Thomas Ackermann had a way of making people feel like they mattered to him. With a single smile and a warm greeting, he drew you in, and his enthusiasm kept you talking far longer than you ever expected.
To him, you were important, someone who mattered, no matter who you were.
And he made everyone feel that way, said Linda Sautner, his friend and colleague at Bison Producers of Alberta.
Once, Sautner mentioned the phenomenon to Ackermann’s wife, Keri. “She kind of smiled and said, ‘You know, I’ve heard that a lot,’” said Sautner.
“The word genuine really fit Thomas. He was one of the few people I’ve known in my lifetime who was just a very good person through and through.”
On Nov. 27, Ackermann died when the tractor he was driving rolled on an icy rural road, pinning him underneath. He was 46.
His death leaves a “huge void” in Canada’s bison industry, said Sautner.
“He’s going to be very hard to replace,” she said. “He’s going to leave a large gap in the bison industry that really can’t be filled by any one person.”
Born in Switzerland, Ackermann first came to Canada as an agriculture exchange student. It was then that he fell in love — with the country itself, with the bison he saw, and with Keri. Following their marriage, the couple lived in Switzerland for a decade before coming back to the land that captured his imagination all those years before.
“When he came back here, he knew where he wanted to settle and he knew what it was he wanted to do,” said Sautner. “Farming and raising bison was definitely his lifelong dream.”
That dream became a reality when Ackermann began working with Armin Mueller of Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk, acting as his marketing manager before eventually becoming partners in the business.
“He was a brilliant businessman. His wife felt that his brain was wasted on farming,” Sautner said with a laugh.
“Those of us who were connected with him in the industry really felt very strongly that we were the blessed ones for having that brain in our industry.”
Ackermann became chair of Bison Producers of Alberta four years ago, and right away, he was “very interactive.”
“He took a very concerned interest in what we were doing here and how we could be doing it better,” said Sautner, adding that last year he initiated projects with the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency to grow Alberta’s bison industry.
“His focus was always about making the bison industry better. He was just very, very passionate about it.”
But the one thing that stands out for Sautner is how well liked Ackermann was. Bison is a “very, very competitive industry,” she said, and a lot of producers “have their own way of doing things.”
“It’s not uncommon to hear a criticism of someone else’s way of doing things,” she said. “But never once, in all of the time I’ve known of Thomas, have I heard a word like that about him. I’ve never heard a negative word or a criticism of him.
“He was just a really passionate person who gave his all for our industry.”
But for as much as he loved bison, he loved his family — Keri and daughters Mikeala, Kiria, and Jenna — more.
“His biggest focus was on his family. He loved his daughters and his wife immensely.”
Sautner recalled a tour that the Bison Producers put on last year at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. Most everyone, she said, arrived the night before and spent the evening chatting around a campfire — but not Ackermann. He arrived the day of the tour and left soon after, darting home for a 4-H commitment.
“He had a very high sense of responsibility, but his priority was his family, and we all really respected him for that,” said Sautner.
A trust fund for his daughters has been established at Alberta Treasury Branch — called the Princess Club Trust Fund, in honour of his pet name for his daughters.