Helles win Wool Excellence Award

Duckworth might be among the premier fine-wool, American-made clothing companies, but it didn’t get that way overnight. Joe and Aggie Helle proved to be company cornerstones thanks to their efforts at constantly improving the family ranch’s wool clip, which provided Duckworth with the raw, natural fiber needed to produce its performance products.

For their efforts, Joe and Aggie have been chosen as the 2020 Wool Excellence Award winners by members of the Wool Roundtable. While Joe died in October 2019, Aggie accepted the award at the recent American Sheep Industry Annual Convention.

“We just always enjoyed working with and promoting wool,” said Aggie, whose father bought his first Rambouillet sheep in the 1940s. “My dad was always keen on white-faced, fine-wool sheep. When Joe and I started in sheep in 1967, we bought a band of sheep from my family. I’d always been involved in helping dad on the ranch. I can even remember trailing a band 15 miles to town when I was 14 years old.”

Joe, who spent his childhood summers on a ranch his grandmother worked on, had a background in range ecology. But he took to the sheep quickly. As they learned the business, both Joe and Aggie took on leadership roles.

Joe served as president of the Montana Wool Growers Association, on the ASI executive board and is a past chair of the ASI Wool Council. Aggie ran the Montana Make It With Wool program before serving as the program’s national director. She has also served on industry committees, including the Resource Management Council and as president of the ASI Women.

 “My husband was a humble man, but also very capable and talented,” Aggie said. “We’ve been supportive of the wool and sheep industry since before ASI even existed, so I’m happy to accept this award.”

Joe also served as chief product tester for Duckworth. A longtime fan of wool, he wore Pendleton shirts, fine wool suits and wool socks in the years before new manufacturing processes developed wool that could be worn next to the skin.

“He became one of my first product testers, and he wore Duckworth products all the time. That’s just who he was. He was always wanting to do more and more with our wool, and he was my greatest supporter on the ranch. He was a great sounding board when we started developing Duckworth.”

ASI Deputy Director Rita Samuelson worked with Joe on the Wool Council and saw first-hand his commitment to developing a flock that would produce quality American wool. She also has fond memories of Aggie’s time running the Make It With Wool contest.

“Aggie coordinated such wonderful shows at the annual Make It With Wool banquet,” Samuelson said. “And Joe was always a champion for the American wool industry. He definitely practiced what he preached by building outstanding genetics in his Montana flock. His practices and his passion have already fueled two generations who have followed in his footsteps and continue to be innovators within our industry.”