From the series 2024 Alumni Achievement Awards

Lake Campus alum’s success a family affair

As the recipient of the Lake Campus 2024 Outstanding Alumnus Award, Luke VanTilburg gave the commencement address at the Lake Campus’ spring commencement ceremony on April 25. (Photos by Erin Pence)

As the chief financial officer of a family-owned agricultural conglomerate, Wright State University–Lake Campus alum Luke VanTilburg is a “bean counter” literally and figuratively.

VanTilburg and his brothers Matt and Kyle are the fourth-generation owners of the VTF family of companies: VanTilburg Farms, VTF Excavation, VTF Sunrise and MVP Dairy. VanTilburg’s niece, a fellow Wright State graduate, recently joined the family business, representing the fifth generation of VanTilburgs to work for the company.

VanTilburg was honored as the Lake Campus 2024 Outstanding Alumnus on April 25 during the Lake Campus’ spring commencement ceremony, where he gave the commencement address.

While proud of the honor, the married father of two boys said he would not be where he is now solely on his own, giving credit to his associates.

“It’s incredibly humbling,” he said. “To think of the number of people at the Lake Campus and you’re ‘that’ guy. It’s quite and honor and I appreciate the recognition. But I’m successful because of the people at VTF. I am only a small part of it.”

Wright State’s Lake Campus was VanTilburg’s home-away-from-home when the Celina High School graduate collected college degrees like Tom Brady collected Super Bowl trophies. Realizing he enjoyed accounting and wanting to work in the family business while taking classes, VanTilburg enrolled at the Lake Campus, which his family’s farm is adjacent to.

He earned an associate degree in applied business, with a specialization in financial management and accounting, in 2000, followed by a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership in 2003 and a Master of Business Administration in 2005.

“I appreciate what the Lake Campus has to offer,” he said. “It provides a valuable education and an opportunity to network. It’s also a driver for community growth.”

The origins of VanTilburg’s family business materialized from humble beginnings. VanTilburg’s great-grandfather farmed land for room-and-board and was a sharecropper for many years. He finally saved enough money to buy his own land, and the company was ultimately incorporated in 1977 originally as a retailer of seeds and chemicals.

Operations diversified as different generations took control and they sought out niche markets to explore. Partnerships were formed with other agricultural companies when VTF ventured into unfamiliar territory. In the past two decades, the company has grown from 14 employees to 135.

Luke VanTilburg is a three-time graduate of Wright State’s Lake Campus and the fourth-generation of his family to operate VTF Farms in Celina.

“Luke is an exceptional CFO, but I would argue more importantly, he is a family-oriented owner,” said Jacob Waterman, office coordinator for VTF Excavation. “Not only does Luke prioritize his own family, but he unequivocally cares about VTF employees and their families.”

In his commencement address, VanTilburg shared an allegory from a late mentor. When you look out at the smoothness of a large lake that represents the world in front of you and cast a small stone into the body of water, he said, the rock sinks quickly to the bottom with little effect by all appearances. But when looking at the bigger picture, as the stone descends, it creates ripples, and those ripples are indicative of the influence you have on others in your life.

Representative stones were disseminated at his mentor’s funeral service, one of which VanTilburg keeps on his desk.

“Those ripples are still there long after you’re gone,” said VanTilburg. “He still affects my life even though he’s been gone now for more than 10 years.”

One condition VanTilburg’s father insisted on when he ceded ownership of the company to his sons was that they serve the community. VanTilburg has taken that directive to heart. A sample of his service includes the Western Ohio Educational Foundation Board, which supports the Lake Campus, Celina Lions Club, Mercer County House of Hope and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, among others. He has also participated in local and international mission trips with his church.

“Luke exemplifies what it means to be an excellent role model as a family man, in business and in service to our community,” said Robin Elston, corporate director of strategic improvement at Cooper Farms, Inc.

As he looks to the future, VanTilburg is determined to maintain his company’s unique identity.

“We’ll try to do things differently from other folks,” he said. “It’s our goal to be on the leading edge and progressively try new things. We take pride in the fact that we’re growing and that we provide a basic staple and a source of food for the community.”

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