developed an early love of airplanes.

“When he was young, a barnstormer flew in, and my dad grabbed my mom, who was just his girlfriend then, and went out to see him,” said his daughter, Susan. “He had to borrow $3 from an uncle and rode on the plane. When he went home for dinner, he got a real scolding: ‘Do you know what you could do with that $3?’ What it did was propel him to bring flying into building his company.”

After struggling early on, the company took off as farmers mechanized their operations and Hesston introduced new products such as haying equipment. The company enjoyed an annual growth rate of about 20 percent a year.

In its heyday in the early 1970s, it employed more than 2,500 workers and was publicly traded. It was, by far, the largest employer in Hesston. It became the pride, and even the identity, of the town.

To differentiate it from the city, townspeople referred to the company as “the corporation,” or sometimes, “the corp.”

Mr. Yost loved to fly, and his prosperity allowed him to buy and fly a succession of planes, each larger than the one before.

But the company ran into difficulty in 1976 when livestock prices plunged and farmers and ranchers stopped buying hay and forage equipment. As the company racked up losses, Italian conglomerate Fiat bought a controlling stake. Fiat eventually bought out the remainder of the company in 1987. It is now part of AGCO.

“He was sad to sell the company,” Susan said. “But it was a graduation in a sense. It was sort of time to pass the torch. Was it his first option? No. But I never heard him complain about anything ever. I never heard him express regrets. He thought, ‘This is the best we could do at the time.’ ”

He was also an avid golfer and played courses all over the world, including St. Andrews in Scotland. He was instrumental in developing Hesston Golf Park.

Mr. Yost received numerous awards during his life marking his achievements in business and in the community. He was featured in more than 100 magazines including: Forbes, Farm Journal, Agri Marketing, Wall Street Journal, Progressive Farmer, Mennonite Weekly Review, High Plains Journal, Business Week, Christian Science Monitor, Dow Digest, Flying Farmer, Capper’s Weekly, Farm & Country, Wichita Business Journal, and Implement and Tractor.

Visitation will be Tuesday from 1 to 9 p.m. at Broadway Colonial Funeral Home, Newton, with the family present from 5 to 8 p.m.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Hesston Mennonite Church in Hesston.

Inurnment will be at Eastlawn Cemetery, Zimmerdale.

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