Farmers unite in wake of Faulkner tragedy

Alex Steffensmeier stands in the front of some of the equipment used to help plant crops on fields at the Faulkner Family Farm in Farmington on Tuesday. Steffensmeier was one of about a dozen neighbor farmers that helped plant the crops after LaVerne and Michael Faulkner were tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident early Sunday morning. Photo by Ethan Lillard/PCC


DONNELLSON- The goal for every generation and every human being should always be to try to make this world a better place than when they came into it.

That’s the exact life lesson Chuck Westfall was trying to instill in his godson, Alex Steffensmeier, when he brought him along to help plant hundreds of acres of farm ground for his recently deceased friends.

“We’re training him to pay back, too,” Westfall said.

An early morning accident Sunday near Donnellson claimed the lives of LaVerne and Michael Faulkner of rural Farmington, after a vehicle driven by Robert LeRoy Boyd was believed to have crossed the center line and struck the GMC Yukon LaVerne and Michael were riding in nearly head on.

The collision took place at just at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday morning on Hwy. 2 near the intersection of 140th Avenue.

Both were later pronounced dead at an area hospital. According to the police report, Boyd was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and his condition was unknown Sunday.

A visitation will be held Friday, June 14 at the Schmitz Funeral Home in Donnellson at noon and the family will receive friends from 3:30 to 7 p.m. A graveside service will be held at Hickory Haven Cemetery in rural Farmington at 10:30 a.m. with the processional leaving the funeral home at 10 a.m.

The accident is devastating for both the Faulkner family and the surrounding community. The impact of both LaVerne and Michael could clearly be seen in the events that followed their deaths shortly after.

Taking it upon themselves, Chuck Westfall and community members throughout the Donnellson area teamed up to help the Faulkner family finish planting its corn and bean crops on the Faulkner family farm located on the countryside in Donnellson.

“When I got the phone call from CJ (Laverne’s other son) that his dad and brother were gone, I just told my wife I had to take off,” Westfall said. “I left on my own and came out here.”

Westfall has been farming around the Donnellson area for more than 50 years now. With LaVerne being slightly younger, he and Westfall had farmed around the same area for more than four decades.

“I lived two to three miles down the road,” Westfall said. “We’ve been friends for 50 years probably, LaVerne and I. And I helped raise his sons.”

LaVerne and Chuck raised LaVerne’s sons on the same down-home roots that were instilled in them. When Westfall’s wife recently passed away around two years ago, those roots shown through brighter than ever as Michael was one of the first ones to come and show support to Westfall.

“She passed away two and a half years ago and Michael was one of the first ones there,” Westfall said choking back tears. “So it’s just payback.”

While Westfall was great friends with the Faulkner family and helped to spearhead the efforts, there were many others from around the area who helped to make it all possible.

“There’s been a lot of people call to help,” Westfall said. “A lot of people have asked and I don’t know half of their names … I’m just a little pea in the pod. I just brought the planter.”

Continuing to showcase his modesty, Westfall balked when asked how many acres he had helped plant so far, but did say regardless of how many acres, every last cent is going to go back to his long-time friend’s family farm.

“That young man who planted them could tell you exactly how many acres,” Westfall said pointing to his godson Steffensmeier. “I would say 300 to 400 of their own … I’m going to do another guy’s that Michael planted 100 acres for him and the check goes to the Faulkner Family Farms. I don’t want a penny for it. It all goes to them.”

Even while having his own farm to tend to, it was an immediate instinct for Westfall to drop what he was doing and go help when he was called to action. The same goes for the other dozens of farmers involved in the process.

When asked why he and his friends felt so compelled to take time away from their own farms to help the Faulkner family with the process, the answer was simple.

“That’s what (we) grew up doing,” Westfall said. “That’s what we do in the Midwest. That’s what happens out here. This is not New York or California, this is the Midwest. When somebody’s in trouble, you stop what you’re doing and go help.”

While Steffensmeier may not have known the Faulkner’s as well as his godfather, he perfectly encapsulated the feelings of everyone involved with the process with just three words.

“It’s a privilege,” Steffensmeier said.

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