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Robert Plucker, 93, out checking on his 2020 wheat harvest operation in Touchet.
Photo by Nick Plucker

WestBred

PROFILES

Long-time ad sales manager retires

Kevin Gaffney has spent 30 years contributing to the success of Wheat Life

June 2020
By Trista Crossley


You may not immediately recognize his name, but he’s one of the main reasons Wheat Life is as successful as it is.

In May, after almost 30 years of involvement with the magazine and the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), Kevin Gaffney, our ad sales manager, is hanging up his hat.

It’s an understatement to say we will miss him.

“Kevin has been a well-rounded and hardworking employee for WAWG,” said Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director. “He has a great personality and a natural ability to connect with others. His working relationships with Wheat Life’s advertisers, growers and fellow staff members has helped make it possible for the magazine to thrive in a time when other print publications have struggled. We are sorry to lose him, but wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement!”

Ryan Poe, WAWG president and a farmer from Hartline, Wash, echoed Hennings’ remarks.

“Kevin has been a vital part of the WAWG staff for as long as I have been involved with the organization,” Poe said. “He plays a key role in securing funding through advertising, which in turn helps us carry out the mission of WAWG. He is an all-around great guy who has a deep passion for the wheat industry and will surely be missed.”

Gaffney grew up just north of Sprague, Wash., on his family’s wheat farm and seemingly knows, played sports with or against, or is related to just about everybody in Lincoln County. After high school, he attended Seattle University for a year before transferring to Washington State University where he majored in communications. He briefly considered a career in music or radio before turning to advertising after his professors pointed out there was more money to be made in that field.

“I didn’t go to college planning to go in advertising, but it worked out well,” Gaffney said. “I enjoy meeting people and developing relationships. Throughout my career, especially with Wheat Life, I’ve tried to develop long-term relationships with clients based on trust and superior customer service. I think Wheat Life has allowed me to do that. It’s a quality publication, and I’ve always believed I work for not just Wheat Life but for my clients. If they are successful, that will help make Wheat Life successful.”

Gaffney’s first advertising job was at the Colfax Gazette (now called the Whitman County Gazette) in Colfax, Wash. He eventually landed at the Capital Press in 1994 before joining the Wheat Life team in 2002. But Gaffney’s involvement with WAWG actually dates back to 1992 when he started contributing freelance articles to Wheat Life under then-editor David Anderson. Gaffney explained that any article he wrote for Wheat Life couldn’t have his name attached to it as long as he was working for the Capital Press. These days, besides selling the ads that keep the magazine going—and help make it possible for WAWG to advocate for farmers—Gaffney’s byline appears in many issues as our Profiles writer.

“I’ve always been better working with words than numbers,” Gaffney said. “I think a lot of us gravitate to where we belong. To his credit, David was a very demanding editor, and he certainly helped me develop into a much better writer. David was responsible for transforming Wheat Life from a tabloid-format newspaper to the quality magazine that it is today.”

In his time as a print media salesperson in Eastern Washington, Gaffney has seen some big changes, specifically the consolidation and merging of businesses, not to mention farms.

“In my youth, if you had a section of land (about 640 acres), that wasn’t a bad size. Now, a small dryland farm would be 3,000 or 4,000 acres. One farmer now is farming what somewhere between five to eight farmers farmed before,” he explained. “Rural communities are struggling with fewer farmers and fewer businesses. It makes it tough for advertising—fewer clients to sell advertising to. There used to be an equipment dealer in nearly every farm town. It’s just an economy of scale. It’s not necessarily all bad, but there have been some side effects that have been unfortunate for rural communities.”

While print media itself has struggled in the internet age, Wheat Life is still going strong. Gaffney believes it’s because the magazine is a trade publication that targets a niche audience. Wheat Life is one of the primary ways WAWG informs members and educates legislators and the public about Washington state’s wheat industry.

“I think most of the general public is woefully uninformed about where and how their food is produced,” he said. “I think there is a real apathy, and we take it for granted that store shelves will have goods on them.”

Besides being involved in the wheat industry through his job, the Gaffney family has homestead farm roots that began in 1880. Just months ago, however, that changed when the farm was sold. With no future farmers coming in the next couple of generations, the bittersweet decision was made to end the 140-year stewardship of caring for the land. Gaffney said the move was made easier because the farm will still be operated by the same trusted family who has been caring for the Gaffney’s land for the past 20 years.

Gaffney may be stepping away from selling ads, but he’ll still be a presence in Wheat Life—he plans to continue contributing articles as a freelancer. He’s also looking to spend more time on two things he loves:

• His wife, Debbie, who he met in high school, although they didn’t date back then. They reconnected in the 1990s at a reunion in Sprague. Gaffney also has a daughter from a previous marriage who lives in Tempe, Ariz.

• Playing guitar in a classic rock and roll band with several friends from his high school days.

“It’s been an honor for me to work for Wheat Life and WAWG,” he said. “I can’t imagine working with a more professional staff. Michelle has shown unwavering trust and confidence in me. Chauna (Carlson, WAWG’s administrative assistant) and Lori (Williams, WAWG’s outreach coordinator) have been fantastic to work with. And I want to take this opportunity to compliment my editor, Trista, for the outstanding job she continues to do month after month, year after year, producing what many consider to be one of the top wheat industry magazines in the U.S.”

Editor’s note: Although Wheat Life is partially funded through the support of the Washington Grain Commission, the bulk of its funding comes from ad sales. So without Kevin, there wouldn’t be much of a Wheat Life. I’ve worked closely with him for the past 10 years, and every issue we’ve worked together on has been a satisfying collaboration (despite those instances, usually late at night, when I was cursing his good name for selling a full page ad long after deadline that I had to find a spot for). Thank you, Kevin, for making me laugh when you tell me you know so and so from high school basketball or for finding that obvious typo in the headline that I’ve missed five times already. It’s been a pleasure working with you, and you will be missed.