BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – “And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.”
The words were made famous by legendary radio host Paul Harvey, but were quickly recalled by Jill Hopp Monday on a beautiful morning just southwest of Donnellson.
Hopp was joined by her sons Jason and Jim, other family members and friends, as a couple dozen other ‘caretakers’ descended on three acreages that Jill and Bruce Hopp have owned in the area since the mid-70s.
The mood was light and supportive, but somber, as Bruce died just six weeks ago of pancreatic cancer.
Jill said the outpouring of support has been something she’d seen, heard, and been a part of, but was still overwhelming.
“My phone just hasn’t stopped ringing. You don’t have to ask – they just show up.” she said.
She said it’s an instinct of a farmer that has been perfected from generation to generation. Her husband was always in on any similar efforts for other farming families.
“He would be one of the first ones there to help. That’s just what they do.”
Hopp said they played the words of Paul Harvey’s poem at the end of her husband’s funeral.
“Bruce loved that poem,” she said.
“Every day, Paul Harvey at the end of his show, would mention a couple that had been married for 50 years and Bruce always said we were gonna be on Paul Harvey for our 50 years.
“He died 10 days before our 50th anniversary. I’ll never, ever forget that.”
About $8 million in equipment run by a couple dozen local farmers was fired up at about 9:30 a.m. and hit the rows of corn that were still to be pulled from the Hopp land.
Jill and other friends took to the barn to prepare a large meal befitting the effort. Gary Schiller, who helped organize the event, along with Bill Benjamin, said all three acreages, close to 450 acres, would be harvested in about four hours if everything went according to plan.
Combines lined up in rows and harvested eight to 10 rows at a time as grain wagons rolled next to the combines to capture the grain and haul it to other wagons that either took the grain to elevators, or to Roquette in Keokuk.
The grain wagons would then rotate back in parallel to the combines and the process continued until all the corn had been pulled from the fields.
Schiller said organizing the event was almost as quick, because it’s wasn’t an issue of if they will come. Farmers are an entrenched fraternity and Schiller said it was just a matter of where and when.
“This is what the community wanted to do. They wanted to come and help out the Hopp family,” he said.
“Months ago this started and people called me. I told them we would do it and I said let’s wait until everyone has their property under control. And then we just picked a day – and boy did we get a beautiful one.”
Several students from Central Lee High School’s Future Farmers of America were also on hand helping with the ramped up harvest.
“It’s cool to think that everyone in the community thinks about one another. I come from a 1,000 acre farm and we’ve got things under control so we just came out here to help,” said Dylan Stuecker a junior.
He said his grandfather Leroy used to talk to him about the importance of helping neighbors.
Devin Tweedy, a senior at Central Lee said he grew up around farms, but his parents didn’t farm.
“I’ve been in FFA since my freshman year. But my great-grandpa Dave Tweedy used to have a hog farm and my dad worked that farm so I’m familiar with this community,” he said.
Schiller said the effort was to honor Hopp, not just as a farmer but as someone who was always helping others in need.
“Today’s going to be a great day with 10 combines running here and south of Donnellson and north of Charleston,” Schiller said.
“It’s just a day that’ll come together – a beautiful day to help out a neighbor who helped out everyone. We’re just returning the favor to the Hopp family.”
Schiller said his brother-in-law Bill Knisely died last year and Hopp was one of the first to offer up help.
“It’s just community that we come together when someone has a loss of life or a tragedy,” Schiller said.
“We would all not be good neighbors if we didn’t come together.”
Schiller said grain elevators and Farm Services and insurance companies are donating space and fuel for the day’s harvest.
He said farmers started getting ready to come out just a week ago, which speaks volumes to the experience these ag producers have in pulling together to help families. The plan is always in place.
Jill said the land will now be leased to another young farmer that Bruce had helped learn the business.
“We discussed what was going to happen afterwards. It was a very hard conversation and I hated bringing it up. He always thought he was going to get better, but we knew he was not going to get better,” she said.
The couple made the decision to maintain ownership of the farm, but lease the land out. The couple have two daughters Jenny and Jamie, who live out of state, and the two sons work for Alliant Energy and ChemGro.
“The boys have their own jobs and I didn’t want anything to do with farming. I don’t know what to do so I picked somebody who Bruce worked with and I trust him,” she said.
She said her children built lives for themselves outside the family farm, but were always there to pitch in and help in times of need – and sometimes just to pitch in.
“I never encouraged them to farm. It’s a hard life. You depend on the weather and you’re at the mercy of mother nature. Some years are good and there are others where it’s not so good.”
‘That’s the gamble,” Jim said.
Jill said she wanted to thank everyone who helped bring the crops in.
“Our friends, our neighbors, our church, and the whole community has been so involved since Bruce’s illness, even before he died. We’ve had so much help,” she said.
“Thanks doesn’t seem like hardly enough – just words can’t express it,” Jason said.
Jill said her husband would be humbled by the attention and outpouring of support.
“Believe me, Bruce would be very humbled by this. He’d think, ok we don’t need news people, we don’t need TV. He was a very humble, kind person.”