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Faithful Giving: Tom & Jeri Schrag

Photo: wooden toy baler

Tom and Jeri Schrag of Hesston, Kansas, have supported LeTourneau University for more than 40 years. 

Tom came to LeTourneau College in the fall of 1965 and graduated in the summer of 1969 with a degree in mechanical engineering. 

“I remember when Pop LeTourneau passed away,” Tom said.  “I went to his funeral.”

Tom said he went to a 3-room grade school.  When he was in the 7th or 8th grade, he had an idea what he wanted to do.

“I wanted to design things,” he said.  “It came naturally to me. I didn’t know it was called ‘engineering’ back then, I just knew what I wanted to do.” 

Tom was a first-generation college student—the first member of his immediate family to go to college. Both his mother and father had grade school educations. Neither went to high school.

“I grew up in Kansas, out in the country,” he said.  “We lived between four little towns.  I wouldn’t say we were country hicks, but you could see hick from where I lived.”

Tom described himself as the “caboose” of his family, the youngest of four children. Tom said he went to a 3-room grade school growing up.  After a year at community college, he came to LeTourneau.

“I was a poor student, and I even had an English teacher once tell me I would be a ditch digger,” he said. “If I had gone to a state school, it probably would be true, but LeTourneau’s teachers and staff were encouraging and helped me to do better.”

“My mom told me about LeTourneau College and that R.G. LeTourneau was speaking at a church near our home in Kansas, so we went to hear him. About six months later, I was a student at LeTourneau College.  

“I used to run the ambulance service when it was on campus,” Tom said. “It worked out because I could sleep and study on the job if there weren’t any calls.  I did that for about two years after it started my sophomore year.

“I remember at LeTourneau, Dr. Kenneth McKinley’s Old Testament class ‘Scanning the Plan’ was an overview of Scripture that really helped me understand the Bible,” Tom said.  “I was already a Christian, because when I came to LeTourneau, it sure wasn’t for the girls!”  

Tom remembered when the ratio of men to women on campus was about 50:1.

After graduation, Tom worked for a few years for the Eaton Corporation as an engineer designing hoists in Arkansas. 

It was in Arkansas that he met Jeri, who was then a schoolteacher at a local Christian school. Having grown up in upstate New York, Jeri come to know the Lord through the Bible Club Movement when she was 11, attending a missionary event with a friend.  She later earned her bachelor’s degree in Bible education from Columbia University before teaching in Panama City Florida, then completed her master’s degree in elementary education before teaching in Arkansas. 

Tom and Jeri married in 1971. Their two daughters came along in 1975 (Sharon) and 1977 (Rachel).  Today Sharon is the principal of the Christian school in Kansas where Jeri taught for 18 years.  Rachel has her doctorate in piano and teaches at Concordia University in Irvine, California.  Tom and Jeri are the proud grandparents of five grandkids.

Looking back in time, Jeri said, “Having grown up on a farm, Tom always wanted to design farm equipment, so he found a job with Hesston Corporation, and we moved to Kansas, where he worked for the next 41 years.”

Tom said that he felt it was better to work on farm equipment than on hoists because, working on farm equipment is how you feed people. 

“I’m not a social activist, but I can say we can raise the crops to feed people,” he said. “No child should ever go hungry.  If they do, that’s because of politics, not the inability to raise enough food.”

Tom said he is grateful for the contributions God has allowed him to make in the farming industry.

“I worked on the large baler for over 30 years,” he said, adding that he has over two dozen patents to his name. Hesston baler makes large square bales that measure about four-feet by four-feet by eight-feet and are transported by tractor-trailer. Hesston’s website states that it introduced the first large square baler in 1978, and that it quickly became the industry’s leading baler brand.   

“I did over half my patents on the baler,” Tom said. “Hesston developed it, and I helped advance it.  I’m the first person to have over 20 patents at AGCO.” 

Tom said he retired at the end of 2014 after 41 years, but he still has a key to give tours at the plant about once a week. 

“I love meeting with farmers and high school groups to talk about what we do at the Hesston plant,” he said.  “One of the things I love about farm equipment design is that it is as much an art as a science.”

Tom says he is grateful for the life that his education prepared him to do.

“I would not have had the opportunity to do what I really love—designing farm equipment, especially large square balers—if I had not gone to LeTourneau,” he said. “I’ve been reading in Genesis about Joseph and the number of times it says of Joseph, ‘God gave him the ability.’  I am not Joseph, but my testimony is similar in that God gave me the ability to do what I do.  What I have done is strictly what God allowed me to do.

“When I was at LeTourneau, I was told that about 60 percent of our schooling was paid for by someone else,” Tom said. “I felt like I ought to give back.”