AMES, Iowa — A former Huron- and Mitchell-area area woman was recently honored as an Iowa Woman Impacting Agriculture award for her contributions to Iowa agriculture at the seventh annual Iowa Women in Ag Leadership Conference organized by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Melissa O’Rourke lives in Winneshiek County, Iowa and recently concluded her work at Iowa State, where she served as an attorney and farm and agribusiness management specialist for 13 years.
O’Rourke formerly lived in rural Sanborn County and taught Business Administration at Huron College, where she was twice-honored as “Teacher of the Year.” She later taught business administration at Dakota Wesleyan University and practiced law in Mitchell until moving to Iowa.
The Woman Impacting Agriculture award recognition honors Iowans who are creating a more sustainable Iowa by improving economic resiliency and stability; conserving natural resources; and being influential agricultural leaders, family members and community volunteers.
In her early career, O’Rourke taught vocational business and agriculture, mentoring youth anticipating careers in agribusiness. Later, she taught undergraduate business administration at Huron College and Dakota Wesleyan University. O’Rourke earned her Juris Doctor degree and practiced law in Mitchell, South Dakota, as well as Nebraska and Iowa. She remains a member of the South Dakota Bar Association.
O’Rourke represented farm and ranch operators and ag businesses in litigation and providing counsel on farm business management, estate and succession planning. At ISU Extension and Outreach, O’Rourke was a leader and innovator of several educational programs including farm transition and succession planning, human resources, farmland leasing and conservation, and beginning and early-career farming. She provided consultation for individuals and wrote many popular publications for the Iowa State Ag Decision Maker website. She received the 2021 Bob Wells Memorial Award for her many contributions to women in ag programs from the national Annie’s Project–Education for Farm Women organization. She also received the 2022 Friend of Agriculture Award from Northeast Iowa Community College.
O’Rourke and her husband started raising dairy goats while living in Sanborn County. They moved the operation to Iowa in 1999 and operated Dry Creek Acres, a registered Toggenburg dairy goat operation, for nearly three decades. She served on the American Dairy Goat Association board of directors and led an initiative to update the linear appraisal classification system to improve genetics. She also served on the American Goat Federation board.
O’Rourke was instilled with the belief that volunteer service builds our communities. Recognizing the need for a nonprofit community health center to serve all persons, she was instrumental in establishing the Promise Community Health Center in Sioux Center, Iowa and served as its president. She is passionate about providing services to the immigrant community and has volunteered as an attorney and advocate for the Center for Assistance, Service, and Advocacy in Northwest Iowa and Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center-Immigration Working Group. She has also advocated for domestic violence victims and survivors of crimes via nonprofit agencies.
A short film about the 2023 Women Impacting Agriculture awards can viewed at https://vimeo.com/889862916