Greg and Kristen Hart bleed America’s Brightest Orange, but after 37 years of traveling the world with John Deere, they have a little green in their blood, too.
The OSU alumni have been married for 41 years, a relationship that began when they were teenagers sitting in the pews at Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa. When Greg Hart and Kristen Kollmann met again in Stillwater during their sophomore year of college, they started spending more time together. Kristen was exposed to something that would change her degree plans.
After all, it’s hard to ignore baby calves, which she fed during a visit to his family’s farm before their engagement.
“I was always going to be a chemical engineer,” she said. “But during that trip, I just fell in love with the baby calves. When we went back to school, I switched to ag engineering.”
There were only a few women in the agricultural engineering program at the time, so Kristen felt pressure to prove herself. That made her work harder and ultimately led to more opportunities.
Greg was pursuing his own degree in agriculture, although his focus was on engineering. Only one generation removed from the farm, Greg knew too well the challenges related to maintaining costly equipment. He wanted to see what would come next for the industry and if he could help make it more affordable.
Before graduating in 1979, the couple was living in Stillwater and trying to work out the first steps in their careers. Deere & Co., better known as John Deere, was holding job interviews on campus, so Greg applied.
“I didn’t have any connection to any particular farm machinery company,” he said. “I had no preference if I went to John Deere, International Harvester, or any other manufacturer. My relatives didn’t use John Deere, they had Massey Ferguson.”
John Deere has tough standards to meet in order to represent the iconic brand, according to retired Vice President of Marketing Charles Gause, and the company recognized Greg Hart as a valuable asset.
“We’re very selective in the people we hire,” said Gause, an OSU alumnus as well. “The interviewee will talk to more than one different manager. Then along the process, if any of those were to say ‘no,’ then we don’t hire them.”
Greg was hired, and he and Kristen moved to Wichita, Kansas, one of Deere’s training centers, the first of about a dozen moves they made before landing in Tulsa for retirement. Throughout their careers, the Harts left their hearts at OSU, with an eye on ensuring that young people continue to have a place to get a world-class education.
“Greg and I both received scholarships while we were in school and they were really helpful for us to continue our education,” Kristen said. “We just felt like we got so many things from the school and we wanted to give back.”
John Veenstra , head of OSU’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, nominated the Harts for the Ferguson College of Agriculture Distinguished Alumni Award. He praised their unflagging support for the university.
“Greg and Kristen are always willing to answer the call and engage their networks to better the College and OSU,” Veenstra wrote. “Greg and Kristen are both dedicated to making OSU a strong institution.”
Thomas G. Coon, vice president for OSU agricultural programs, said the Harts, both jointly and individually, exemplify some of the university’s best attributes.
“The Harts have been role models of integrity and leadership, leaving a meaningful impact on many people during their careers,” Coon said. “I couldn’t be prouder in how they have represented OSU’s best to the world.”
In Wichita, Kristen worked as a hydrology engineer, dealing with projects such as designing culverts for water runoff. In Enid, she was a land surveyor – she noted the irony of identifying agricultural land for residential development. In Dodge City, Kansas, she was the city’s assistant engineer, which led to the Outstanding Young Engineer-In-Training Award.
OSU’s agricultural engineering program prepared her for it all.
“I always felt like I had a really good education,” she said. “When you look at my three professional jobs, they were all really different. But with OSU’s well-rounded program, I didn’t have a problem being successful in any of them.”
The OSU Foundation’s Branding Success campaign, backed with matching funds by T. Boone Pickens, enabled them to establish an endowed scholarship supporting the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department: the Greg Hart and Kristen Kollmann Hart Scholarship.
To date, more than 40 undergraduate scholarships have been awarded from the Hart scholarship fund. They continue to be inspired by the generosity of many others, including Barry and Roxanne Pollard, John and Virginia Groendyke, and most recently Larry and Kayleen Ferguson, whose gift at the Ferguson College of Agriculture and Ferguson Family Dairy Center enhanced efforts and ensured a long-term investment in the future.
Kristen said Larry’s dream was to show that continued advancements in agriculture can make it possible to feed the world and treat each other with greater compassion.
The Rev. Shelby Scott at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Broken Arrow said Kristen takes care of others frequently – including feeding his chocolate addiction with homemade brownies.
“They’re both very devout,” Scott said. “Their devotion is something that shapes how they engage with the world. When Jesus talks about being the light and the salt, that’s how they live. They’re very kind people.”
The Harts spread that kindness around the world as Greg continued his career with John Deere. He served as the company’s marketing director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and then back in the U.S., they moved to Dallas and Kansas City. During his career, Greg served in a wide range of positions, including product line marketing manager and branch field representative. At retirement, he was leading John Deere’s agricultural and turf business for the western half of the country.
Veenstra praised Greg for how he could rally other OSU alumni who worked at John Deere to support their university.
For example, Veenstra wrote, “Greg and Kristen learned of a need to update the technology in the John Deere classroom. Greg helped make connections with the John Deere corporate office and the John Deere Foundation, then approached current and former John Deere employees who were OSU alumni to raise over $45,000 to update the classroom equipment that will serve students for several years to come.”
Tulsa looks more like home to the Cowboys’ fans than Kansas – the OSU Medical Center serves as an anchor in Tulsa. And returning to the northeast Tulsa metro means they’re a little closer to the OSU McKnight Center for the Performing Arts in Stillwater, which they helped fund.
The Harts also remain avid fans of the university and follow Cowboys games, traveling from Boone Pickens Stadium for football to the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City for the Big 12 basketball tournament.
Gause and his wife often joined the Harts at the games. He also introduced Greg to pheasant and quail hunting. Greg is now chairman of the Past Shooters council of the Grand National Quail Club and vice-chairman of the Grand National Quail Foundation.
The Harts were surprised to discover they were Distinguished Alumni honorees this year.
“I never thought ‘distinguished’ would be a word used to describe me,” Kristen said. “It’s quite an honor and very humbling.”
Greg added, “The others that have been nominated before us we certainly believe them all more deserving than ourselves. But I’m really honored and humbled.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Brian Brus | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-6792 | BBrus@okstate.edu