Industry promoter remembered for love of bison

Thomas Ackermann, an energetic promoter of the bison industry, died in a farm accident Nov. 27. He was 46.

Ackermann was chief executive officer and marketing manager of Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk, chair of Bison Producers of Alberta and vice-president of the Canadian Bison Association.

“He was unbelievably dedicated to the Canadian bison industry,” said Armin Mueller, his friend and business partner.

“Bison were his life, his dreams.”

Mueller first met Ackermann at the Wildrose Yodel Club, a Swiss men’s yodelling and singing club in Lacombe, Alta.

Both men were from Switzerland and both shared a love of bison, westerns and the Old West.

Mueller hired Ackermann to be marketing manager of his Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk business and later they became business partners in Green Horizons, a bison cow-calf and feeding business.

“He was a good people person and a good listener. He had all the charisma I was lacking,” Mueller said.

Ackermann helped expand Canadian Rangelands’ export business, particularly in Switzerland.

Ackermann’s wife, Keri, who grew up in Canada, said her husband was more Canadian than she was.

His Canadian citizenship ceremony was one of the few times she saw him cry, she said.

“He was exceptionally proud and happy to become a Canadian.”

The two met while Ackermann was working on a farm near Cut Knife, Sask., as an agriculture exchange student and she was going to school in Lloydminster.

They kept bumping into each other at events, and when he returned to Switzerland they wrote letters as pen pals for three years before deciding to get married.

Keri said her husband always knew he wanted to be a farmer, and his time in Canada as an exchange student cemented his desire to be a Canadian farmer.

“He fell in love with the country.”

Keri said her husband thought bison were majestic animals and often told her that he would rather herd 1,000 buffalo than 10 cows.

It was like he could read the bison’s silent signals and understood how they moved and acted, she said.

The Ackermann family have their own cattle herd, and their three daughters are members of a local beef 4-H club.

During one bison annual meeting, Ackermann had members of the 4-H club give the speeches they had prepared for the local public speaking competition.

His three daughters, Mikeala, Kiria and Jenna, were his love, said Mueller.

“They were his princesses, but he didn’t treat them like royalty. It was unbelievable the love he had for his girls.”

Days before he died, Ackermann was nominated to replace Mark Silt-zer as head of the Canadian Bison Association. The two visited at the Canadian Bison Association meeting in Regina and talked about how Ackermann would take over as head of the association.

“This came as a horrible shock to everyone,” said Siltzer.

Ackermann’s easy-going manner and ability to listen closely were important for the growing industry.

“He tried to understand every side by hearing both sides of the story. He took a balanced approach,” said Siltzer. “He was very approachable and easy to talk to.”

Bison producer Ivan Smith of Penhold, Alta., has agreed to serve in his place on the CBA board.

Linda Saunter, manager of Bison Producers of Alberta, said Ackermann was enthusiastic in all the projects he took on for the industry.

“He was so positive in making so many changes.”

Sauntner and Ackermann were working on three Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency projects that would benefit the entire industry. They were also changing the Wild Rose Auction from live to online.

“He was really excited about it,” she said. “We feel he was a very proactive and integral part of our industry.”

A memorial service for Ackerman was scheduled for Dec. 9 in Lacombe. A trust account has been established for his children at the Alberta Treasury Branch.

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