For as long as she can remember, the sugarbeet industry — starting with the raising of sugarbeets — has played an important role in Norma Burbank’s life.
“I have early memories of growing up around sugarbeets on our farm. My first paying job was hoeing beets,” she said. “And, every year while I was in elementary school, we had a ‘Field Day’ where we toured the Amalgamated Sugar Factory at Nyssa, Ore.”
Burbank, of Nyssa, has served as the executive secretary for the Nyssa-Nampa Sugarbeet Growers Association for the past 23 years. The association, formed in 1937, represents 150 sugar beet producing entities in the states of Oregon and Idaho. Norma is proud of the industry she represents.
“I was born in Nyssa, Ore., located on the border of Oregon and Idaho, where my father was hired in 1938 by the Amalgamated Sugar Company to work as a white sugar boiler in their newly constructed Nyssa factory,” she said. “The sugar industry was very important to our family. Some people complained about the smell from the factories, but my father always said that was the smell of hard work and making money.”
When Burbank was 2 years old, the family moved from Nyssa to a small farm outside of Parma, Idaho, a town just across the border from Nyssa.
“The Black Canyon Irrigation Reclamation Project was completed and my parents were able to purchase 44 acres of irrigation district land which they took out of sagebrush and developed into farmland. This is where I grew up,” she said. “My father worked at the Nyssa factory and rented the farm to a neighbor who grew sugarbeets on our land. My two older sisters, a younger brother and myself all hoed beets for the neighbor.”
After graduating from high school in 1961, Burbank attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and studied accounting.
“I attended BYU for three years and then went to San Jose, Calif., where I worked at a pathology lab,” she said. “I had met my future husband Monty through a mutual friend after my freshman year of college, and after working in California for a year we were married. He was a student at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, where he majored in marketing.”
To their mutual surprise, both Burbank and her husband were born in Nyssa. “When we went to get the marriage license, the clerk asked where we were born. We just stared at each other, surprised, because neither of us were aware of the other’s birthplace.”
After their marriage, the couple spent two years in Logan while Monty attended Utah State University before moving back to Nyssa.
“Monty’s family owned the Nyssa John Deere dealership and we returned to Nyssa to help his father with the dealership,” said Burbank. “We came home and never left. Monty worked at the dealership and I worked for First National Bank of Oregon before joining the family business to help in the accounting department. Eventually, Monty took over the management of the dealership. We have one daughter named Paige who lives in Nampa, Idaho, with her husband Jason and 9-year-old son Payson.”
In addition to representing the sugarbeet growers, Burbank is also the office manager for Fort Boise Produce in Parma, which grades and packs fresh onions. She has been with this company since the summer of 1997.
In her free time, Burbank enjoys traveling, having visited Hong Kong, Israel, England, parts of Europe and Mexico. She also loves to spend time with her family at their cabin near Unity, Ore. Her favorite parts of her job as executive secretary for the growers’ association are lobbying and telling the sweet story of the sugarbeet industry.
“The Nyssa-Nampa Sugarbeet Growers Association is responsible for visiting the congressional offices for the states of Washington and Oregon during their DC lobbying trips. This provides me the opportunity to meet and work with so many remarkable people locally, as well as at the national level,” she said. “The sugarbeet industry is special because the growers are extremely dedicated, and the sugar representatives in Washington DC are outstanding. We have a great sugar policy due to these leaders and we hope it continues. This is why it’s so important to tell the story of our industry.”
For Burbank, some of her biggest challenges as executive secretary are finding enough hours in the day to get everything done, while keeping up with the constant and ongoing changes in the industry.
“There have been so many changes throughout my life and career,” she said. “My younger brother and I grew up hearing stories about sugar rationing during World War II. Once, when we were young, our dad sent us out to thin beets. However, when he saw us on our hands and knees, he felt sorry for us and decided it wasn’t a job for children. I remember he decided to hire an adult crew to come in and finish the work. Now, of course, there are better seed varieties and precision planters to do this along with advanced technology.”
Burbank said that she urges all sugarbeet growers to stay informed and not be afraid to tell your story.
“Keep in touch with your representatives, attend their town hall meetings, and participate in other events,” she said. “Let them know they are both appreciated and critical to the support of our industry.”