Don Gilkey, a star football player at the University of California, Berkley who passed up a promising pro football career to return to his Kings County, Calif., family farm, has been honored as this year’s county’s agriculturists of the year.
Gilkey, 70, was honored in September at the county’s 11th annual salute to agriculture banquet.
Past recipients of the Kings County agriculturist are Jack Stone, Everett “Fuzzy” Feaver, Tony Oliveira, Fred Martella, Case Droogh, Mary Cameron, Craig Pederson, Ted Sheely and Jack Draxler.
The Verdegall Brothers of Hanford, Calif. were honored as the “Ag Supporter of the Year.”
Don Gilkey was born the fifth and last child of Ralph and Margaret Gilkey in 1935. His parents came to Corcoran from Canada in 1922 and started custom farming in the Tulare Lake bottom.
Don attended Corcoran schools. At UC Berkeley he was the football team captain in 1956 when he was also named All Pacific Coast and played in the East West Shrine All Star game, and later in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
After a short stint as an officer in the U.S. Army, Don turned down offers to play professional football and came home to farm with his family. In 1958, Don became a partner with his brother Charles and brother-in-laws Don Riddle and Ken DeVaney. Bill Bondurant, another brother-in-law, would join the farming partnership later.
In 1962, the Gilkey family farm built a cotton gin, ginning as many as 10,000 bales in the early days. Today the Gilkey family is in partnership with the Hansen and Boyett families at Cross Creek Ginning Company, which annually gins more than 60,000 bales.
Don has been president of Gilkey Farms Inc. since 1981 and has served on the board of directors of Lakeland Dusters Aviation for many years. This farming partnership raises cotton, alfalfa, corn and tomatoes.
Don has been a past delegate to the National Cotton Council and served as a board member to both the California Wheat Commission and the California Wheat Growers.