By Nancy Vigran
Reporter for the Sun-Gazette
TULARE COUNTY – It is 0 degrees in Crawford, Nebraska. There’s a wind plowing across the Great Plains. And it’s calving season. Les Wright is alternating shifts between watching for newborns and managing a warming center for them in the basement, where he’s currently trying to keep seven newborn calves alive.
This is just where the retired Fresno County ag commissioner wants to be. The only thing missing is his wife, Marilyn, who is currently working her last month as Tulare County ag commissioner before her own retirement.
The Wrights were the first married duo of California ag commissioners. For Les, it is a family affair. His father was ag commissioner for Modoc County; his sister is an assistant ag commissioner in Northern California. However, it really wasn’t something he had planned on.
“It was the last thing I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to be a cowboy.”
And he was for a while, as a young man. But he needed some security, he said, so he started working in the local ag commissioner’s office.
For Marilyn, it was a family first. A native Nebraskan farm girl, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska, got married and moved to Castle Air Force Base with her former military officer husband. She landed a position as a pest detector trapper in Merced County.
Following her separation and divorce, Marilyn was hired as an ag inspector trainee in Tulare County. She quickly worked on obtaining any and all of the licenses she could, as she wanted to work her way “up the food chain,” and she did. She hit the top ag commissioner spot in 2010.
Meanwhile, Les had been working in Kings County when the couple met in 2006. They’ve been married about a dozen years. He was appointed the top position in Fresno County in 2013.
Marilyn had been dreaming of moving back to Nebraska upon her retirement. Les is happy to be a part of that dream.
“It’s a lot like Modoc County,” he said.
The Wright’s have invested in property in Dawes County, in northwestern Nebraska near Marilyn’s childhood home. Currently they are building a shop with living quarter upstairs providing a place for them to live while their house is being built. It’s a cattle ranch, although they don’t plan on acquiring a herd of their own.
They want just one sole longhorn as a mascot and a pet. Marilyn wants to name him “Mr. Pickles.” Every year there’s a longhorn and buffalo sale at nearby Fort Robinson, she said. There she wants to pick out a calf to raise. He better have a good temperament though.
“If he’s mean, we’ll eat him and try again,” she said.
Currently the Wright’s have three Yorkie terriers and two pet tarantulas. She admits she’s a bit concerned about her little dogs living in rural Nebraska.
“The neighbor’s cat has been missing for about 10 days,” she said, and it’s been suggested they may have to totally enclose their backyard, including the top, to protect the little dogs.
There’s a lot of wildlife in the area, and a lot of predators.
The wildlife is something they are both interested in, as they both are avid hunters, she said.
It’s doubtful that either will sit still for very long. They’re going to plant a big garden in the spring, and tour this historical area where Crazy Horse died. Perhaps they’ll visit Mt. Rushmore again, which is only a couple hours away, and take in some draft horse shows.
One of Marilyn’s favorite things about working as ag commissioner is that of helping people. Whether they had two citrus trees or 20 acres to tend to, she has always been happy when her office could lend a helping hand. It is something the couple will continue to do. It’s what Les was doing earlier this month, helping his new neighbors with their Black Angus herd.
Marilyn’s brothers, nieces, and nephews live in the state. And, the couple is looking forward to Les’ children, grandchildren, and any of the rest of his family visiting.
Marilyn likes to cook; Les is responsible for washing the dishes. And, while she is taking art classes, he looks forward to being a cowboy again.
“I don’t have a job anymore. I don’t need a job anymore,” he said. “Being a cowboy again, it’s what I want to do.”