I walked onto the property of Bruce and Jill Hopp Monday morning and about 23 farmers started migrating away from me. I had a camera bag and notebook. I’m used to it.
It’s a good thing retired Central Lee school teacher, and a man I consider a friend, Ernie Schiller was on hand to blaze a path. It was a beautiful fall Monday with corn stocks ready to be pulverized by harvesting equipment.
But the day held a somber tone as I intruded on this community harvest to help the Hopp family. Bruce died six weeks ago from pancreatic cancer.
It wasn’t intimidation as that can’t be part of a reporter’s skill set. I was hit more with a sense of ‘we got stuff to do here and you just may slow us down’.
To them it ain’t about a story. Its a fraternity… its community. Gary Schiller, who helped coordinate the harvest with Bill Benjamin, may have said it best.
“It’s what we do.”
Close to 30 farmers, family, friends and FFA students put on the Carhart, even though it wasn’t needed in the 50-degree morning air, and went about pulling in 450 acres of corn on three separate acreages near Donnellson and north of Charleston.
Jill Hopp said the community, churches, friends, family and area businesses have been ringing her up for the past month offering any support the family needed.
Bruce William Hopp died on Oct. 10 at the age of 68. He’d been diagnosed just four months earlier after complaining of some pain in his legs.
Jill said Bruce always talked to her like he was going to get better, but they put plans in place in case he didn’t.
Jill made the decision to hold onto the farm, but lease the land to another young farmer that had become part of this brotherhood. A man she said she trusts. A man who Bill had befriended in the grapple that is U.S. agronomy.
One of Bruce and Jill Hopp’s sons (there’s a Jason and a Jim, and I’m too old to tell them apart), took me around in a white Chevy bouncing around the cornfields trying to find someone who’d let me in a combine.
A couple of tries with my camera bag in toe, didn’t go well as we were waived off – these guys were on a mission.
Finally Central Lee Ag Instructor Brent Koller lent me a seat in this $250,000 piece of equipment complete with onboard computer. The computer tells the driver, the average yield at any given moment, the amount of moisture in the corn, and a GPS mapping solution.
Another bunch of farmers ran grain wagons alongside the combines throughout the morning. It reminded me of an in-air refueling. These combines didn’t stop, they just dumped while they were running and kept on going.
In four hours this group of farmers, who put their own lives on hold to swarm the Hopp fields, pulled 450 acres of corn.
My expertise in farming is limited to a short drive on a very old tractor on some property that my wife’s uncle Pete Sargent had near Carthage. Otherwise it’s turning my head and watch like a child as these marvels crawl about the earth – pulling it’s fruit.
I could see the grief in this family and offered Jill a hug after I got done speaking with her. I lost my dad two years ago and her pain is real, but the strength she showed and the power she got from her two boys standing in the sun over her was palpable.
She says she doesn’t want anything to do with the farm.
But she’s a farmer.
The couples’ boys have great careers – one with Alliant Energy and one with ChemGro. The couples’ daughters live out of state. The boys don’t want the farm, but you can see it in ’em.
They are farmers.
Jason said their father was a fan of the late Paul Harvey and a poem Harvey was famous for, that said something to the effect that on the eighth day God looked upon the wonder he’d created and decided he needed a caretaker.
He made a farmer.
Paul Harvey also ended each radio broadcast by saying his name. And on this sun-drenched Iowa fall morning surrounded by some of the hardest workers and best neighbors in the world, even Bruce would have to agree, it was a….
Chuck Vandenberg is the editor and co-owner of Pen City Current. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org