Bernhard Warkentin was born in a small Russian village in 1847, and traveled to America in his early 20s. Interested in flour mills, he was especially impressed with the wheat growing possibilities in the United States. After visiting Kansas, Warkentin, found the plains much like those he had left behind in his native Russia. Settling in Harvey County, he built a water mill on the banks of the Little Arkansas River - the Halstead Milling and Elevator Company.
In 1900, Warkentin founded the Blackwell Milling and Elevator Company and expanded the operation from a daily capacity of 10 barrels to one of 2,000 barrels - from a simple grist mill to one of the largest milling interests in Kansas.
Warkentin's greatest contribution to Kansas was the introduction of hard Turkey wheat into Kansas, which replaced the soft variety grown exclusively in the State. He commissioned his nephew in Russia to buy and ship thousands of bushels of the hard wheat to Newton from where it was distributed. Within 20 years, the new variety crowded out the older soft winter wheat and became the principle grain grown in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
Warkentin also was a founder of the Halstead State Bank and the Kansas State Bank of Newton, where he served as director and president until his death in 1908. He also directed the Millers' National Insurance Company of Chicago, the Terminal Warehouse Company of Kansas City, and several other corporations.